The Race For Mayor: Gulfport's First Debate

The Race For Mayor: Gulfport's First Debate

On March 12 Gulfportians will elect their first new mayor in almost two decades. On Tuesday, February 5 the two candidates – current vice mayor and Ward Four representative Sam Henderson and former vice mayor and former Ward Three

For Town Shores residents, Town Shores will re-run the debate three times before the election on Channel 96. 

To view the video of the debate, please click the links below.

Part One • Part Two • Part Three • Part Four • Part Five • Part Six

What follows are excerpts from the debates. Lines marked with an asterisk (*) or words included in square brackets ( [ ] ) indicate a summary of what the candidate said. All other lines are direct quotes. 


Can you explain what your understanding of private sector business is? What positions have you held in the private sector businesses and how did those positions prepare you for being mayor?


Sam Henderson

*Started work at 15

*Worked at Diebold, in manufacturing research and development

*Performed Environmental restoration at MacDill and Tyndall AFB

We’ve kind of been a cradle to small business.


Bob Worthington

*Worked as a cook.

*Worked at Honeywell for 37 years 


What do you believe is the city’s government’s responsibility to its citizens?


Bob Worthington

Vast. It needs, first of all, to listen to its citizens. Work to resolve issues. 


Sam Henderson

First and foremost, to remember that we work for them.

*He also mentioned the importance of working with organizations outside the city.


As mayor, will you welcome public input at city council meetings, with or without restrictions?


Sam Henderson

If you can’t take the job of sitting up there and listening somebody being upset with you for three minutes, you [may not] have the stomach for the job… I think we are obligated to hear what the public has to say.

*He indicated that he supports a time limit but would also support one for council members as well during city council meetings only.


Bob Worthington

I certainly welcome it. 

I believe there should be some type of restriction.

You need to have some honesty and basis to what you’re doing. People need to be responsible. 

I do like the idea of a time limit on council members. 


What is your stance to increasing ad valorem taxes in the city of Gulfport?


Bob Worthington

At this time I don’t believe it’s necessary.


Sam Henderson

The city does not need to increase what it takes in from the citizens. I’ve talked to city staff about this and it’s a realistic goal. There are other ways to get money.

*He mentioned a non-taxpayer funded grant, called the RESTORE grant and funded by BP, as well as other grants

*He said the city had closer to 40% in reserves and it only had to have 25% and that he would be open to using some of the reserve money



Please discuss some of the ways you would like to see our Tax Incremental Funds used for our Waterfront Redevelopment District.


Sam Henderson

I would like to see us we use that money. I would like to do some of the things we need to do...some actual physical stuff

*He favored moving away from subsidizing activities an towards waterfront improvements


Bob Worthington

Do we need to do more there? I think we need to do more in figuring out a way to make it a safer area. How are we going to protect the people that are coming in? … We do have a little but of a crime problem there. We need to spend that money definitely wiser and make sure we can see something solid with it.


There are several vacant shops/stores in the 49th Street/22nd Avenue South and Beach Boulevard highways. Do you think it’s important to try and recruit new businesses/ chain fast food restaurants/ grocery stores to fill in these vacant shops?


Bob Worthington

As far as fast food restaurants, I don’t really think we need that type of thing. The big box grocery stores, like a mini Walmart, I don’t think anybody wants that. A nice little grocery store would be nice. I don’t think we should supplement a business that comes in with cash incentives. If you’re going to add incentives to someone, they need to be property owner.

*He said that he didn’t favor cash incentives for renters, saying a business had to have a stake in the community and be a voter


Sam Henderson

New businesses yes, chains, no.

*Said that each area of the city had to be considered independently


Please share your ideas how to generate revenue. Should the city be run as a profit center? Who would pay and who would profit?


Sam Henderson

I do not think the city should be run as a profit center. The job of city government is to provide for its residents. 

When you run something like a business, profit is your motivation. If our motivation is to bring profit into the city coffers, that’s not our money.

*He said the city still should make smart business decisions

*Suggested using grant money as one possible revenue stream


Bob Worthington

Not the entire city. There are parts of the city, such as the marina, that need to be run as a profit margin. We don’t show great profits in the city.


Do you support privatization of the marina, the Casino, or any city service?


Bob Worthington

No, I do not support privatization of the marina. The Casino, it’s been privatized several times in the past and it did not make it, it failed. There is going to be a breaking point one day where we’re going to have to look at our trash pick up and delivery. 


