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Michael S. Levinson brings unorthodox ideas to St. Petersburg mayoral race

The perennial candidate has offbeat plans for clean air, energy independence — and future presidential ambitions.
Michael S. Levinson poses for a profile on June 17. The perennial candidate is bringing unorthodox ideas to the race for mayor of St. Petersburg.
Michael S. Levinson poses for a profile on June 17. The perennial candidate is bringing unorthodox ideas to the race for mayor of St. Petersburg. [ MATTHEW GRIFFIN | Matthew Griffin ]
Published Jun. 22
Updated Jun. 25

ST. PETERSBURG — While other candidates for mayor of St. Petersburg talk about courting the Tampa Bay Rays and recovering from COVID-19, Michael S. Levinson wants to clean the air by planting hemp and purchase Duke Energy to make it a user-owned cooperative.

Levinson, a perennial outsider candidate who has run for Congress, the Senate and the White House, is bringing his unique brand of politics to the mayoral race as a write-in candidate.

“I’m going to be the best mayor you ever had. We’re going to be the most progressive city on the continent under my mayorship,” he said.

If every house in St. Petersburg is planted with hemp, he says, the plants will capture carbon dioxide and make St. Petersburg the “cleanest city on the continent.” And he wants to talk to members of Congress about purchasing Duke Energy and making it a cooperative, with the goal of turning Floridians’ homes into “energy incubators” by installing solar panels and windmills.

About the fate of the Rays, one of the hot-button issues in the race?

“They aren’t going anywhere if we have the cleanest air on the continent,” Levinson said. But, he said, “We could redo Tropicana. I’m in favor of that.”

Levinson, 79, grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., but moved to Florida in search of sunshine. He has worked as a merchant seaman, a telemarketer and a car salesman.

Levinson’s past political ventures include runs for president, first running in the New Hampshire primary in 1980. He ran again in 1988, 1992 and 1996, but was beaten soundly each time and withdrew from the race shortly afterward. Levinson was a write-in candidate for U.S. Congress in 2014 and U.S. Senate in 2018.

Now, Levinson has set his sights closer to home.

“Everybody always said to me over the years, ‘You know, you probably would be a great president, but you ought to run for a lower office first,’” he said.

He has big ideas and big ambitions. The home page of his personal website is a 7,750-word manifesto on national and foreign affairs, from health care to North Korea. He wants to use his platform as mayor to promote those ideas — and to prepare for a run for higher office.

“If I’m the mayor, then I’ll be the next president,” he said.

Levinson will face a crowded field of candidates including City Council members Robert Blackmon and Darden Rice, former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, former City Council member and state representative Wengay Newton, former political operative and marketer Marcile Powers, restaurateur Pete Boland, Torry Nelson and University of South Florida political science student Michael Ingram.

The primary election is Aug. 24. If no candidate earns more than 50 percent of the votes, the top two candidates will face off in the Nov. 2 general election.

The new mayor will be sworn in Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, and will serve a four-year term.

Mayoral debate

The Tampa Bay Times and Spectrum Bay News 9 are hosting a mayoral debate June 22 at noon. Watch it live at tampabay.com/politics and at baynews9.com/watch. It will replay on Bay News 9 at 7 p.m. This is the eighth in a series of profiles on the candidates.

Robert Blackmon: St. Petersburg mayoral run about ideas, not personalities

Pete Boland: Advocates ‘small business approach’ in St. Petersburg mayoral run

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Michael Ingram: Could this 20-year-old be St. Petersburg’s next mayor?

Torry Nelson: Says he’s the right person to lead St. Petersburg, despite his past

Wengay Newton: Newton is passionate, persistent, combative

Marcile Powers: With an open heart, Powers runs for St. Petersburg mayor

Darden Rice: In St. Petersburg mayoral race, Rice points to her experience

Ken Welch: Welch wants St. Petersburg to achieve ‘inclusive progress’