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Robert Blackmon launches bipartisan campaign for City Council

“There’s limited attention span for politics in today’s world—and certainly limited tolerance.”

Robert Blackmon got a huge boost last week when his top competition for the St. Petersburg City Council District 1 race dropped out.

Scott Orsini’s decision to leave the race after news of offensive tweets came the same day Blackmon officially launched his campaign. 

But he doesn’t want to dwell too much on that. 

“This is not the time for naming, blaming or shaming,” Blackmon said Wednesday night at his kickoff party at Jungle Tavern in West St. Pete.

“There is a family and a man who is not in a great place tonight so we’re not here to focus on that. We’re going to move forward with the issues.”

His top three include the environment, infrastructure and affordable housing. 

While Blackmon doesn’t have specific plans laid out yet, he wants to make sure, if elected, that he’s a voice for all voters for ensuring those crucial areas are tackled through community collaboration and productive coordination among elected officials. 

“I probably have the most boring platform of all time, but that’s what I love about City Council,” he said. “It’s non-partisan, it’s local and you can really do something.”

Blackmon praised on City Council incumbents Darden Rice and Gina Driscoll for their work on both the environment and the city’s aging infrastructure. Both, he said, are issues the city needs to consistently fund and prioritize. 

Blackmon plans to take his personal volunteerism with him to City Council. The St. Pete native said he regularly volunteers for beach cleanups and he’s working on learning more about initiatives through groups like Tampa Bay Watch to increase the number of oyster beds in the Gulf and Tampa Bay. 

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Blackmon also weighed in on the controversy surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays. He’s not OK with entertaining the team’s plan to split its home games between Tropicana Field and Montreal. 

“I think he did the right thing by taking a strong stance,” Blackmon said, referring to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s condemnation of a plan that splits home games. “You have to separate your personal desires from pragmatic solutions. My personal desire is to see the Rays stay in St. Pete on the Trop site.”

But he said he’s also supportive of compromises that ensure the team at least stays in the region, even if it’s not in St. Pete.

Blackmon’s biggest campaign theme though is bipartisanship. Or perhaps more relevant, nonpartisanship. 

“There’s limited attention span for politics in today’s world—and certainly limited tolerance,” he said. 

That shows in Blackmon’s early list of endorsers, which includes Democrats like Driscoll and Rice as well as conservatives like former Mayor Rick Baker

The diversity was also evident at Blackmon’s kickoff party last week where the Republican shared a stage with several Democrats touting St. Pete’s vision.

“We need the best and the brightest to step up and it doesn’t matter if that person is Republican or Democrat or independent,” Rice said.

In a move no one would have expected, and one that strategically highlighted Blackmon’s ability to not only work across the aisle, but to bring political parties together, Baker introduced Rice. 

“I’d love to say it’s because I’m such a great guy, but that’s not the case,” Blackmon said. “Everyone here wants to have a better District 1.”

Blackmon’s kickoff was a success. He entered the race just before the qualifying period ended last month at a time when Orsini was the clear frontrunner. As of the most recent campaign finance filings, Blackmon had raised just $10,000 through a self-funded contribution.

But he said he expects the amount of money raised from donors to exceed his own contribution by the time the next reports are out later this month.

He did almost in just one night. As Rice spoke to voters, she reminded it takes money to win a race. 

“Things cost money — yard signs, T-shirts — we know that when we contact voters with Robert’s message those voters will convert to supporters, but it takes work and it takes money,” Rice said. 

Sounding like an auctioneer, Rice then began to call out numbers asking for contributions, starting with her own $250 pledge. By the time she left the microphone, Blackmon’s one-night tally came it at more than $8,000. His goal had been $7,000. 

Blackmon faces John Hornbeck, a Democrat, in the November 5 general election. The winner will replace Charlie Gerdes who is leaving office because of term limits. 

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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