Monday, Nov 24, 2014

St. Pete's redistricting causes confusion for candidates


Published:

ST. PETERSBURG - Local activist Lorraine Margeson had no thoughts of running for City Council until last week when her new voter registration card revealed that her home now lies within new District 2 boundaries.

Margeson thought the new boundaries, which were approved on March 21, would mean she could run against District 2 incumbent Jim Kennedy, who so far faces no challengers.

When she went to file her paperwork, though, city officials told Margeson she was ineligible because she had not lived in District 2 for the past 12 months. Despite having lived in the same Mangrove Bay home for 12 years.

Eventually, city attorneys decided that Margeson could run but said she must still file an affidavit required of all candidates stating that they have lived in their district for 12 months.

That, said Margeson, could put her at risk of perjury charges.

"Problem is, I couldn't say that for either district because of the way they did this," Margeson said. "They should have done something to clean this up."

The confusion is yet another example of how the city's redistricting process has created difficulties for candidates running for the St. Petersburg City Council. City rules require candidates live in their districts for at least 12 months prior to the primary election, which this year is on Aug. 27. The rules, though, do not cater for residents whose homes are redrawn into new districts.

Two District 4 candidates, David McKalip and Darden Rice, were redrawn into District 3. Both candidates said they would move home to establish residency in District 4.

"They make it very difficult on aspiring candidates," said Rice, who stated that she now lives in District 4. "It's been a ridiculous process. Lorraine's situation shows how confusing and unfair this process is."

The city redraws its political boundaries every 10 years using data from the U.S. Census to ensure districts remain roughly equal in size. This year, the residents panel that conducted the process rejected some maps because they would have left incumbents outside the districts they represent.

City officials said they will likely look at amending the city charter to avoid the problems that cropped this year. The fix could be as simple as delaying redistricting until after an election cycle, said Mark Winn, assistant city attorney. "The way the current charter is set up, it has to be done after the decennial Census - it doesn't take into account when our election is," he said.

Changes to the city's charter must be approved by a referendum, Winn said.

Margeson, who works for anti-Lens group Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, said she is still likely to run and on Tuesday opened a campaign bank account, a prerequisite for filing candidate paperwork. She's likely to do that this week.

Winn said that it is not the job of city officials to look into whether Margeson meets the residency requirements. He said any candidate can challenge the legitimacy of an opponent in court or with the Florida Division of Elections. Margeson said she is trusting that neither Kennedy, who is an attorney, nor anyone else will challenge her right to run for office.

"If he would be that dastardly to go there that it would assure him of losing," she said.

Kennedy did not return a call seeking comment.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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