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Mayor gets first inaugural ball

The Jan. 20 event, being hosted by the Junior League of St. Petersburg, will raise money for local charities.

Published December 14, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The president has one, as does the governor. So why not the mayor of St. Petersburg?

For the first time, St. Petersburg's top elected official will get an inaugural ball to kick off his four-year term. The Junior League of St. Petersburg is hosting the Jan. 20 event, which will raise money for three local charities.

Tickets are $150 per person for the full event, which includes dinner, or $25 for dessert and dancing only. Corporate sponsorships are available for between $1,000 and $10,000. The event will be held at the Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N.

Carl Lavender, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast, came up with the idea about six months ago.

"It came to me as I was driving on the freeway one day," Lavender said. "I thought it would be a great way to recognize the accomplishments of the city."

He called the Junior League to ask them to organize the event. The ball will raise money for the league, the Boys & Girls Club and a charity of the mayor's choice.

Baker selected the Doorway Scholarships, a program started by the Pinellas County Education Foundation which offers a child in grades 4 through 9 who meets low-income guidelines a four-year college scholarship.

Baker said he's looking forward to the event but had concerns about accommodating supporters who couldn't afford the gala. Baker was re-elected Nov. 8 with 70 percent of the vote, but some of his strongest support came from neighborhoods in Midtown, the economically struggling area south of Central Avenue.

Baker said he asked the Junior League to create the $25 tickets for those who didn't want to pay $150 per person, and to make the event black tie optional, so participants wouldn't have to rent a tuxedo.

"Ultimately, I think it will be a nice event for the city and it will raise money for some good charities," Baker said.

But Darryl Rouson, a Baker supporter who stepped down this year as president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, said the event is too exclusive.

Many black-owned businesses can't afford the more expensive corporate sponsorships, which include tickets to a VIP reception with the mayor, Rouson said. Attendance at the reception could benefit a business that hopes to work with the city, he said.

"What I hope for is a seamless sharing of prosperity in St. Petersburg where all segments of the citizenry feel not just included but have the wherewithal to attend the perks that a large segment of St. Petersburg enjoys," Rouson said.

Others accuse Rouson of overreacting. The event isn't sponsored by the city and or funded with taxpayer dollars.

"Let's call it what it is - a fundraiser," said council member Bill Foster. "The mayor isn't going to stand up there and raise his right hand or anything. I view it as a fundraiser that won't cost the taxpayers a thing."

Jillian Doyle, president of the Junior League of St. Petersburg, said the theme of the event is "Celebrate the Magic of St. Petersburg." The event's decor will showcase the city's landmarks.

She said she hopes the event will become a tradition every four years and will continue to raise money for local charities.

"Pretty much everyone I've spoken to is excited about it," Doyle said. "It's going to be a neat event."

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Junior League's Web site at or call 727 895-5018.

Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or

[Last modified December 14, 2005, 18:10:17]

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