Mayoral hopefuls dig into pockets
By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001
Four of the top five St. Petersburg mayoral candidates have kicked in thousands of dollars in personal money to boost their campaigns as Tuesday's primary looms.
This month, Rick Baker lent his campaign $7,500. Karl Nurse gave his campaign $19,000, and Omali Yeshitela kicked in $1,156 to support his own cause, according to campaign reports filed Friday.
Even Kathleen Ford, who last week said she couldn't afford a $1,000 state fee because it would be an "undue burden" on her personal finances, lent her campaign $5,000. After the St. Petersburg Times reported Ford's sworn statement, she paid the $1,000 assessment from her campaign account this week. She did not return calls Friday.
Fundraising in the mayoral race has been a hot topic. Baker's record-breaking $127,201 is twice what any other candidate has raised, and Nurse is making it a campaign issue. Many St. Petersburg voters received a mailing from Nurse on Friday characterizing Baker as the candidate "for the downtown insiders who want to control City Hall."
It's a parody of the MasterCard television campaign, listing, "private plane rental for fundraising -- $592," "high-priced consultants to spin your message -- $12,430.46," and "slick TV ads designed to convince voters you're pro-neighborhood -- $50,000."
The mailing concludes: "The political hypocrisy -- priceless."
Baker said he has broad support that includes three former presidents of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, civic leaders, regular folks, and yes, business people.
"I'm very proud of the fact that we've gotten over 600 people to come forward in (financial) support of our campaign," Baker said. "I think people frankly are tired of these last-minute, election eve attack ads, especially those designed to divide people."
Nurse has spent $11,000 on a campaign consultant (Mary Repper, whom he calls "an old friend"). He was second in fundraising, with $62,934, but about two-thirds of that total is money he gave his campaign. He said that does not indicate a lack of support.
"I have spent the last month soliciting votes rather than dollars," Nurse said Friday. "To raise that kind of money would have required me sitting on the phone for the majority of the time."
Baker said he gave his campaign $7,500 because, "It's important to demonstrate that you believe in what you're doing, too."
The top two finishers in Tuesday's primary advance to the March 27 general election. Each campaign has spent nearly all of its money, reflecting the uncertainty of the outcome of the primary.
Candidate Larry Williams has raised his money, $48,075, the old-fashioned way -- from supporters. He bought 15 billboards and cable television spots.
"I'm just out there kind of plugging along," Williams said.
Nurse paid $3,500 for a phone bank to call voters, and he spent thousands on direct mail pieces.
This month, Baker spent more than $30,000 on direct mail, and some $36,500 on cable ads. (Nurse's flier quoted the $50,000 estimate that Baker's consultant used in a recent newspaper article.)
Ford spent nearly $5,000 on printing and some $12,000 in postage.
Yeshitela spent about $2,800 in printing and postage.
Volunteer strategist Penny Hess said Yeshitela is running a campaign based on personal contact, not media buys.
"There's the money way and the people power way," she said. "The town hall meetings we did were excellent, and I think we won a lot of votes doing that."
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