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St. Pete College drops sponsorship of mayoral debate after Tampa Bay Times restricts audience

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The decision to change the format of an upcoming mayoral debate has led to the departure of one of the original sponsors of the event.

St. Petersburg College is no longer co-sponsoring the debate set for July 25th at the Palladium in downtown St. Petersburg.

Tickets to the debate were originally planned to be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis to members of the public.

However, after a series of disruptions during a candidate forum at the St. Petersburg Hilton Bayfront, the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 decided not to distribute tickets on Wednesday. This despite the fact that members of the public (including those in the Uhuru movement) had, in some cases, waited for hours in line. Those who waited were instead asked to provide their personal information and told they would be contacted later.

On Thursday, the Times said that “due to security concerns, the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 are changing the format of our July 25 mayoral debate to ensure that it is a safe and productive event.”

The debate is now an invitation-only event, with tickets going to the the campaigns of the participating candidates and event sponsors.

“Our goal is to create an environment that is free of disruption and conducive to the exchange of information between the two leading candidates,” said Times spokeswoman Sherri Day.

Those actions have now resulted in SPC wringing its hands of the event.

“The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College agreed to co-sponsor the St. Petersburg mayoral debate scheduled for July 25th by offering our venue, The Palladium, free of charge,” wrote SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams on Friday. “However, SPC did not determine the selection of the candidates nor the criteria for participation.”

“Given the prevailing debate over participation and access to this televised event, and consistent with our original agreement that included rent-free space on campus, we asked that admission remain open to the public as was promised.”

The debate sponsors have been criticized for limiting the debate to only the two top fundraisers in the campaign, Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker.

The other five candidates on the ballot are: Jesse Nevel, Paul Congemi, Theresa “Momma T” Lassiter, Anthony Cates III and Ernisa Barnwell


Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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