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Foes in state House race spar over size of signs


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- The latest weapon in the state House District 52 race between incumbent Frank Farkas and Margo Fischer is . . . a tape measure.

At least that's how Fischer and her husband, St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer, see it.

Farkas, a Republican, and Pinellas County Republican Party Chairman Paul Bedinghaus charge that the Fischer campaign has violated the city's political sign ordinance by placing oversized signs in residential neighborhoods. Bedinghaus said he had someone measure the offending signs, and they are 4 by 4 feet -- much larger than the maximum 6 square feet.

Even the sign in the Fischers' yard is a violation because it's sitting about 4 feet from the road -- far from the required 12 feet, Bedinghaus said. He said he "eyeballed" that one.

"When I go home, I'll measure it, and if it's not right, I'll move it to the right spot," Margo Fischer said. "My husband mowed the lawn, and he probably put it back in the wrong spot. I'll check on it."

But Bedinghaus and Farkas say Margo Fischer has a habit of violating the sign ordinance, and the city has been good at doing nothing about it.

"I'm charging that the mayor is abusing the power of his office and selectively enforcing the sign ordinance to benefit him and his wife," said Bedinghaus, who outlined his complaints in a letter to the mayor Wednesday. "And I charge that's wrong, and I'm considering filing charges with the (Florida Commission on Ethics). The mayor should enforce the rules equally and fairly irregardless of party affiliation and personal relationships."

The mayor, a Democrat, called the allegations pure "pettiness."

"Nonsense," Fischer said indignantly. "That's political ploys, political gamesmanship, whatever you want to call it. That kind of gamesmanship has been going on for about a year."

But Farkas said he called the city two weeks ago to complain about the oversized signs. He followed up with another call later. He even wrote a letter notifying the city of five large Margo Fischer signs in northeast St. Petersburg.

"You can't put large signs in residential neighborhoods," said Farkas, a chiropractor. "I'm kind of miffed because my opponent, the wife of the mayor, should know that. She should be held above the law and not trying to break it."

Fischer denied he's had any influence over the two sanitation workers devoted to removing signs and graffiti in St. Petersburg.

"Obviously there are signs all over town that are off a foot here, a foot there," he said. "We're not out there measuring a foot here, a foot there. If ours is 9 feet instead of 10 feet, we don't go into that type of petty stuff."

Sheri Weaver, administrative coordinator in the Sanitation Department, said she just received Farkas' list of offending signs on Wednesday and she would check into them immediately. She denied sanitation workers were practicing selective enforcement.

On Tuesday, they removed 45 political signs; so far this month they've pulled up 188 signs; and last month they removed 1,058. They take the signs to a brush dump site on 28th Street N and place them in several large garbage containers.

-- Staff writer Leonora LaPeter can be reached at 893-8640 or

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