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St. Petersburg City Council candidate drops out over vulgar tweets

St. Petersburg City Council candidate Scott Orsini, who previously said he would not drop out of the race, announced his exit Wednesday. He said his tweets were affecting his business and family.

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council candidate Scott Orsini dropped out of the race Wednesday, four days after apologizing for a series of vulgar and disparaging tweets.

"From the bottom of my heart, it hurts to have to end my run to represent the people of District 1 of Saint Petersburg," Orsini, 53, a family and bankruptcy lawyer and Democrat, wrote in a statement posted to his campaign Facebook page. "After consulting with my family and my friends, I have made the decision that continuing on as a candidate for District 1 would not be of benefit to myself, my family, my supporters, or the City of St. Petersburg. I would much rather throw in the hat now than to have these relentless, politically motivated attacks take any further toll on my family."

District 1 includes the Tyrone area. The remaining candidates are John Hornbeck, 34, a lawyer and Democrat, and Robert Blackmon, 30, a real estate investor and Republican. The races are officially nonpartisan.

Orsini's tweets were from 2013, but others were sent as recently as this year. They included sexualized comments about women and vegans, and at least one mocked lesbians and two were racially insensitive.

Orsini initially said he didn't believe the tweets were disqualifying. He called them a bad attempt at humor and said his wife had read the tweets and that they wouldn't cause any marital issues. Rather than drop out, he apologized Saturday and pledged to host two community events about cyberbullying and committing to volunteer work.

But on Wednesday, he said the tweets were affecting his law practice and his family.

"I felt like I could still serve the city and do the job, but I felt like my tweets were just going to become the central focus of my campaign," he said by phone.

He also said his endorsements were beginning to waiver. State Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport, pulled back her endorsement, he confirmed. And he read that Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard was considering withdrawing her endorsement, though he had not spoken to her.

City Council chair Charlie Gerdes, who occupies the District 1 seat and is term-limited, said Saturday that his endorsement of Orsini stood.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was in Hawaii for a conference when Orsini released his apology, hadn't talked to Orsini nor had he made a decision about his endorsement before the candidate dropped out. The mayor, a Democrat, said it would have been interesting to see what Republicans would have said about the tweets had Orsini remained in the race, citing things said and tweeted by President Donald Trump.

"It would have in some ways been very hypocritical of them to express outrage at this," Kriseman said Wednesday. "It's weird that stuff like this will disqualify someone from running for City Council, but it doesn't seem to disqualify somebody from running for president. How we judge people seems to be constantly changing and evolving by the minute."

Orsini said he learned June 22 that someone “associated with Blackmon” had the tweets and suggested “that I should consider dropping out.”

Blackmon would not answer when asked if his campaign had dug up and circulated the tweets. On Wednesday, Blackmon said he was "shocked."

"Was not expecting this," he wrote via text.

Hornbeck said he thought Orsini's weekend apology was "sincere."

"I think his decision to exit the race today showed he is genuinely remorseful," Hornbeck said via text. "I truly believe he has learned from this, and I wish him and his family well."

Orsini, who ran for the state House in 2014, said this was his last campaign.

“I’m done with politics,” Orsini said. “I’m not going to run again.”

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or Follow @ByJoshSolomon.