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Ford receives endorsements from 3 groups

The nod from the Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association could help her finances in the race for mayor.


Correction (3/10/01): During a speech Thursday at the Universty of South Florida, Faye Wattleton, president of the Center for Gender Equality, commented on the fitness of women to hold political office. Her comments were not intended as an endorsement of St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford.

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford has picked up the support of organizations dealing with the environment, women and police.

The Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association, the Suncoast Sierra Club and the Florida National Organization for Women Political Action Committee this week endorsed Ford over her opponent, attorney Rick Baker.

PBA executive director Bill LauBach said Thursday his organization thinks Ford, a City Council member for the past four years, is more knowledgeable on issues affecting the city. It helped, he said, that she had stronger words about the accountability of department heads such as police Chief Goliath Davis III.

The PBA has often clashed with Davis.

"Kathleen told us she would exercise oversight on department heads throughout the city and make them accountable to her," LauBach said. "Rick Baker, when we asked him the same question, stated he would not interfere with the decisions of department heads. That is status quo in St. Petersburg."

Baker said he did not say he would let department heads operate with complete independence.

"I think I've said all along to everyone that I would be hands-on in all departments," Baker said. "That doesn't mean you're trying to do the department head's job, either. If you're mayor of the city, you're ultimately responsible for all the department's heads."

LauBach said Ford did not tell the PBA she would fire Davis, whom she has frequently criticized. But LauBach said Davis is accountable to no one now and that needs to change.

The endorsement could mean something financially to Ford. PBA President J.W. "Jack Soule" sent out a memo to 11 other police benevolent associations around the state asking their political action committees to contribute $500 each to Ford's campaign.

It was Ford's knowledge of the issues that earned her the endorsement of the Suncoast Sierra Club, which covers Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.

Michael Miller, chairman of the executive committee of the group, said his organization liked Ford's environmental record. As a council member, she supported the creation of a Clam Bayou Preserve near Gulfport and opposed bringing Orimulsion, the controversial Venezuelan tar-based fuel, to a Florida Power & Light plant at the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Ford also received the backing of Florida NOW and Faye Wattleton, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, at a women's symposium at the University of South Florida on Thursday.

"We know she's a feminist," said Sandy Oestreich, president of Pinellas NOW. "She also has a good grasp of neighborhood issues. She's an intelligent, hard-working feminist."

Ford, 43, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Baker has received endorsements from the incumbent mayor, David Fischer, former mayors Bob Ulrich and Corinne Freeman, and three former presidents of the Council of Neighborhood Associations: Connie Kone, Karen Mullins and Jon Clarke.

The Suncoast Hispanic Association also endorsed Baker, saying he has reached out to the Hispanic community and the city as a whole.

"Rick Baker, by far, has for decades been reaching out to our community and has made himself available to help resolve disputes that have taken place," said Louis Rodriguez, president of the group.

-- Times staff writer Bryan Gilmer contributed to this report.

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