Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster jockey for losing candidates’ support

As Bill Foster and Kathleen Ford celebrate primary wins this evening, the losing eight mayoral candidates wrapped up election parties and drove home. But their roles in the mayoral election are not finished. Over the next few weeks, Foster and Ford will jockey for the remaining 47 percent of voters who didn’t choose them tonight, and attempt to turn former opponents into friends.

That won’t be easy.

The third and fourth top vote getters — Deveron Gibbons (19 percent) and Scott Wagman (15 percent) — won’t say who they’ll support in the general election.

As Gibbons left Push Ultra Lounge, he promised to meet with Ford and Foster to “discuss the issues.”

“Then let me sit down with my supporters and decide who I run the race with,” he said.

Wagman said he was hesitant to back either candidate.

“At this time I’m not even thinking about it,” he said from his event at Outback Steakhouse. “I have issues with both [of them].” He paused and added, “I will back Ken Welch. At some point, he will be mayor of this town.”

John Warren, the owner of Savannah’s Cafe who championed smart growth and economic recovery, also wasn’t prepared to support either candidate.

“I’ve had a chance to speak with [Ford and Foster] and each has some decent ideas,” he said. “But a big issue that hasn’t been discussed is community planning. A lot of the other individual issues you could categorize under community planning.”

The importance of the other candidates was not lost on Ford or Foster.

At her victory party at Red Mesa Cantina, Ford praised all contenders for running great campaigns, singling out Gibbons and Wagman. At Midtown Sundries, Foster told supporters, “I intend to be everybody’s mayor, whether they supported me or not.”

Like the other office-seekers, former city councilmember Larry Williams, who finished fifth in the primary, knows the remaining two candidates will seek his support.

“I’m going to meet with them and I have three questions,” he said. “What are you going to do about D and F schools? What are you going to do about panhandling? And what about the baseball team?”

After finishing off a chicken wing, Williams added, “Before I ran my first campaign, a friend of mine in Tampa, who worked on many political campaigns, told me, ‘Sometimes you’re more powerful when you’re not elected.'”

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: At the Deveron Gibbons party

I’m attempting to hit every candidate’s election night event for insight, great political theater and free food. Next up: Deveron Gibbons.

Where: Push Ultra Lounge (upstairs from Kathleen Ford’s event)

Mood: Vague, much like Gibbons’ campaign. There are a few people mingling about, no real energy. Many patrons are just here to drink at the bar, not supporting the campaign. The few supporters are separated by the Lounge’s bar that wraps around the room. Gibbons hasn’t even shown up.

Who’s Who: Eric Atwater of Atwater’s Cafeteria is here. Otherwise, none of the big names that made Gibbons’ campaign, including Gibbons himself.

Free Food: Notta.

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: Scene Report

In just shy of an hour, the polls close on St. Petersburg’s mayoral primary. I’ve crisscrossed the city and made some calls to give you an update. Here’s a brief rundown:

The Pinellas County Elections office has the turnout so far at 6 percent. With early voting, total turnout hovers around 18 percent. I almost feel excited we may break 20 percent. Then, I fall back into depression over my dimished expectations

As rush hour begins, campaign supporters with signs are on nearly every intersection. No, wait. Those are just panhandlers

Bay News 9 already found a party to crash: Bill Foster’s event at Midtown Sundries. I guess we know who they bet on …

At Push Ultra Lounge and Red Mesa Cantina, several Kathleen Ford and Deveron Gibbons supporters set up for tonight’s election results fete. Just looking at the signs out front (see above), I can tell this is going to be one skitzophrenic party …

Jamie Bennett is holding his campaign affair at home — 768 Pinellas Point S. Bennett was chopping up a pork tenderloin just out of the smoker when I caught up with him. “Just look for the 100 Bennett signs in the lawn,” he says …

Two-time mayoral candidate Ed Helm is planning an “election celebration” at St. Pete Diner on 34th Street North. Helm tells me “a good Democrat owns it, there’s good food and the original blue plate special.” He guaranteed the food is free, too …

John Warren and Richard Eldridge have not gotten back to me. The only reason I can imagine for not having a party is expecting a loss …

UPDATE: Warren is inviting supporters to Savannah’s Cafe from 7 p.m. “until one minute after my concession speech, which for the fun of it will be crafted and delivered by those in attendance.” …

And still no sign of Paul Congemi. I even checked the KFC on 34th Street.

Dispatches from the Sunshine State

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: And the winner is …


Well, we don’t know who the two winning candidates will be until after 7 p.m. when the polls close. But I already know who the loser is (besides Paul Congemi): St. Petersburg.

I don’t have to look at the latest voter turnout results to say St. Pete citizens have abdicated their duties as an electorate. After visiting precincts on the north, south and west sides of town, I can see voters largely stayed home from this mayoral primary.

But the numbers back me up, too.

IMG_6592 (2)As of 2 p.m., Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson Nancy Whitlock says turnout is estimated at 4.8 percent. Add the 12 percent of mail-in ballots already counted and just over 16 percent of registered voters in St. Petersburg have performed their civic duty. Although more folks will vote after work, some experts say voter turnout will only land around 25 percent.

Blame what you want: the rain, an uninspiring field of candidates or a really long line at the DMV. Whatever the reason, residents are losing a chance to decide the direction of the ‘burg over the next four years.

Unfortunately, St. Petersburg residents largely ignore local races. In 2007, for the election of two city councilmembers, a mere 9 percent of registered voters showed up to polling places. In 2005, only 20 percent voted for mayor. You might chalk that up to Mayor Rick Baker’s popularity, but in 2001, in the last mayoral primary with 9 candidates, only 25 percent of voters showed up.

Are three-quarters of St. Pete citizens really that indifferent to who runs this city?

For those who did vote, and eagerly await the results, I’m reporting all evening for my site and Creative Loafing’s Daily Loaf blog. Considering the rain has prevented the always-interesting sign waving battles, I’m attending the various Election Day watch parties for some real action, and hopefully, free food. If you want to join me, here’s a rundown of the events:

Larry Williams will hold his party at the old Louis Papa’s, 1530 4th Street North.

Scott Wagman hosts a shindig at the Outback Steakhouse, conveniently only three blocks away at 1900 4th Street North.

Bill Foster will await his results at Midtown Sundries.

And in the weirdest coincidence, Kathleen Ford and Deveron Gibbons will both party down at 128 Third Street South. Ford supporters will chow down at the Red Mesa Cantina on the bottom floor, while Gibbons’ crew watches results at Push Ultra Lounge upstairs. I’m counting on some awkward mingling moments  . . .

Any info on other election day parties would be much appreciated.