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Rice gets dollars, Welch gets endorsements in St. Petersburg mayor’s race

Darden Rice is maintaining a strong lead in fundraising. Ken Welch, meanwhile, announced an endorsement from City Council member Amy Foster, another of Rice’s fellow council members to endorse him.
Darden Rice (left) and Ken Welch are candidates in St. Petersburg's mayoral race.
Darden Rice (left) and Ken Welch are candidates in St. Petersburg's mayoral race. [ Darden Rice; Pinellas County ]
Published Apr. 16
Updated Apr. 16

St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice is maintaining a strong lead in fundraising in the race for mayor, while opponent Ken Welch continues to announce significant endorsements in the race.

Rice’s total fundraising so far is approaching half a million dollars.

In March, she added $43,192 to her campaign and $33,025 to her political committee, Friends of Darden Rice, bringing her total raised for both to $447,248, according to campaign finance reports.

Subtracting reported spending, the reports suggest she has about $302,000 cash in the two accounts.

Rice is spending significant amounts to set up an unusually early field operation, according to her campaign and political insiders.

Welch, meanwhile, announced an endorsement from City Council member Amy Foster.

He noted that Foster is the third of Rice’s fellow council members to endorse him, along with Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and Deborah Figgs-Sanders; plus former council member Charlie Gerdes. Gerdes, he said, served with both Rice and Wengay Newton, the third of the most prominent mayoral candidates.

“Those who know the leading candidates for mayor best overwhelmingly support Ken Welch,” said a news release from Welch’s campaign.

Welch raised $30,703 in his campaign in March and $35,625 in his political committee, Pelican PAC, for total fundraising of $226,528. He has about $204,000 cash.

Newton, after a delayed campaign start due partly to health problems, raised $6,485 in March for a total so far of $8,920.

Driscoll questions Vickers residency

St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll, who’s running for re-election, says an opponent who just filed to run against her can’t legally run because he hasn’t been a resident of District 6 long enough to qualify.

Brett Vickers, a St. Petersburg real estate agent and philanthropist, has filed to run for the District 6 City Council seat against incumbent Gina Driscoll.
Brett Vickers, a St. Petersburg real estate agent and philanthropist, has filed to run for the District 6 City Council seat against incumbent Gina Driscoll. [ Brett Vickers ]

The opponent, Brett Vickers, changed his voter registration address from Gulfport to Roser Park in St. Petersburg on March 29, just before filing to run on April 5, and after voting in November while his voter registration had a Gulfport address, according to county election records.

But Vickers said his primary residence has long been in the district, not Gulfport, and called the accusation a “non-issue.”

Vickers said he and his wife own “multiple homes,” but that their primary residence before moving to Roser Park was a Bayfront Tower condo. He said the condo and the Roser Park home are both in the district.

The city charter says a council candidate must have been a resident of the district for 12 months before the Aug. 24 primary. But the charter doesn’t appear to define residency.

St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll, who’s running for re-election.
St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll, who’s running for re-election. [ Photo courtesy of Gina Driscoll ]

Driscoll cited the voter records and Vickers’ Facebook page, which until this week said he lived in Gulfport.

“Either Mr. Vickers committed voter fraud when he voted as a Gulfport resident six months ago or he will commit election fraud if he claims to be a resident of St Petersburg during that time to run for City Council,” Driscoll said in a news release.

Vickers, 57, a first-time candidate for office, is married to the daughter of the late Roy Speer, founder of Home Shopping Network. He said he has no history in politics or government, but he and his wife have been extensively involved in local charitable organizations through the Speer family’s philanthropic foundation.

He changed his voter registration address from Bayou Grande Boulevard in St. Petersburg to Kipps Colony Drive in Gulfport in 2016.

Vickers said he kept his boat at the Gulfport home, a waterfront home near the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club.

“I probably had my license and registration there so it would line up if I was stopped by the (Fish and Wildlife Commission marine patrols),” he said.

He said he and his wife have never had homestead exemptions on any of their properties “because we want to pay our fair share of taxes.”

“I don’t think there’s anything I’m trying to do that’s underhanded,” he said. “I’m running to help the 6th district — my wife and I have done a lot to help the city.”

Asked whether Driscoll will challenge Vickers’ candidacy, campaign spokesman Tom Alte said the campaign is “keeping all our options on the table.”

Grassley jumps into JNC fight

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has jumped into the argument over a judicial nominating commission set up by Florida Democratic House members, in which the state’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, are refusing to participate.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has jumped into the argument over a judicial nominating commission set up by Florida Democratic House members.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has jumped into the argument over a judicial nominating commission set up by Florida Democratic House members.

The commission is intended to screen and suggest potential presidential nominees for U.S. attorneys and judges in Florida. But Rubio, Scott and now Grassley say it lacks legitimacy because the Senate, not the House, votes on presidential nominations.

In sharply worded letters to Chief Judge Timothy Corrigan of Florida’s Middle District and the director of the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts, Grassley questioned why the Middle District had posted on its website a notice directing applicants for judicial appointments to the commission.

He suggested that constituted an ethical lapse because the court system was involving itself in what he called “a purely political conflict” over the commission.

He also noted “the audacity of a judicial ‘Commission’ being chaired by a former federal judge who was impeached and removed from office,” a reference to the late Rep. Alcee Hastings.

Hastings, who was removed from the bench though he steadfastly maintained his innocence, subsequently served in Congress from South Florida from 1993 until his death April 6 – five days after the date of the letter.

The notice about the commission has since been taken off the Middle District website. Corrigan’s office referred a Times inquiry to the courts office, where a spokesman said the courts office would send a response to Grassley but didn’t answer questions.

A spokesman for Grassley said in the past, as judiciary chairman, Grassley has urged Republican presidents to consult with Democratic senators on judicial nominees from the senators’ home states.