ST. PETERSBURG — As one of the most vocal opponents of the Lens pier design, Lorraine Margeson butted heads with a majority of the City Council as the controversial project was defeated in a referendum.
Now, she wants to join them.
The 56-year-old environmentalist, activist and musician is running for District 2, her second bid to win a seat on City Council after losing in 1997. Her opponent, incumbent Jim Kennedy, was a staunch Lens supporter.
As office manager for Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that forced the referendum, Margeson spoke and met hundreds of residents as she manned telephones and walked streets, drumming up signatures and votes against the futuristic pier.
That experience has given her a feel for the city’s pulse and the issues that concern residents, Margeson said. If elected, she vows to push for the city to end its current red-light camera contract, increase community policing and provide more money and support for the city’s neighborhood associations.
The City Council’s refusal to heed polls and petitions led to resentment and anger, she contends.
“The city is still in a brouhaha; it’s not happy,” Margeson said. “People feel that their voice has been taken away, and now it needs to be restored.”
Although only 5-foot-2, Margeson has a deep, booming voice, giving her a presence at public meetings. Her enthusiasm for tackling problems often bubbles over in long strings of sentences.
She has faced criticism that she lacks experience and is a one-issue candidate. She points to a long history of civic engagement, though, as proof that she is a well-rounded challenger with enough experience to be effective.
She was a crime watch coordinator in the Central Oaks neighborhood, has campaigned for more Florida-friendly landscaping and formed the Pinellas County Conservation Corps.
Fed up with a Pinellas County plan to put ballfields in Booker Creek, she led calls for a county charter amendment to protect environmentally sensitive lands and organized dozens of people to attend County Commission meetings. The referendum was supported by 70 percent of residents.
“That’s how you pound government into doing the right thing,” she said. “You can’t just show up with one or two people because they won’t listen.”
Before focusing on the environment, Margeson worked as a musician and played several instruments, including Japanese Taiko drums. For several years, she used the drums as an educational tool in Pinellas and Hillsborough schools, working as an artist in residence.
She now runs a data communications company with husband Don Margeson. But business has not been good recently, and the couple is facing foreclosure on the four-story home they own in the Mangrove Bay neighborhood that gives them views of Weedon Island.
She thought long and hard about whether she wanted to run for office, worried that doing so would mean losing her independence and freedom to protest.
But she said many people urged her to run, and when she found out that this year’s redistricting process put her into Kennedy’s district, she decided to challenge him.
If elected, she said she will regularly seek out residents’ views on issues and push their wishes, even if she does not always agree.
“You have to know where the city’s heart is when you embark on big changes,” she said. “I need to be on the other side of the dais.”