The fallout from St. Petersburg Times reporter Michael Van Sickler’s profile of Jeff Copeland, a prominent political organizer in the African American community, continues even after the article’s first publication.
Beginning on Wednesday and through this weekend, several sources close to both Copeland and former mayoral candidate Deveron Gibbons have told me that Gibbons is bragging that he was a significant off-the-record source to Van Sickler and is the reason why the article was published.
While I doubt Gibbons was the reason Van Sickler decided to write about Copeland, I am sure of one thing: on the morning the article was published, Gibbons contacted several elected officials and political donors to warn them that they needed to stay away from Copeland. The operative phrase Gibbons used over and over was that Copeland was “bad news.”
According to one prominent political fundraiser, Gibbons’ call was especially disturbing because it was Gibbons who had introduced Copeland to this individual.
This is just the latest incident by Gibbons that has caused alarm among his political allies and friends. In February, Gibbons played a vocal role in blocking his former political mentor, Rick Baker, from winning the job of president of St. Petersburg College. This public falling out was followed up by another incident at an event for Charlie Crist, during which the two almost came to blows.
Away from the scrutiny of the media, there have also been rumors of Gibbons making late-night phone calls to political donors asking for “cash” donations to mysterious causes.
Despite Gibbons’ erratic behavior. the Amscot executive is said to still be contemplating a run for mayor of St. Petersburg in 2013. How serious are these rumors? Well, at Charlie Crist’s announcement event at Straub Park, moments after Gibbons had switched his voter registration from Republican to Independent, one well-regarded television news reporter predicted that, with that move, Gibbons’ had positioned himself as one of the front-runners to challenge Bill Foster in 2013.
I almost choked on my fist.
Let me be very clear why Deveron Gibbons will not run, much less be a front-runner, for mayor of St. Petersburg in 2013.
1. Deveron Gibbons lost in 2009 and lost decisively. Gibbons has yet to live down the very bad campaign he ran in 2009 or the image that developed about him as a result. Deveron has yet to live down Adam Smith’s description of him as “a young glad-hander in an ill-fitting suit spewing vague answers about his agenda.”
2. Gibbons will never be able to raise anywhere near the same amount of money he shook out of people in 2009. Make no mistake, the first people to abandon Gibbons after his poor showing in 2009 were many of the big-money donors who saw in Gibbons a smart investment but were burned by a candidate that turned out to be, at best, immature and, at worst, dishonest. Gibbons misled many of his major donors about where he stood in his own internal polling, so it’s doubtful major donors like Paul Jallo will re-invest in Gibbons.
3. Gibbons will not be the only choice for the African-American community. Gibbons had a once-in-a-generation clear shot at St. Petersburg’s African-American vote. With several black leaders expected to run in 2013 or 2017, Gibbons will not have a monopoly on the Midtown vote.
4. Gibbons will get even less support from the Republican Party than he did in 2009. While Gypsy Gallardo would argue that the Republican Party never supported Gibbons in the first place, Gibbons will find even less support from the GOP in any future bid for elected office. Gibbons’ only real ally in the GOP was Charlie Crist, and, well, you know how that story turned out. Now that Gibbons has left the Republican Party, and given up his status as the token black dude in the GOP, he won’t have the support of some conservative leaders, like Pinellas Chair JJ Beyrouti, who offer support to any competitive Republican.
5. Gibbons won’t get the same kind of support from Tallahassee that he did in 2009. Over the course of his political career, whether it be as a donor or as a lobbyist, Gibbons built up a healthy reserve of IOUs from Tallahassee’s political community. Gibbons spent these IOUs for his campaign for mayor and there’s no reason to expect he’ll be able to build up such a reserve for 2013.
6. Gibbons no longer serves on any of the boards or committees he did leading up to his race for mayor. Although he had never held elected office before running for mayor in 2009, Gibbons had an extensive resume of service to the community, including positions on WorkNet Pinellas, the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, Pinellas County’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast Corporate Board of directors, Pinellas County Economic Development Council and the Board of the Museum of Fine Arts. Gibbons gave all that up to run for mayor and he’ll never be reappointed to those positions.
7. Gibbons no longer serves on the Pinellas Housing Authority, which was Gibbons’ primary source of influence and shake-down money. From his perch on the Pinellas Housing Authority, Gibbons was able to extract thousands of dollars in donations (and many more thousands in graft) from developers eager to do business with the Housing Authority. Without this position, Gibbons loses his best connection to developer money, as well as the walking around money that fueled his illicit campaign.
8. Rick Baker hates Deveron Gibbons. In 2009, out of loyalty to Gibbons’ past service to him, Rick Baker tolerated Deveron Gibbons’ shenanigans. If Deveron ever decides to run for anything in St. Petersburg, you can expect Rick Baker to be campaign manager of the opposition.
9. Go Davis is no longer as powerful as he once was. Call it what you want: the South Side Mafia, the Black Alliance, whatever. But Goliath Davis and Co. will never be as strong as they were five years ago. The black community is too diverse for any one bloc to control it. Deveron was and is Go’s stalking horse for elected office, so as goes Goliath, so goes Gibbons. Go is still a force, perhaps even the force, in the African American community, but he’s not the force he once was.
10. Deveron Gibbons has shown his true colors. Even if you put aside the terrible campaign Gibbons ran, a campaign that was marked by immaturity and dishonesty — how’s your driving record, Deveron? — it will be a long time before anyone forgets about what Deveron did to Rick Baker. That incident killed him in the business community.
To Deveron’s detractors, of which I count myself first and foremost, the Baker incident was typical Deveron. It’s why I started a website What’s Wrong with Deveron? It’s why Deveron did what he did to Jeff Copeland, his supposed friend who had volunteered on his campaign. Deveron is a straight-up son of a bitch and that’s reason number one why he won’t run in 2013.