Rick Kriseman says he ran for Mayor four years ago because he felt that the big issues in St. Petersburg weren’t being addressed.
Kicking off his re-election campaign Wednesday night, he said, “It’s so important to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
“This is a time that’s really important for the city of St. Petersburg,” Kriseman told a crowd of around 100 supporters who filled in the courtyard of Three Birds Tavern on 4th Street. “We have a lot of big issues that we need to address, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Kriseman has an impressive slate of accomplishments on which he’ll be able to run on this year, including establishing a curbside recycling program, hiring a new police chief, implementing the downtown waterfront master plan, the creation of the Southside CRA to attempt to eradicate poverty and a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tampa Bay Rays to energize their search for a site to host a new ballpark.
But that hasn’t been the dominant theme in the media over the past six months, thanks to several self-inflicted errors in coping with the city’s sewage crisis that emerged last September.
The problems transcend sewer. The mayor has gotten sideways with some members of the LGBT community for his announcement that he will pull city funding for the St. Pete Pride Parade, after organizers said they would move the route from its usual Grand Central District path to one closer to downtown.
Councilwoman Darden Rice, who gave Kriseman a rousing introduction at Wednesday’s event, says the city should stand behind parade organizers. “I don’t think it’s something that the mayor needs to step into,” she said. “Let’s let the stakeholders figure that out.”
Wal-Mart’s decision to leave Midtown is another blow, with city leaders scrambling to try to persuade the giant retailer to reconsider.
The city’s downtown renaissance, which originated toward the end of Rick Baker’s tenure and completely taking off in the Bill Foster era, has continued to prosper under Kriseman.
Two of the biggest issues that dragged down Foster — the Pier and the Rays — have yet to be resolved, however, though it’s rumored that the Rays will finally be making a decision about their future sometime this year. The mayor continues to insist that the best place for them to land up is on the same 85-acre space where Tropicana Field currently resides, a questionable move considering that the Rays seem determined to want to play anywhere but there.
There have been concerns about the escalating costs of a new pier, which was initially set at $46 million for several years but is now up to $80 million.
But with all those concerns, the fact remains that Kriseman is the heavy favorite to win re-election.
Although Pinellas County Republicans have criticized the mayor since he took office, the only serious candidates that they have floated are the two men who held office before Kriseman took over — Baker and Foster.
Polls have shown that Baker would present a serious challenge to Kriseman, yet nobody knows whether he will pull the trigger. His recent history indicates that he won’t.
And if he won’t, who will? Local Republicans insist that a wealthy businessman will emerge as a legitimate challenger, but that apparently remains to be seen.
Until then, the mayor has the field to himself, and the power of incumbency, to make people forget about the problems with the city’s sewage system and his staff’s ability to clearly communicate what is happening there. Though he can’t control the weather, he can control how the city copes with those storms.
Looking at the crowd on Wednesday, the mayor joked that there were some who have been in his corner for years, going back to his previous runs for the state House and City Council.
Also in the crowd was his wife Kerry and son Samuel.
“When you are in public service there’s a lot of hours that you’re not at home and a lot of things that you miss,” Kriseman said. “It’s a big sacrifice on the family, so I would be remiss not to thank them for everything they do to support me.”
“I think he has done a really good job of bringing a lot of prosperity and economic development to the city of St Pete, which has impacted the entire region and Pinellas County as a whole, and that’s why I’m supporting him as a resident of Gulfport,” said Jennifer Webb, a local Democrat who ran against Kathleen Peters in the state House District 69 race last fall.
Regarding the lack of transparency issues that surfaced during the sewage crisis, Rice says that both the mayor and the council learned that they can communicate better concerning the various plans and money allocated in addressing the treatment of sewage moving forward.
“That will be one of the biggest challenges, and it’s a lesson on how good communication is a form of leadership,” she said.
Along with Rice, Councilman Charlie Gerdes also made a quick appearance, grandson in tow.
Rice and Amy Foster are the two incumbent members of the council who are up for re-election with Kriseman this year.
The mayor called both “dedicated servants for the city of St. Petersburg, and they need to be back for four more years at city council.”