Sam Henderson

No I do not support the privatization or our marina. We’re not fully utilizing the city and the Casino and the theatre. Could we use those to better advantage? I’d like to see us do that.


What have you done to ensure that Gulfport’s police department will not be outsourced or do you think it should? Who do you feel the police department should report to?


Sam Henderson

I do not feel our police department should be outsourced.

*Talked about council’s steps to define the police department and make it a five-zero vote needed on council, a change from the previously required three-two vote.


Bob Worthington

I would certainly not want to see our Gulfport Police Department go away. 

I think it should definitely be up to the residents. 

I think our police department is a good department. I think they could restructure a little bit. They need to be a little more responsive. The 911 operators don’t respond [the way residents would like]… They need to be a little more proactive than that.

*Said he does not support an autonomous police chief

If he’s not answering to the city manager, it’s the same thing as having the Sheriff here. The sheriff doesn’t answer to anyone.


Our citizens are concerned about crime, especially along the 49th Street corridor and our own Town Shores. What steps have you taken, while a council member or a general citizen, to ensure the safety of Gulfport citizens and their property. Is St. Petersburg the problem?


Bob Worthington

We worked the mayor of St. Pete and we worked with council member...Wengay Newton. They just don’t look at it as the same type of problem as we look at it. 

Town Shores area, it’s a confined area. 

During the daytime you can still use the 893-1030 number. At night you can call 911.


Sam Henderson

One thing that we tried to do but unfortunately we were unsuccessful, we applied for some grant money to move the police to 49th Street.

It [St. Petersburg] is certainly a contributing factor.

I’ve spoken with Wengay… many times. It hasn’t always been something that comes to fruition.

If you make a call to the police, you do not have to give them your name.

Just to correct something, 911 has been going to the County for years.



All the way through Gulfport on 22nd Avenue South are four lanes of highway. Do you foresee putting in a center turning lane to alleviate some of the congestion?


Sam Henderson

One issue with trying to expand that road is that so many of the businesses are so close to the road. 

*He said such changes were part of a county-proposed plan to expand road that the county abandoned with economic downturn

*He is working on a user-activated crosswalk at Beach and Gulfport Boulevards

*He is pushing for “delineating” Gulfport spur of Pinellas Trail and adding user-activated crosswalk at 11th Street and15th Avenue to better direct bike traffic safely downtown


Bob Worthington

This is an issue that we’ve been working for probably more than 12 years. Pinellas County has promised… I can’t tell you how many meetings we’ve been to…We’ve not only asked for turn lanes, we’ve asked for some sections to be widened.

We need to improve the drainage along Gulfport Boulevard.

Down here, in the south end of town, they [the County] don’t really want to know who we are.


What are your feelings on the mooring field?


Bob Worthington

We had a lot of boats that was showing up, being anchored out here, a lot of boats that were just being abandoned… 

We had a lot of people living on them because it was free.

I went to the FWC [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission], talked to them, got everything they said, that this would be a good mooring field right here… We approved 100 moorings. We went back to the FWC, and the FWC said, this is great… We’re going to out you in for a pilot program. They were willing to help us, the issue got kicked aside.

*Said the “taxpayers were paying for” the current proposed program of 25 boats.

Environmentally it’s a good sound thing to do.


Sam Henderson

I’ve been against the mooring field since I came on council and I’ve been clear why…

Hard for me to justify spending that kind of money on something that I view as an extra.

I’m a little more friendly toward the scheme we have now...we are just now finishing that permitting process

One of the things that didn’t get mentioned [as to why the city didn’t join the pilot program] we weren’t deemed to have facilities for 100 boats

*He said the city is now considering allowing sailboats only on the mooring field

*He said the mooring field allows regulation of the boats in its footprint only and any boat can still moor for free outside that area

By the way, everybody out there is not a derelict vessel and they’re not all pumping out into the bay

The mooring field is good idea from a revenue standpoint… but we don’t even have our marina full right now

*He said he would rather spend money first to improve marina and the facilities available

A mooring field does not fix all the problems


What do you feel the next stops are, if any, that should be taken toward the protection of Clam Bayou, and do you feel it is polluted?


