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Activist considering joining mayoral race

Omali Yeshitela says many black voters expected more from Mayor David Fischer.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Community activist Omali Yeshitela filed paperwork Monday setting up a treasury for a St. Petersburg mayoral candidacy, but he insisted that doesn't mean he will actually run.

"It says that I filed and actually what's in the process now is the establishment of an exploratory committee," he said.

That is the kind of one-foot-in-the-water response potential candidates have given this time around as they have pondered entering a mayor's race already crowded with familiar names like corporate attorney Rick Baker, City Council chairman Larry Williams and City Council member Kathleen Ford.

Most notably, Mayor David Fischer for months has brushed off the question of whether he will seek re-election. He declined to answer it again Monday after learning that Yeshitela had filed at City Hall.

"I'm probably going to announce something" soon, Fischer said, adding that Yeshitela's decision won't affect his.

But it is yet another indication that other candidates are staking out the coalition of voters and team of supporters Fischer built to win his last two terms. African-American voters were the main factor.

If Yeshitela, a black activist for more than 35 years, mounts a candidacy, Fischer could find it nearly impossible to win black precincts with 90 percent of the vote as he did in 1997.

Fischer also depended on support from downtown business interests in 1997. But Baker, who has friends and influence in that set of prime fund-raising prospects downtown, is running his own campaign this year instead of backing Fischer's as he did in the past three elections.

Fischer's consultant from the 1997 campaign, Mary Repper, already has signed up to work for mayoral candidate Karl Nurse this time.

"It's interesting," Fischer said. "Everybody is going to be pecking away (at each other's support)."

Yeshitela is the leader of the National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, a black socialist organization.

He said Monday that he moved toward putting his name on the ballot because he sees no candidate addressing the issues he thinks are important, even though seven other people have opened campaign accounts.

Yeshitela said black voters expected more attention from Fischer after overwhelming delivering their votes to him.

"It has not been beneficial to the community in a way that represents that kind of significance," Yeshitela said. "And the African community voted for Fischer two times at least because of fear of his opponent. I don't think that is a good reason to do anything."

Yeshitela said the race needs a candidate who sees how the success of the city's poorest neighborhoods is crucial to the success of the whole city. Instead, such attention often is seen as a special favor that benefits a small number of city residents.

Yeshitela said that if he decides to continue his bid for mayor, there will be another reason as well.

"It will be because Omali Yeshitela as an individual, as a political personage, brings something unique and special to the campaign," he said.

Yeshitela regained his right to vote just two months ago. He was convicted of felony theft in 1966 after he tore down a painting at City Hall that he considered racially offensive. Like all Florida felons, he lost the right to vote even after his 21/2-year jail and prison sentence ended.

The governor and members of Florida's Cabinet granted Yeshitela clemency in October. Legal experts have said a similar crime would likely draw probation today, not a stiff prison sentence.

Fischer pointed out that the first strategic objective in a wide field of candidates is coming out among the top two candidates in the primary election. That means many voters find their top choice eliminated and must pick among the finalists, and the two finalists must work to bring those people into their camps before the runoff.

"Everything unfolds in the final," Fischer said.

Mayoral candidates

These people have filed campaign paperwork at City Hall to run for mayor:

Rick Baker

Ronnie Beck

Kathleen Ford

Harry Kitchen

Karl Nurse

Louis Miceli

Larry Williams

Omali Yeshitela

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