tampabay.com

Crist likes view from atop Tampa buildings

As he looks down on the competition, the top lawman defends illegal campaign signs.

By KEVIN GRAHAM and JANET ZINK
Published October 26, 2006


Charlie Crist says he likes the way he looks, dominating downtown Tampa’s landscape on giant banners placed two blocks apart.

“It looks like good advertising to me,” the Republican candidate for governor told the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday, as a week of debate over the legality of his signs waged on.

He stands with the Florida Republican Party’s explanation that the banners are “only temporary” and not restricted by city ordinances if they come down in 30 days, even though code enforcement officials called the banners illegal and the city attorney has backed the ruling.

“I think they should come down when the requirement is, which is within 30 days, from what I’ve read in your paper,” Crist said.
Tampa officials say the banners, paid for and placed by the state GOP, were illegal when they went up, and a

30-day window is standard for property owners to comply with the law after being cited. The Nov. 7 election is 11 days away.

But the attorney general may now face a more pressing deadline.

The city of St. Petersburg entered a violation in its system Thursday for an oversized Crist banner at the Grady Pridgen industrial complex, 2003 Gandy Blvd.

The property owners, listed as Gateway Business Centre Ltd., could have five to 10 days to remove it, city officials said. Company spokeswoman Honey Rand said the company would look into the matter once it receives a violation notice. A GOP spokesman had no information on who approved that banner.

As for the illegal signs in Tampa, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis called the decision to take them down a simple one.

“The attorney general is supposed to enforce the law, not break the law,” Davis said. “Repeat offenses are particularly bad, and now we have repeat offenses. Three strikes, and you’re out.”

The Florida Democratic Party added to the criticism, releasing a statement saying Crist, “the top elected law enforcement official in the state, apparently has no regard for the law.”

Tampa officials on Thursday said the Crist signs violate not just codes regulating political signs, but also rules regarding the size of wall signs.

Code enforcement officials have cited both Tampa building owners, the Wilson Co., which owns the Franklin Exchange Building, and Urban Renewal LLC, which owns the M&I Bank Plaza building, for having illegal political signs. The sign at 655 N Franklin St. measures 70 by 50 feet; the one at 601 N Ashley Drive is 60 by 60 feet.

“They should have pulled a permit, and they should meet the size requirements,” said Bill Doherty, deputy director for code enforcement.

City Council member Linda Saul-Sena hoped Crist would remove the signs immediately.

“If something is illegal, you address it immediately,” Saul-Sena said. “Mr. Crist is our state’s attorney general. He is an honorable man. I know he wouldn’t want to be associated with anything that breaks the law. Therefore, I am confident that he will remove them.”

Council members on Thursday called for adjusting the city’s political sign codes to keep something like this from happening again.

“We need to do some sign work on the political sign code because it’s being abused all over town,” said Council member John Dingfelder. “Not just this one.”

The 30-day window for correcting code violations is intended to help the homeowner whose grass is overgrown or home is in disrepair, he said. It’s not intended to allow candidates to keep their signs up until after an election.

“In political terms, that’s the whole shebang,” Dingfelder said. “In 30 days, you’ve accomplished what you want, while disregarding the law.”

Council member Rose Ferlita agreed.

In the case of political signs, the 30-day rule is “enforcement for naught,” she said.
Ferlita, a Republican who supports Crist in his run for governor, said whether to remove the signs immediately is a “judgment call” for the attorney general.

But she noted that earlier this year, she immediately removed her own campaign signs placed illegally by overzealous supporters in city right of way.

“All I can do is stick to my standards. I can’t tell anyone else what to do,” Ferlita said. “Charlie Crist has to be guided by his own decisions.”

Times staff writers Alex Leary, Steve Bousquet and Sue Carlton and researcher John Martin contributed to this story.