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Politics

Free airtime replaces debate

City Council candidates won't meet face-to-face. Instead, they'll present themselves on video to be aired on city TV.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published October 14, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG- City officials have put the kibosh on plans to televise a debate before the general election in November, much to the dismay of council candidates who are struggling to reach out to voters in a race that has garnered little attention citywide.

Instead, candidates will be given one minute of airtime, during which they can introduce themselves or talk about campaign issues, said Beth Herendeen, the city's marketing director. City officials will begin filming the candidates this week.

In a risky move intended to promote fairness, the city will not edit the video.

"We would hope that they will keep it about their platform and not about another candidate," Herendeen said. "We decided to keep it to one minute, so that the entire tape should last about 20 minutes. If you make it too long, people won't necessary watch it."

The video should begin airing on the city's television network by Oct. 29, Herendeen said, giving voters one week before the Nov. 6 election to study up on the candidates.

City Council members had originally pledged to air a debate and biographies of the candidates in the weeks before the election, but staff members concluded doing so would be too controversial.

"There would always be the perception that a sitting council member influenced the debate," Herendeen said. "Take any issue - like what questions were asked, who was asked first - and there could be some perceived unfairness."

It's unclear if the free airtime will help the candidates at this point.

In recent weeks, they have attended neighborhood association meetings, gone door-knocking, and shook hands at various festivals, to a questionable degree of success. Many residents are still unaware there is an election going on, and only 20 people showed up at a recent Disston Heights Civic Association candidates forum Tuesday. Only 11 percent of eligible voters participated in the September primary.

Bob Kersteen, who is challenging council member Herb Polson for the District 1 seat, said he has been reaching out to community groups, attending public events - anything to try to persuade people to put his campaign poster on their lawn.

"It's been difficult," he said. "There is a lot of apathy out there."

Bill Dudley, who is running for the District 3 seat, said he was counting on a televised debate to help generate interest in the race.

"I talk to people all the time who say: 'Is there another election?' They say: 'Isn't it over?'" he said.

The chamber of commerce will host a citywide debate on Oct. 25. Questions will be posed from chamber members, but the event will be open to the public.

The chamber had hoped the city would televise that debate, but city officials turned down the offer.

Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or 727 893-8846.

District 2

The current City Council will appoint someone to replace John Bryan in District 2 during the regular meeting Oct. 18. Five people have applied.

FAST FACTS

What election?

St. Petersburg voters go to the polls Nov. 6 to elect four City Council members. People across the city can vote in each race. The winner will be sworn in next January and serve a four-year term.

District 1

District 3

District 5

District 7

[Last modified October 13, 2007, 22:11:42]


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