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C.J. Kaniss, longtime Pinellas public servant

Once a St. Petersburg council member, he also was Pinellas County elections supervisor.

Published April 28, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Charles J. Kaniss, Pinellas County's elections supervisor for a dozen years and a former St. Petersburg City Council member, has died at 88. Mr. Kaniss, a war hero and business owner and a player in the four-month St. Petersburg garbage strike of 1968, died Wednesday (April 26, 2006) at home.

Before stepping up in 1976 to the supervisor's office, where he made it easier to register to vote, he served on the City Council from 1951 to 1955 and was vice mayor from 1954 to 1955.

"We took care of the water department, the sewers, the fire department, the police," he recalled in 1993. "None of us got paid, and when you retired, you got a gift not to exceed $250. That's how we got our first TV set!"

In 1976 he was elected supervisor of elections as a Republican, serving three terms, until January 1989. He took credit for doing away with lever voting machines, replacing them with a punch-card voting system, and employing computers to make vote counting faster and more accurate.

"He was such a great person," said Deborah Clark, the current elections supervisor, who worked for him at the city Public Works Department. "He created a voter outreach program that was the first in the state."

"He trained deputy registrars in every bank in Pinellas County and in other businesses, like real estate offices."

At the time, she noted, prospective voters had to register at an elections office, which could be inconvenient. His actions meant "everyone had the opportunity to register to vote," she said.

As a boy of 8 he came to St. Petersburg with his family in 1925 from Henryetta, Okla. A friend who was an oil wildcatter had told his father, E.H. Kaniss, "They're making millions down there."

His father bought a house on Bay Street NE, but lost it in the 1929 stock market crash, and the Kanisses, their four children and a cousin they were rearing moved to a smaller house.

"We knew we were poor, but so was everybody else," Mr. Kaniss recalled.

After graduating from St. Petersburg High School and St. Petersburg Junior College, he went to the University of Wisconsin, where he could get proper training for a career in public service.

"And then I majored in philosophy. You figure it out," he said.

In World War II, he served in the Army in four Italian and African theater campaigns and came home a captain. His decorations included two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

After World War II, he returned to St. Petersburg to own and operate a family jewelry business from 1945 to 1967. The following year, he rejoined City Hall.

On May 6, 1968, the city's garbage workers walked off the job for the third time in four years. The strike lasted 116 days, and the city saw dozens of firebombings and arrests.

The strike was about wages, but all but one of the 211 garbage workers were black. It produced racial confrontations and protest marches by the workers, who were fired.

Eventually, workers returned to their trucks after winning small concessions.

As part of his role, Mr. Kaniss began going to the compound on 26th Avenue S near the Boyd Hill Nature Trail to talk to the men and get to know them.

He was a past president of St. Petersburg Kiwanis Club, chapter chairman of the American Red Cross and president of the St. Petersburg School Pioneers. He also belonged to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Margery; two daughters, Katherine Prescott, St. Petersburg, and Nancy Bevens, Dunwoody, Ga.; three sons, Alan C., Houston, John C., Tacoma, Wash., and Richard C., Richardson, Texas; 11 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

A gathering of family and friends will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Anderson-McQueen Funeral and Cremation Centers, 2201 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.

The family suggests memorial contributions to St. Petersburg Kiwanis Club-YIS Fund, P.O. Box 12686, St. Petersburg, FL 33733-2686.

Information from Times files was used in this obituary.

[Last modified April 28, 2006, 01:15:08]

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