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10 things I think I think about why Deveron Gibbons and Scott Wagman lost

in Peter/The Bay and the 'Burg by
1. Both Gibbons and Wagman hired campaign managers who have yet to prove themselves in a significant, competitive race. Gibbons hired Nick Hansen, who’s resume includes efforts for Angelo Cappelli and Mitt Romney, while Toni Molinaro quarterbacked the Pinellas County Democrat’s failed Vote Local campaign. Molinaro also lost her race to retain her precinct in PCDEC. Neither manager’s work history was exactly confidence inspiring. Hansen and Molinaro’s efforts in the Mayoral Campaign weren’t their finest hours, either. Hansen was nowhere to be found the last two weeks of the campaign, while Molinaro took an inordinate amount of time to get Wagman qualified and seemed to let her candidate make mistake after mistake.

2. Instead of Hansen or Molinaro, Gibbons or Wagman should have hired strategist Barry Edwards. If Deveron had hired Barry, Gibbons would have had a much more policy-oriented message, sharper direct-mail and media and a plan that appealed more to white voters. If Wagman had hired Edwards, Wagman would never had the problems he had in terms of gaffes or mistakes because there would have been someone on the campaign staff who could stand up to Wagman. Edwards would have helped with the real powers in the African-American community, instead of relying on the likes of Wengay Newton. And Wagman would have had a plan that relied more on television rather than online messaging.

3. Speaking of television, how is that two first-time candidates with $400K between them spent less than $40K on television commercials. In fact, imagine how different this race would have been had Wagman or Gibbons dropped 100K on positive TV commercials. Wagman should have bought $3K a week every week since Memorial Day. Gibbons could have been up after July 4th.

4. I don’t think it was a waste for Wagman to spend so much money on online advertising. It was a waste to spend so much money on online advertising without cross-marketing through traditional media. As one prominent Democratic consultant observed, Wagman’s consultants misinterpreted the Obama model, believing social networking was the key to the president’s success. What Obama really did was raise a lot of money and buy a lot of television ads. The social networking stuff was just window dressing.

5. When did Wagman consultants Larry Biddle and Mitch Kates begin to rely so much on direct mail? For all the talk about Wagman’s online offensive, the campaign relied heavily on direct mail. The only problem with this strategy was the execution. Wagman’s mailpieces were atrocious, garish and unfocused. In fact, for the money, it was one of the worst direct mail campaigns I’ve seen.

6. Forget all the inside-baseball stuff, what really mattered is that neither Gibbons, nor Wagman really understood municipal-level policy. Remember these brilliant answers the two of them gave when asked about what to do about The Pier:

Deveron Gibbons: “That’s a good question. I don’t know. I know you’re not used to hearing that, but I just don’t know. I’m on the hot seat. The Pier has been a jewel. It still has potential. It still brings — I don’t remember how many people, but a lot of people. The Columbia is a good restaurant. I just don’t know. I wish I could tell you I had a vision and a plan for the Pier, but I don’t. I’d really like to have more public input because it is a real jewel for us. I remember reading about the Million Dollar Pier, which was very popular…. I think times have changed, and we’ve kind of outgrown the pyramid scheme. But that’s not to say we can’t utilize that facility and have different things there.”

Scott Wagman (after running down financial and engineering problems with the Pier): …”When the visioning is done — and I think it’s going to be another year before the visioning is done — in my opinion I think we’re going to find the public likes a pier, not necessarily the Pier. We’re going to have to look at a couple alternatives. One of them is to bulldoze the Pier — and you can negotiate your way out of leases. … Bulldoze it, plant some sod, make it a temporary park — temporary park. Put up concession stands and some bathrooms. This buys you some time to be able to let the public have their full say as to what they want. From what I’m hearing people like a pier, (but) there’s a question as to what should be at the pier. Restaurants are almost a no-brainer. Bring the pier in about 150 yards so that elderly people don’t have to walk as far out.

In fact, Gibbons offered little or no new policy proposals beyond a vague promise not to raise taxes. In March, senior Gibbons advisor David Zachem bragged to a group of politico insiders that the campaign would outline his platform “in September.” We’re still waiting.

7. Gibbons and Wagman appealed to narrow constituencies; Gibbons targeted the black vote, Wagman relied too much on liberal voters. Gibbons would have received the overwhelming support of the black community no matter what he did, so he should have spent most of his time north of Central Avenue. Instead, Gibbons rarely strayed from his de facto headquarters at Atwater’s Restaurant. Gibbons needed at least one in ten white voters, but as a first-time candidate with few concrete policy ideas, Gibbons never made traction in the white community, especially with voters west of 34th Street. With Jamie Bennett out of the running, Scott Wagman had the Democratic vote all to himself. Instead of moving to the center, Wagman increasingly relied on liberal constituencies, such as Sierra Club and the Stonewall Democrats. Both Gibbons and Wagman must have concluded that they could run up the score enough with their own bases to make it to the General Election, but smart polling would have shown them that that kind of strategy wouldn’t be enough.

8. I don’t think either of these candidates walked door-to-door enough. The drawback of holding the Primary Election in September is that candidates have to campaign in June, July and August. The Florida heat keeps most candidates from really hitting the pavement. I think Wagman gave up canvassing in May, complaining publicly about “melting.” First-time candidates cannot win without a massive field program.

9. The St. Petersburg Times was never going to let Gibbons or Wagman win. Paul Tash and Tim Nickens set it up perfectly. Just as 58,000 ballots were being mailed to undecided voters, they slam Gibbons for his work at Amscot and his driving record, while taking a few swings at Wagman for putting out signs in city right-of-ways and for advertising on Google. Then the newspaper runs a few articles about how the electorate is undecided. So be sure to tune in to the Times‘ televised debate. Then we’ll release a poll showing Ford and Foster ahead. And just when the race is about to get close, the Times rolls out its endorsement of Foster.

10. Finally, let’s be honest, if I really liked my girlfriend and had decided to stay in New York, rather than return to St. Petersburg, maybe Gibbons or Wagman or both of them would have made it to the General Election.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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