Sam Henderson

Yes. Absolutely. Of course it’s polluted. Most of the waterways in the Tampa Bay area have pollution. It’s a matter of how much polluting. We’ve had a hundred years of urbanization.

Is it toxic? No it is not. Toxicity is a matter of intake. You can’t describe anything as toxic without describing what level it is.

*Supports the state’s Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program which created settling ponds to reduce flotable waste, allow silt to settle and not flow into the tidal estuary, and reduce hydrocarbons going into Clam Bayou

*He said the current state-sponsored program hasn’t completed yet; Gulfport never matched funding on west side of Bayou. The city applied for Restore, a non-taxpayer funded grant 

It doesn’t make sense to me to start removing pollutants from a water body until you plug the leak

Am I 100% satisfied? No. 

*Supports runoff treatment


Bob Worthington

Yes, I do. There’s been a lot of research done. The research analyst organizations, which is the Hillsbrough County EPA … and other agencies… has not necessarily done the type of testing that would show the types of pollutants there and how much. But we know all the things are there that Sam had mentioned. The project that Swiftmud [Southwest Florida Water Management District, or SWFWMD] did over in St. Petersburg has helped tremendously in reducing the flotables and silting. There’s 50 years of silting. Swiftmud was very happy with it becoming a mudflat. When I was growing up here we swam in Clam Bayou. Would I go in that water today? No, I certainly wouldn’t. 


Some think the new playground and volleyball courts are a wonderful addition to our beach/ picnic area by the Casino. Some don’t. Do you see any more changes to this area in the future?


Bob Worthington

I think the volleyball and the new playground is wonderful. I think the playground should be down by the recreation area. I think it’s good, it’s very, very nice. The new volleyball area is, I’ve heard some things that are not good about it but I think they are growing pains. Yeah, I hope there’s a lot more things to come in making it nicer and better for our residents.


Sam Henderson

I do, and one of them I was made aware of when I walked in. Apparently we didn’t do the bocce ball courts correctly. That’s something we could address. I would like to see our parking lot a little more formalized. Not with something impervious.


What are your views regarding smoking? At the beach – playground – pavilions? What about smoker’s debris?


Sam Henderson

We are going to have to repeal the ordinance we passed a while back regarding smoking on the beach…The State has pre-empted those powers. That suit has since been settled.

I was fan of the Teen Council suggestion of half [smoking] and half [non-smoking]

*Is glad the city will not have to repeal parts of law not allowing smoking on playground

*Supports getting home rule to make the decision rather than allowing the state to do so on behalf of the city

*Said he was an ex-smoker


Bob Worthington

I am a smoker, but I agree with the fact that we should not have open smoking areas on the beach or at recreation areas.


With the beach, shoreline, marinas, waterways and Clam Bayou all being our true natural assets, what would you do, as mayor what steps would you take to protect them? 


Bob Worthington

We’re doing what we can right now. Our rights only go out so far from the shoreline and that depends – right here at Town Shores we only go to the sea wall. I am a member of the Agency on Bay Management Habitat Restoration Committee. 

As long as the sea grass keeps growing, the sea grass helps filter our pollutants. We’ve go to work with stormwater. Everything ends up here. Hopefully the council will…continue with sanitary sewer repair


Sam Henderson

The piece that we needed was to get the money from a source that wasn’t out of the coffers of the taxpayers. Those funds will also address… infiltration of sea water [into sanitary sewers]

I very much appreciate all of Bob’s work...but one of the reasons I ran for council [was] because I watched council turn down a grant funded project, the kind of stuff that would tell us the kind of stuff we want to know… That was the project that led me to run for council in the first place.


What have you done to protect the ecology of Gulfport?


Sam Henderson

*Increasing our littering fines

*Supporting the SWIM program

*Supporting sailboats only in the mooring field

*Very concerned that we need to have more enforcement on our parks


Bob Worthington

*Florida League of Cities to stop near shore oil drilling

*Florida Marine Patrol and Florida Wildlife Conservation all over the state to improve wildlife sanctuaries and habitats for manatee

*Clam Bayou cleanup

*Mooring field issues with regards to where grass would grow


Closing remarks


Sam Henderson thanked the audience for their time and for the past four years as a Ward Four representative.

Bob Worthington thanked people as well and praised Gulfport as a diverse community with good businesses. “I think just the fact that you’re here today would show that you’re going to work hard for your community, too,” he said.

Read more from: Gulfport News