Darden Rice officially in St. Pete mayoral race

Darden Rice new
Rice is the third to enter the race, with Ken Welch expected to file soon.

Former St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice is officially throwing her name into the hat for Mayor this year.

Rice filed paperwork Tuesday morning with the City Clerk to join the race to replace current Mayor Rick Kriseman who is leaving office because of term limits.

Rice has been expected to run for more than a year. She drew at least some contempt from Kriseman last year after she launched a political committee, Friends of Darden Rice, to begin fundraising for her eventual bid. As of the end of December, the committee had raised nearly $225,000.

Rice has served on City Council since 2013 but has been a major player in St. Pete politics since long before that. Before winning elected office she served as a citizen member of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority where she became a champion for transit-related issues and was active with the League of Women Voters.

During her time in the local political sphere, Rice has proven to be an outspoken advocate on issues relating to the environment and affordable housing — two major priorities in the coastal community.

Rice doggedly supported a plastic straw ban and has been forward-thinking on affordable housing in a city where home ownership has become increasingly out of reach for middle-income earners and rentals in the city are on the rise.

Rice is the third to file for the 2021 mayoral race. Rice’s former colleague and former state Rep. Wengay Newton and student Michael Ingram have already filed. Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch is also running but has not filed yet.

Some Republicans are rumored to be considering a bid, including Sen. Jeff Brandes, who has repeatedly denied his intent to run but remains a rumored contender nonetheless, and City Council members Ed Montanari and Robert Blackmon.

In 2017, Rice also helped lead efforts to ban political action committee spending in municipal elections, a move that drew both praise and ire in the local political community.

Last year, Rice’s committee came under fire for accepting contributions from donors that may have violated the terms of the ordinance she championed.

Rice’s committee has adhered to the $5,000 city-imposed cap on contributions under the ordinance, but a February report from Florida Politics found that only one of her contributing businesses filed the city-required disclosures, Ygrene Energy Fund Inc. for its $500 contribution, according to public records.

As of the most recent campaign finance reports only two, including Ygrene Energy, have filed the required disclosures. The other is Kisinger Campo & Associates, which donated $250 on Aug. 28 and filed its foreign influence disclosure on Sept. 2.

The ordinance requires disclosures no later than 30 days after the contribution was made. All of the remaining businesses are now outside that 30-day window.

In February, Rice said her campaign was adhering to the ordinance, pointing to all of her contributions falling at or below the $5,000 threshold. She argued the foreign influence disclosures don’t have to be filed until she becomes an official candidate. If that is indeed the case, the clock starts now.

Rice’s campaign contributions to her PC also show she might be courting conservative donors.

She received $5,000 from developer John Catsimatidis, a former prominent backer of Republican Rick Baker who challenged Kriseman three years ago. Bill Edwards, who largely bankrolled Baker’s campaign, also contributed $5,000.

That could set up competition for the donor class between Newton, who has also been known to side with conservatives despite being a registered Democrat.

But unlike Newton, Rice has a strong reputation as a progressive leader in city politics, which could help her successfully court Republicans while still maintaining her strong Democratic base, one she will be fiercely competing for with Welch.

“I’m a proud progressive and anyone who donates to me knows that,” Rice said. “I am running to be the Mayor for all of St. Petersburg and that’s why I reach out to everyone.”

Rice said she has conversations with St. Pete residents and voters regardless of party affiliation — the race is, after all, technically nonpartisan — and listens to their concerns, responds to them and, when appropriate, asks for their monetary support.

Both Rice and Welch are strong candidates and well known in a city that is becoming increasingly more liberal.

The St. Pete Primary Election is Aug. 24.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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