For years, the largest of Pinellas County's 24 cities refused to televise local election debates. Finally, the blackout will lift in 2009. The St. Petersburg City Council voted unanimously Thursday to help organize debates before city elections and televise them on the city's local access cable channel.
It's about time. In Pinellas, the other sizable cities of Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park and Dunedin televise local debates. So do smaller cities such as St. Pete Beach, Oldsmar, Gulfport and Safety Harbor. St. Petersburg's old concerns about fairness and the debate format were weak excuses. In a city with more than 150,000 registered voters, the suggestion that most of them would be able to attend debates before city elections was out of touch with reality.
Credit a recent newcomer to the council for dragging the city into the 1990s. Karl Nurse, appointed to the City Council in April to fill a vacancy, started pushing the issue over the summer. The ordinance approved Thursday calls for the City Council to set the time, date and place of the televised debates before the primary and general elections. All qualified candidates will be invited, and the debates will be conducted by an impartial third party.
The 2009 St. Petersburg city elections likely will feature a crowded field of candidates to succeed term-limited Mayor Rick Baker. The more opportunities voters have to watch debates and make their own judgments, the better decisions they are likely to make on Election Day.