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The 10 candidates in the five citywide council races have raised an average of $7,606.
By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- It may have cost mayoral candidate Rick Baker the price of a three-bedroom house to run his mayoral campaign so far, but most of the City Council candidates are running theirs for about a year's worth of apartment rent, the latest campaign finance reports show.
The 10 candidates running for five council seats in the general election have raised an average $7,606, according to reports due at City Hall Friday. Council candidates ran only in their district in the primaries, but in the March 27 general election, they must campaign citywide, so this stage will get more expensive.
The races to represent District 5, the city's far southern tip, and District 6, neighborhoods between downtown and Lake Maggiore, are nearly even when measured by fundraising. All the candidates have raised near the average amount.
Lawn service owner James S. Bennett has a $3,000 edge over Robert Eschenfelder, an attorney for the Manatee County government, and council member and insurance agent Earnest Williams has about $1,400 more than Dwight "Chimurenga" Waller in District 6.
Money could be a bigger factor in the three other contests, where the comparisons are more lopsided.
In the west end's District 1 race, council member Richard Kriseman's $10,441 total is 17 times as much as his opponent, Dennis Homol Sr., has raised. And in District 2, representing northern St. Petersburg, candidate John Bryan has raised the most money of any council candidate, $21,287. His opponent, Craig Patrick, is close to the average total, putting him far behind in cash.
"People have sent me checks double or triple what I expected them to give me," Bryan said, attributing much of the success to his lifetime network of friends in St. Petersburg. "It's really humbling. People I was thinking would give me $25 have given me $100."
Bryan has been able to use his pile of money to make a citywide splash with billboards and signs even during the primary, on the hopeful assumption he would make it to the general election. After accomplishing that on Feb. 27, he was driving around Friday, trying to raise more money "because I do need to pay for these things that I've bought."
Patrick is trying to do more with less. He said he studied previous council contests and found that the average primary-winning candidate needed about $2,800 to make it into the general election, so he raised that much and then worked on getting out his campaign message. So far, he has raised that much again for the general election. "Money doesn't vote; people vote," Patrick said. "We realize that you have to raise money because you need money to get a message out there. You also have to make sure you don't raise so much money that the money becomes the message. That's where you go wrong."
In the District 4 race to represent neighborhoods north of downtown, Chris Eaton thinks his message is the reason he has raised the second-most of any council candidate, some $11,000.
"When they put their money up, they're putting their money where their mouth is," he said. "It is helpful. When you're in a citywide race, you've got to get your name out there."
The consulting firm owner is buying billboards in his race against Virginia Littrell, the director of a consumer action lobbying group. Littrell has raised just a quarter as much as Eaton, but she points out that she filed to run right before the Jan. 30 deadline.
"I think that's to be expected in a race where he started 21/2 months before me," she said. "I'm not too terribly concerned about it. The money is starting to come in now. I think we're going to be okay."
Here is how much money the candidates had raised, according to campaign reports filed Friday:
Rick Baker $127,201
Kathleen Ford $37,140
Richard Kriseman $10,441
Dennis Homol Sr. $600
John Bryan $21,287
Craig Patrick $5,860
Chris Eaton $11,136.08
Virginia Littrell $2,740
James S. Bennett $7,683.50
Robert Eschenfelder $4,665
Earnest Williams $6,508
Dwight "Chimurenga" Waller $5,136.64