St. Pete City Council chair Charlie Gerdes wants to earn his re-election with as little funding from supporters as possible.
“I’m trying to see if I can set a record for the least cost per vote,” Gerdes said.
And he’s well on his way. Gerdes has raised just over $4,000 as of the most recent campaign finance reports that cover activity through mid-September. His opponent, Monica Abbott, has about triple the funds with $12,425 raised to date, including an $11,000 loan from herself.
If both candidates were newcomers to City Council, that would be a giant handicap for Gerdes. However, Gerdes has strong name recognition thanks to his nearly four years of service while Abbott is going to need every penny she can get to spread her name among city voters. And that, Gerdes said, is why running a grassroots campaign with limited funding is doable.
It’s not that Gerdes is taking his competition lightly.
“You hear groups who raise $15,000 or $20,000,” Gerdes said. “When you sit up on that dais and you hear group after group — arts organizations, homeless advocacy groups — asking for funding, it just seems like there’s so much more you could do with money [than spend it on an election].”
Of course, just because Gerdes is forgoing the big checks in lieu of smaller donations doesn’t mean those would-be donors are going to redirect those funds to other charities. While Gerdes didn’t specifically make this plea himself, if those donors know what he’s up to, maybe it’s something they’d consider.
And it’s not like he’s halting fundraising altogether. Gerdes took to Facebook last week announcing a $2,800 fundraising goal of contributions no more than $25 each.
“I am not a fan of the obscene amounts of money that are spent in political and election campaigns that could be used to help so many other worthy causes,” Gerdes wrote in his post.
He acknowledged that it does take some money to win an election and linked to his website where supporters could donate.
Gerdes has a number of key endorsements that will help him bridge the gap in fundraising, including both Tampa Bay area newspapers, the local police and firefighter unions, the Pinellas Realtor Association, the West Central Florida Federation of Labor and the Stonewall Democrats.
Abbott, it appears, has none.
But Gerdes is also running against an idea that could be difficult to trump. Abbott wants to serve St. Pete residents, and specifically those in her West St. Pete district, full-time. City Council members are considered part-time. Most who serve carry some other primary employment. Gerdes is an attorney. Abbott promises to commit her service full-time.
That’s something Abbott is trying to use in her favor. She claims that the limited time Gerdes has to focus on City Council matters has been used primarily on citywide issues and not to better his individual district. Gerdes disagrees.
“I’m hoping that my record will speak for itself,” Gerdes said.
He rifled through a list of things he’s had a hand in bringing to West St. Pete, including a movie theater at Tyrone Square Mall, bike trail expansions, movies in the park and, perhaps most importantly, selling Raytheon to a buyer who will likely ensure it is developed into a mixed-use area rife for economic development.
Even still, Gerdes acknowledged that he has put a lot of focus on citywide issues.
“We’re accountable to the entire city,” Gerdes said. “We’re supposed to be looking out for the interest as a whole. Whatever is good for an area is typically good for an entire city.”
Gerdes is working on drafting a new deal with the Tampa Bay Rays that would allow them to look outside the city for possible stadium sites. A previous deal brokered by Mayor Rick Kriseman was deadlocked 4-4 on City Council with Gerdes being one of the supporters.
Gerdes hopes to have a new deal before the current City Council. Gerdes thinks his plan will gain that one extra vote needed.
One argument among naysayers is the previous deal wasn’t lucrative enough for the city. It would have required the Rays to pay a yearly sliding scale fee to the city if they left Tropicana Field.
Gerdes’ plan includes asking for a search fee of $1.4 million right off the back. It would then require about $2.4 million or $2.5 million per year the lease is broken. His deal would also include state bonds still not paid out in the return to the city. That’s another $12 million-$14 million in benefit to the city.
The Tampa Bay Times estimates that redeveloping Tropicana Field before the Tampa Bay Rays’ lease is up could yield about $500 million in economic development.
Gerdes also hopes to continue work on an economic development plan and a Smart Growth study that would actively seek companies to relocate or expand in St. Pete.
Gerdes and Abbott face each other at the ballot box November 3.