By JAMES BENNETT III
USFSP Student Reporter
GULFPORT – When his former partner crossed a picket line to work on Verizon telephone poles, Richard Fried says, he forcefully reminded him of his duty to the union.
He hammered a sign in the man’s front yard that said “Verizon scab.”
Fried, 53, says he is a man of principle over personality, and that’s the kind of City Council member he would be if he’s elected March 12.
This is his second campaign against incumbent Michael Fridovich, who defeated him two years ago for the right to serve Ward 4, which covers the northeast quarter of the city.
In both campaigns, flair has been Fried’s strong suit while platform specifics have fallen to the wayside.
He wore an elf costume and read Horton Hears a Who in a City Council meeting a few years ago, and in January he appeared at a candidate forum wearing tuxedo print shirt. He also likes to wear – and occasionally hand out – bowler hats.
“I’m a working class person, you know?” Fried said. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in a top hat.”
A main point in Fried’s campaign is a pledge to install solar panels on every city building.
Fried says that Fridovich embraced the same goal two years ago but flip-flopped once he was re-elected.
Fried also wants to close the pay gap between the highest and lowest paid City Hall employees and would like all council members to have regular office hours.
Fried was born in Miami but moved around the country for a few years before returning to Florida when his parents got sick.
He went to Miami Dade College and the University of Southern Maine, where he studied communication theory.
Fried says he found Gulfport while visiting Tampa Bay for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Fried was running late and had gotten lost, but when he found himself in Gulfport around 2 a.m., he knew that there was something special about the city – it had a certain type of energy.
He never made it to Halloween Horror Nights. He just stayed in Gulfport.
Fried moved to the city about a year and a half later and plans to stay in Gulfport for the rest of his life.
“Either Gulfport is tailor-made for me, or I’m tailor-made for it,” Fried said.
He lists his duplex, half of which he rents out, and his job as a certified nursing assistant and medical technician at a St. Petersburg senior living facility as his sources of income.
Although he was laid back when he moved to Gulfport, he says, the election of President Donald Trump drew him back to practicing politics like he did when he was younger.
“When people started protesting, I decided to run for office,” Fried said.
There’s one problem, however: He’s been barred from attending meetings of the Gulfport Democratic Club.
Fried says that he was unfairly kicked out of the club meetings at Stella’s restaurant after confronting Yolanda Roman, who was then a City Council member.
April Thanos, president of the club, said that Fried would not stop being disruptive and Roman left in tears.
Fried says he took out a home equity loan on his house duplex to pay for lawyer fees during his attempt to rejoin the meetings. But Barbara Banno, the owner of Stella’s, has obtained a trespass warning against Fried for his disruptive behavior and the club claims says that there is nowhere else to meet.
“Richard has some good ideas,” Thanos said. “Sometimes he lacks social skills for getting them across.”