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A Times Editorial

St. Petersburg mayoral candidates: Oversimplify, pander, repeat

With so many St. Petersburg mayoral candidates shamelessly pandering to various constituencies, is it any wonder that a St. Petersburg Times poll shows more than a third of the electorate says it hasn't made up its mind in advance of Tuesday's primary?

The fawn-fest has been in full bloom over the course of the campaign to succeed Rick Baker. From crime to panhandling, green policies to schools, every candidate is guilty of oversimplifying and overpromising in a effort to collect more votes.

Consider, for example, the vexing problem of panhandling. One candidate, Larry Williams, has gone so far as to claim he would ban it from the city. Others have promised to curtail it greatly, but only one of the leading candidates, Bill Foster, has routinely acknowledged there's a big barrier to big changes, a little thing called the U.S. Constitution.

But the pandering doesn't stop there. Foster was among those claiming solar panel manufacturing would provide "green jobs" for the city's industrial core, though he was apparently unschooled in the environmental hazards of such manufacturing. Meanwhile, Scott Wagman, seeking to out-green his opponents, has staked out a simplistic plan to cut water consumption: outlaw St. Augustine grass.

Deveron Gibbons, seeking the fiscal conservative vote, has admonished some opponents as tax raisers and pledged the city would "live within its means." Yet he's provided no plan for what that would mean for tax rates or services.

And it is certainly comforting to know that most candidates pledge to improve the city's public schools. Plans range from offering tutoring services to mandating more fundamental schools. But Jamie Bennett, Kathleen Ford, Foster, Gibbons and Wagman often fail to mention the job they seek has no authority over public schools. Baker has had success in the arena only by cooperating with the school district.

The pandering on crime in St. Petersburg — where violent crime is actually down — reached a new low this week when Ford, during a candidate forum, evoked the shooting death of 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton, saying the child was killed while living in a crack house.

While Whitehead-Hamilton's death was a heartbreaking tragedy, Ford got her facts wrong. The house she shared with her aunt was not suspected of being a den of illicit drug activity. But why let details spoil a stem-winder of a political speech?

All the political rhetoric is of course par for the course in a democracy. It's as American as apple pie, and no candidate on Tuesday's ballot is innocent. Luckily, there is still time for voters to gather information from sources besides candidates' campaigns to inform their choice — such as the Times' Web site,

Tuesday is St. Petersburg's primary election. Voters should arrive prepared.

St. Petersburg mayoral candidates: Oversimplify, pander, repeat 08/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 6:49pm]
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