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Candidate is running, but not only for mayor

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By MARY JO MELONE, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 9, 2003


Don Ardell does not suffer from a diminished ego.

He has his own Web site, a useful thing when you are, like Ardell, running for mayor.

On this Web site he posts what he calls his Report to the World.

One of these reports is entitled: "Neuropolitics: The Relationship Between the Struggle to Get On the Ballot and Brain Research."

But far be it from me to suggest Ardell is a few bricks short of a load.

He won the last race he was in, only last weekend, and the field was certainly more crowded than the coming election for mayor of Tampa.

Ardell placed first for his age group, men between 60-64, in the Gasparilla Classic 15K run. His time, 58:14, was better than even the best time of the next youngest group, men 55-59. That means he ran a mile in about 61/2 minutes.

Okay, so the rest of the mayoral candidates would eat his dust. But he still has no chance of winning. When I bring this up, he shoots back, "That's what they said about Jesse Ventura!"

Ardell, 64, is a wellness expert. He writes books and gives speeches on staying healthy. It has made his bank account fat enough to afford him a condo high above that joggers' paradise, Bayshore Boulevard.

His campaign attempts to apply the idea of good health to politics and public life. Put it another way. He's using the campaign to push his yogurt-and-granola beliefs on to the meat-and-mashed potatoes voter, whom he refers to in his writings as El Tubbo.

So he talks earnestly about something he calls the Gross National Happiness.

He promises to always take the stairs and never the elevator in City Hall.

Or consider the time-honored practice of candidates standing at street corners, waving campaign signs to passing motorists. Goofy, Ardell calls it. (He's got a point.)

Here's his take: He'll run on a treadmill parked at the corner while waving a campaign sign.

"I may look goofy (hope not), but will at least be modeling what I'm promoting -- a fitter citizenry," he writes in one of his cyberspace missives. "It would be even cooler if I could figure a way to rig a treadmill that would illuminate a sign as I run on it -- this would lend an energy efficiency message to the stunt."

In a city and a country where most of us are overweight and out of shape, there is a certain appeal to Ardell's pitch.

It is certainly no stranger than Frank Sanchez's plan to come up with a musical soundtrack to accompany his campaign, or Bob Buckhorn's plan to enforce the 6-foot rule between strippers and their lusting customers.

You can hear it now: as mayor, Buckhorn will issue every beat cop a tape measure.

Ardell wants Tampa to become one of those places found to be the fittest in America, not the fattest. (They apparently do polls on this.)

That means more bicycle lanes for biking, more sidewalks for running. Fine ideas, these, given how -- there are polls on this too -- we're generally known as just about the most dangerous place in the country for an unfortunate without a car.

But what else might Ardell's goal mean? No more Cuban sandwiches, barbecue pork and chicken fried steak on the menu? Would he mandate regular blood pressure and cholesterol testing at the closest fire station?

He vows to visit a different neighborhood each week and discuss with the residents an issue of the day, whether the mayor can do anything about it or not. War with Iraq, say. Then he'd gather up the comments he heard and forward them to the White House, Congress and Larry King Live.

And just in case you haven't figured it out by now, Ardell says, "I'll be a mayor who's out there." Yep. Way out there.

-- Mary Jo Melone can be reached at mjmelone@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

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