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Gulfport candidates suspicious after forum

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


GULFPORT -- Candidates trying to remove Gulfport's incumbents from office already were curious about why the city chose to have a candidates forum at the municipal theater rather than at City Hall.

Now some of those challengers are downright suspicious.

"If this isn't a conspiracy," mayoral candidate John Freiberger said, "I don't know what a conspiracy is."

A forum held Tuesday night at the Catherine A. Hickman Theater of Gulfport was more rousing than most, and it was captured on videotape. Plans called for airing the tape, produced by Time Warner Communications, one evening last week on public access television.

But a series of technical problems that the city blames on Time Warner led Gulfport to abandon plans to broadcast the forum during prime time. Instead, city officials aired it during the day.

Byron Twigg, a former Gulfport police officer who is now managing former police Lt. Larry Tosi's campaign for mayor, said the chain of events "brings suspicion." He said he believes Tosi did a good job at the forum and wants people who work during the day to get a chance to hear the issues.

"When you put that much effort into something, and you want to put your best foot forward, and you do put your best foot forward, it's upsetting that only the people who were there get to see it," Twigg said.

Even before the forum was held, Freiberger was upset about how the forum was being handled. He wanted the event to be held at City Hall, where the city has the equipment to air the forum live on television. Instead, it was held at the theater, which has more seating than the City Council chambers.

Sam Rivera, Gulfport's information technology director, offered this explanation:

Time Warner agreed to supply a camera and an employee to run it at the forum, but the panel discussion was filmed on a type of videotape the city cannot use in its system. The city agreed to air its video on television Thursday instead of Wednesday.

Time Warner converted the tapes to a VHS format, but when Rivera tried to play the converted tapes at City Hall, there was no audio. The broadcast was pushed back to Friday.

It took several hours for Time Warner to redub the tapes, and the the tape looked fine when Rivera checked it. The first half of the candidates forum, a panel discussion for the three mayoral candidates, aired at 10 a.m. Friday.

But instead of the expected City Council candidates panel, Time Warner had inadvertently dubbed a children's forum, unrelated to Gulfport, onto the second half of the tape.

The city discontinued the broadcast when it realized what it was airing. The problem was resolved Friday afternoon, and the whole forum ran later that day.

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