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St. Petersburg: 9 mayoral candidates, 7 credible

Nine mayoral candidates. Seven credible. Several possibilities

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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001

An entirely biased, subjective report from Tuesday night's forum of the candidates to be mayor of St. Petersburg:

Good job by most of them. At least seven of the nine were credible. A majority of those could actually be elected without setting off a citywide panic.

In alphabetical order:

Pat Bailey, collection agency owner: Seems like a good guy who's in a little in over his head. Easy answers for tough problems ("Desalination. It's that simple.")

Rick Baker, lawyer, supposed front-runner: A "make no mistakes" strategy. No great shakes. Listed his four-point program, sat down, smiled politely at the others' potshots.

Ronnie Beck, drafting company owner: Good for a first-time mayoral candidate, slightly heavy on the "run government like a business" stuff. But some good specific criticisms of the city's management. Ask him about the sewer plant.

Kathleen Ford, City Council member: Did exactly what she needs to do, setting out her tough-critic record first, then ending on a non-scary touch ("We share so very much. we really do care about the same things.") If she sings me Kum Ba Yah, I'm votin' for her.

Louis Miceli, Jabil Circuit employee: Seems like a sweet guy, but waaaaaaaay in over his head, like his buddies put him up to it. "This is all new to me," he said in his opening statement. If anybody needs anything, "Get ahold of me, and I'll get it done for you," he promised. Pause. "That's all I have to say right now, okay?"

Karl Nurse, printing company owner, Planning Commission member: Very solid, credible, knowledgeable guy with neighborhood credentials and zero visible passion. Closing statement discussed the city's maintenance backlog and increasing the size of the city's grant-writing department.

Maria Scruggs-Weston: Impressive first-time candidate with 22 years in public service, including law enforcement, community development and health care. Unpolished as a mayoral candidate with some vague answers -- why not start with City Council?

Larry Williams, City Council member: Probably the all-around most specific and knowledgeable about issues such as water, but also persuasive on his ability to bring people together to hash out disagreements.

Omali Yeshitela: The leader of the Uhuru movement is speaking increasingly eloquently as a candidate, and no one can claim anymore than he is not a serious candidate. He argues, reasonably enough, that economic development throughout the city benefits us all.

The nine candidates appeared on stage at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida. The moderator was Al Ruechel of Bay News 9, who did the best even-handed job of managing a forum crowd and a crowd of candidates that I have seen.

For the most part, the candidates agreed on lots of stuff. "We seem so similar," Beck said in his closing statement, "I feel that I'm in an episode of the X-Files."

Yet there were some important differences. Here was Ford, on police Chief Goliath Davis: "I will evaluate all department heads and make the appropriate changes."

Williams would sell the city-owned site of Bayfront Medical Center to the hospital: "The City Council needs to get out of the health-care business." The rest wanted to keep the city's land, and therefore a hand in Bayfront's affairs.

I predicted the other day that Baker will get the most votes in the Feb. 27 primary, and that the question is who will finish second and make it to the general election. Williams and Ford probably have the best chance. I still think Nurse is credible -- and that Yeshitela will get a decent share of votes too. One thing lots of people agreed on Tuesday night, however, was they don't want to let that no-good, stinkin' St. Petersburg Times run the city, so I recommend that you ignore all this and go see for yourself.

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