Cheap shot question turns into big pointsBy Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 12, 2003
Kelly Benjamin scored the biggest ovation during a debate of Tampa City Council candidates before the Oakford Park Neighborhood Association -- and just as it looked like he had been sandbagged.
The two-hour debate was centered around previously crafted questions for at-large candidates, and the west Tampa district hopefuls. But the 40-or-so audience members were also invited to write questions.
Only one was submitted, and by a person who was also was handing out literature promoting Rose Ferlita, Benjamin's opponent, a current City Council member attempting to switch to the at-large District 2 seat. Nothing unusual there. A traditional campaign move.
The question setup noted that Benjamin's own literature says that he once managed a small, unlicensed radio station. It expressed the writer's discomfort with an essentially illegal operation. And it asked him to explain.
Benjamin, who sported an Abe Lincoln beard, didn't hesitate. The United States' rich history is built around groups that work to fight what they consider unjust laws. That's what he was doing, he said, fighting the Federal Communications Commission and what he considered a wrongheaded ban of small, independent radio stations -- so-called pirate radio.
In fact, he said, due to his work and that of others around the country, the FCC has changed its policies.
But Benjamin didn't stop there. Feeling the audience shift toward his position, he was quickly offering references to Rosa Parks and the Boston Tea Party. Before he was finished, the audience was egging him on. He was their DJ and they were dancing to his music.
He went well past the time limit on the last question during a night that saw several audience members bail as the debate continued. Those who remained exploded in applause as he finished, except those in the Ferlita camp.
Ferlita had greeted the question with a smirk. Her expression changed to a sneer as he finished.
SO, WHO'S RULING OUT WHOM FOR MAYOR?: The mayor's race offers a tough choice among the candidates, but on March 4, voters have to decide. Only one person can become mayor.
Or do they?
The Tampa Bay chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties recently endorsed not one, not two, but three candidates for mayor.
We're not sure how this would work. Bob Buckhorn could be mayor in the winter, Pam Iorio could take over in the spring, and Frank Sanchez could sweat out the summer and fall.
Seriously, the chapter said Buckhorn, Iorio and Sanchez are well-qualified to become mayor. That only rules out City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda and fitness author Don Ardell.
NO, THEY'RE NOT THE TIMES DEMOCRATS: Many readers already assume the "liberal media" sides with the Democrats. So we expect critics to get a hoot out of this.
The Hillsborough Democratic Party has closed its office in South Tampa and rented space in the Times building next to the Performing Arts Center. They will occupy a suite on the sixth floor, just below the seventh-floor newsroom.
Hillsborough Democratic Executive Committee chairman Henry Gill said the Democrats, who took a beating in the 2002 election, wanted more visible office space. They recently re-organized and brought in new committee chairs to raise money and reach out to groups.
Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe lunched with local Democrats at the Tampa Club on a swing through Florida.
For the record: There is no conspiracy between the Times and Democrats. The Times Building is not owned by the St. Petersburg Times; the newspaper's name is simply on the building on Ashley Drive.
EVENTS: City Council member Rose Ferlita will hold a fundraiser from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with food and steel drum music at the Front Porch Grill, 5924 N Florida Ave. Call 231-3321 to RSVP.
-- Got a tip? Contact David Karp at 226-3376 or email@example.com, and Bill Varian at 226-3387 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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