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Preview of St. Pete City Council races: Steve Kornell and Angela Rouson square off, Danner lays low and Kennedy could be in trouble

in The Bay and the 'Burg by
On the undercard of this November’s municipal elections are five races for the St. Petersburg City Council that range in intensity from the very exciting to the very boring. Here’s how they break down:

District 2: Exciting – Incumbent Jim Kennedy is in trouble. How much trouble? I’m not sure. But, having met his opponent Steve Corsetti, I know Kennedy has a race on his hands. Corsetti is the kind of plain-spoken candidate that, for better or worse, appeals to St. Pete voters (read: Bill Dudley, Wengay Newton). Kennedy, appointed to the City Council in the wake of John Bryan’s suicide, is a competent legislator, but is an awkward communicator who has yet to find his voice on a City Council.

If crime continues to be the dominant issue of the campaign, Corsetti, a former small-town police chief, could gain traction. Fortunately, Kennedy has hired Obama for America organizer Johnny Bardine to run his campaign. Bardine needs to bring in a few more hired-guns to handle media and polling — and he needs to do so before Corsetti gets organized. If so, I like Kennedy 55% to 45%, if not, I like Corsetti in an upset.

District 4: Snoozer – Does Dr. Pamela Settlegood remind anyone else of Diane Keaton, if Keaton were a left-wing loon-bird running for City Council, instead of an Academy Award winning actress? As much as I’d like to see incumbent Leslie Curran given a run for her money, Curran deserves to be re-elected, if for no other reason than for her work to bolster arts programs in the city. Curran wins in a walk, takin’ at least 65% of the vote.

District 5: Titillating – The black woman or the gay man. If this election can be reduced to a choice of stereotypes, that’s how this match shapes up. The reality is that these are two exciting, capable candidates, either of whom would be an improvement over most of the current members of the City Council. Steve Kornell handily won the primary, but that was because Angela Rouson and Joe Smith split the black vote.

Now Kornell and Rouson have to run city-wide. The day after the Election, I was at (surprise) Bella Brava, where Kornell held his first meeting. Only eight people showed up, most, if not all of them, Stonewall Democrats. I am unconvinced that the “Gay Community” knows how to win a city-wide campaign. They’ve lost race after race in St. Petersburg and Pinellas (Chris Eaton, Darden Rice, Charles McKenzie)and they just got creamed in the Mayoral Race. Eventually, an openly-gay candidate will win, but not if their first priority is gay issues. Unfortunately for Steve Kornell, organizations like the Stonewall Democrats and Equality Florida continue to frame these municipal and county races as referendums on gay rights. Few straight men are as pro-gay as I am, but even I get turned off by candidates who are so single-minded. Kornell may not fall into this category, but too many of his supporters do.

Angela Rouson’s campaign started off sluggishly, but peaked at the right moments. She won the endorsement of the major community leaders, such as Rick Baker and Ken Welch. She looked and sounded great at most of the campaign forums. She won the endorsement of the St. Petersburg Firefighters, and will probably win the endorsement of the PBA now that Smith, a former cop, is out of the race. Update: the PBA has endorsed Steve Kornell.

The race between Kornell and Rouson is shaping up as one in which Kornell is allowing stereotypes to define him, while Rouson is building a broad coalition of city interests. I think Rouson will pull out a win 52% to 48%.

District 6: Boring – Give credit where credit is due. Karl Nurse won his district and he won it the right way. Nurse could have gone on vacation and still made it to the General Election. Instead of mailing it in, Nurse ran a serious campaign. And it paid off. Because he is a white guy appointed to a minority-majority district, it was very important to Nurse’s credibility that he win a significant portion of the black vote. In the ten precincts in Nurse’s district that were carried by Deveron Gibbons, Nurse averaged 51% of the vote, winning all but three of them. Based on this data, maybe a statistician wouldn’t stipulate that Nurse won the black vote, but it is obvious that Nurse ran well enough in the African-American community that he can claim a mandate from his district.

Nurse will only fare better when he runs city-wide. He should set a goal of winning 65% of the vote, a number he should achieve easily. The only question will be whether Nurse can outperform the other incumbers on the City Council.

District 8: Very Boring – At first, I thought Jeff Danner should hire a political consultant, like my good friend Greg Wilson, and at least try to run a serious campaign. But why bother? His opponent Leornard Schmiege can’t beat Danner. Still I thought Danner should try to run a “real” campaign to bolster his public profile in case he to run for something else one day. I don’t want to see what happened in 2007 to Jamie Bennett to happen to Danner. Bennett ran a half-hearted re-election effort instead of running a campaign that set him up better for his mayoral bid.

But I get the feeling that Danner, unlike Bennett, isn’t thinking about what’s next. A registered independent, Danner will have trouble running for the state Legislature. And after the wars Danner and the rest of the City Council have waged against the County Commission, I don’t think he can run for that body. Danner has always been the coolest guy on the City Council, maybe even too cool for the stiffs in City Hall. I don’t think Jeff should do anything more than what he’s doing now…being a great member of the City Council. If he sticks to that game plan, he’ll win in a landslide.

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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