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Money talks in this mayor's race

Three candidates are running for the honorary title, and the one who raises the most wins.

By JAY CRIDLIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003


Elvis lives. And he wants to be mayor of Riverview.

He's one of three candidates in the running for the title of honorary mayor of Riverview, which the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce will bestow April 26 to the highest fundraiser.

Money raised during the race is split evenly between the chamber and a charity of the candidate's choosing.

This year, three candidates are in the running: Dianne Birkhead, a secretary at Ippolito Elementary School; Bud Hunt, owner of three Beef 'O' Brady's locations and the reigning honorary mayor; and Billy Lindsey, a chef at Riverview Sandwich Shop and musician who specializes in Elvis impersonations.

"It has nothing to do with your political stand on the issues or your platform," said Jim Johnson of Cargill Crop Nutrition, a former two-term mayor and the current honorary mayor of Gibsonton. "Simply, the one who raises the most money wins. It is a true political race. You can be bought."

Debra Smith, the chamber's executive director, said the honorary mayor's race has gotten to be one of its most popular fundraising events.

"It's getting better and better every year," she said. "It's getting more and more competitive."

Last year, the event raised nearly $5,000. This year, Lindsey and Birkhead have hosted fundraising events, and Lindsey is raffling off a chance to have him entertain at your house. The three candidates have already raised several thousand dollars.

Former mayor Johnson talked Lindsey into running.

"I did it jokingly one day," he said. "Everybody knows me as Elvis here. It's kind of cute, and it is for charity."

Lindsey and Hunt are both campaigning on behalf of Shriners Hospital.

Charity is the primary reason Birkhead is in the race. A former volunteer at the Brandon Crisis Pregnancy Center, Birkhead, who is now on the chamber's board of directors, decided this would be a good way to continue helping that cause.

"Plus," she joked, "we need a woman in office."

Several communities, such as Brandon and Ruskin, have honorary mayors, but rarely do those "elected" have responsibilities beyond attending ribbon cuttings and chamber of commerce events.

Riverview's honorary mayor also gets a seat on the chamber's board of directors, though, which can lead to some real responsibilities.

"The two years as mayor got me into six years on the board of directors," Johnson said.

Candidates will raise money until April 26, when the new mayor will be announced.

-- Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or cridlin@sptimes.com .

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