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Where are the candidates for City Council?

in The Bay and the 'Burg by
Around St. Petersburg’s City Hall, you can’t step over a homeless person without bumping into someone running for Mayor. With Larry Williams throwing his hat in the ring last week, there are currently nine people hoping to replace Rick Baker. Being a candidate for mayor is the only job sector in town that’s a growth industry.

Where then are all the candidates for St. Petersburg City Council? There are five seats up for grabs this year, and currently there are only five candidates running — all of the incumbents. There’s an open seat in the district Jamie Bennett represents but will vacate to run for Mayor and there’s only one guy running there. As for the other seats, two are represented by individuals appointed by City Council. The final are two are occupied by incumbents expected to receive a pass, but they are in districts just brimming with potential candidates. What gives?

Let’s start with District 5, the seat currently occupied by Jamie Bennett. No one was sure this seat was going to be on this year’s ballot until recently when Bennett, having to resign-to-run, pushed for it be on the ballot, rather than it be appointed. Prominent neighborhood activist Will Michaels was suppose to run, but I think he would have rather been appointed. That leaves newcomer Steve Kornell, who seems well-intended and decently organized, but he’s far from unbeatable. I scooped on Friday that Angela Rouson is considering a run for the seat. With her husband’s political network behind her, she would be formidable. If she’s in, no one else is likely to run against her and Kornell, so it would be a city-wide race and a replay of the black vs. gay demographics that played out in the Earnest Williams-Darden Rice campaign in 2007.

At least there’d be a race in District 5. For the life of me, I cannot understand why no one has stepped forward to challenge Jim Kennedy in District 2. The affable but bookish lawyer was appointed to the Council after John Bryan’s suicide — not enough time for Kennedy to build up a political base. Nor is Kennedy a master of retail politics. As of this writing, he has yet to post a website and the only item that has been written about him recently was his presentation of his colon X-ray to City Council. In a district that is at the intersection of the old and new St. Petersburg, there has to be someone interested in challenging Kennedy. Don’t get me wrong, I like Kennedy, but someone getting appointed to the City Council and then gets re-elected too easily leads to the likes of Bill Foster.

Someone who was appointed but deserves a pass is Karl Nurse, whom I liken to a walking think tank and who has done nothing but good since being appointed to City Council after Earnest Williams resigned to run for the Florida House. Except Nurse is white in a district that has been historically represented by someone who is black. This situation begs the question, in this Age of Obama, in this period of post-partisanship, if voting blocks are ready to look past someone’s skin color so long as that person ably represents their needs. If this is so, then Nurse deserves a pass. And he might just get one, as many members of the city’s African-American community have grown comfortable with Nurse’s leadership. Nurse’s nightmare scenario is not one, but two black candidates stepping forward and him losing badly in a district-wide primary to one candidate, and then having to make his case city-wide in the face of criticism that he is not the true representative of his district. Something tells me he’s safe.

Also safe are Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner, despite the former’s representation of a district filled with potential candidates, all of whom are probably sitting this one out and waiting for 2013 or when Bill Heller is term-limited out of the Florida House. As for Danner, he’s one of my favorites, but he had a personal issue that dinged him (wrongly) and sometimes he can be taken as a cold fish. But he’s well-liked in his district and deserves a pass.

Even if Curran and Danner are safe, and for that matter Kennedy and Nurse, they have to be worried about one person who doesn’t even live in their district: Ed Helm. The local provocateur of Pinellas politics is going off a big win in Seminole, where he guided Patricia Plantamura to a first-place finish over an incumbent and Leslie Waters. Helm’s wife Adrian all but pulls the strings on City Councilman Wengay Newton and she’d love to have a second vote on City Council, if for nothing else than for someone to call for a motion and for someone else to second it.

Helm is said to be quietly meeting with a slate of candidates who would all file late in the qualifying period and pool their resources (such as targeted mailers to early voters). Helm is already said to be an adviser to Kornell’s campaign. With just one more vote on the Council, he could play as much havoc in City Hall as he has in the DEC.

You incumbents better get those websites built.


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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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