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Herman Goldner dubbed a 'pre-eminent mayor'

As a smart, aggressive attorney, he served as St. Petersburg's mayor, even switching parties in his fourth term.

By SCOTT TAYLOR HARTZELL
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 21, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- After a Pinellas deputy mishandled an arrest in 1949, attorney Herman W. Goldner sued the sheriff.

"Nobody sued the sheriff in those days," said former U.S. Rep. Bill Cramer, Goldner's law partner at the time. "The deputy (purposely) shot our client in the foot. We won a $3,000 judgment."

As a lawyer and politician for nearly four decades, Goldner never retreated from his beliefs: urban renewal, racial equality and peace. During an unprecedented fourth term as a business-friendly Republican mayor, he switched political parties.

Historian Walter Fuller called Goldner "one of the city's finest mayors."

At age 8, Goldner built a platform from which he delivered speeches to his family. "When Herman was supposed to mow the lawn, we'd find him instructing other boys how to do it," Ethel Goldner said of her son.

Goldner possessed a photographic memory and an IQ near 160, but because of absenteeism he was a B student. "I'd go to the opera or museum," said Goldner, a Detroit native who grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. "My educational patterns gave substantial problems to parents and teachers."

As a college student, Goldner sold Bibles and shoveled coal to get by. He graduated from Case Western Reserve University Law School, Harvard University Graduate School of Business and Miami University of Ohio.

In 1939, Goldner married Winifred Munyan three weeks after their first date. "I was supposed to be with the other boy; Herman liked me better and arranged a switch," Winifred said. Goldner, whose family was Jewish, converted to his wife's Episcopal faith.

Goldner, 33 years old at this point, settled here in 1949 with his wife and two boys on Fourth Avenue N. He established a law practice with Cramer in the Hall Building at Fourth Street and Central Avenue.

"We started from scratch," said Cramer, 80. "He served as my secretary. I served as his. We made a good team."

In the early 1950s, over lunch at the Suwannee Hotel, Goldner and Cramer plotted to alter the local political scene. According to historian Fuller, who was there, one of the men said: "Let us band together. We can capture political control of the county, and run it to serve our own ends for a generation."

Cramer recalled the period: "They called us the 'gold dust twins' because of our light-colored hair. Goldner had his (tobacco) pipe. It was his signature."

In 1960, Goldner became the county's Republican campaign manager. He was elected St. Petersburg's mayor a year later in a landslide. "This democracy is a good thing," said Goldner, whose inaugural at the Coliseum featured an array of red, white and blue gowns.

Goldner held idea breakfasts. "He was a good problem solver and tactician," Cramer said.

In 1965, seeking a third term, Goldner was hospitalized with a slipped disc for much of the race. He won by 4 percent, thanks to African-American support.

In 1966, Nation's Business magazine published Goldner's study, "How To Modernize America's Cities." The Chamber of Commerce honored Goldner in 1967 as St. Petersburg's pre-eminent mayor.

"He was visionary, so exceptional in planning," said Bruce Marger, a Goldner law partner for 16 years. Marger, 69, said Goldner's mayoral achievements include the Pier's renovation, the Bayfront Center's construction and "civil rights -- where he was caring and balanced."

"I never stop to evaluate the popularity of my ideas," said Goldner.

One year later, Goldner ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. He rebounded in 1972 and won a fourth term as St. Petersburg's mayor.

Alienated by President Richard Nixon's domestic and Vietnam War policies, Goldner broke rank. "I have broken a five-generation tradition," he said. "I am now a Democrat."

A lopsided defeat in a County Commission race in 1978 returned Goldner's focus to law.

After his wife's death in 1991, Goldner left St. Petersburg to live with his son Michael in Panama City, Panama. "His memory was already declining at that time," Marger said. Goldner presently suffers from severe Alzheimer's disease.

"Even if he switched parties," Cramer said, "I still have a lot of respect for him."

-- Scott Taylor Hartzell can be reached at hartzel@msn.com.

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