There were a lot of good things happening in St. Petersburg in 2013, yet city voters overwhelmingly rejected incumbent Mayor Bill Foster, instead choosing Rick Kriseman to lead the city for the next four years. The former City Councilman and state Representative was seen as someone more in synch with where the city was going than Foster, who was dogged by perceptions of inaction on issues like the Pier and the Rays baseball stadium situation.
A year into his term, Kriseman looked back and forward in his first State of the City address in front of an estimated crowd of around 300 people in front of City Hall on Saturday morning.
“It’s a good time to be in St. Pete,” he surmised, before touching on the Pier and the Rays.
Although his timetable has gone slightly off schedule from what he promised on the campaign trail, there is a plan in place, he assured everyone for a new design to be chosen to replace the aging iconic inverted pyramid by April.
There is not as clear a path regarding the Rays situation; Not after the City Council rejected a months-long prepared agreement between the city and the Rays last month that would have allowed the franchise to negotiate with officials in Hillsborough County about a possible relocation.
“I remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the team,” Kriseman said on Saturday, specifically regarding the issue of redevelopment rights to Tropicana Field that became a flashpoint in last month’s Council discussion that ultimately led to a Council rejection. But though that was the major snag, it remains to be seen if that is the only holdup remaining that would prevent the Council from embracing the deal. There is tremendous resistance in some quarters of the city to the plan unveiled in December, and council members heard that resistance from their constituents loud and clear leading up to that vote.
The mayor made news headlines by announcing a couple of policy initiatives in the speech, such as his proposal to relocate $20 million county Penny for Pinellas sales tax money to help build a new $70 million police headquarters across the street from the existing facility on First Avenue North, and his “Healthy St. Pete” initiative that will be helmed by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, who previously worked at Bayfront Medical Center. More details to follow.
Mayor Kriseman ran as a progressive in 2013 and has governed as such, and he proudly rolled off some of those policies that he’s enacted in his first year in office. Those include raising the minimum wage for city workers to $12.50 an hour, giving city employees paid family leave, changing the controversial police-car chase policy, implementing a study on climate change, promoting the Affordable Care Act and advocating for Medicaid expansion at the state level.
Kriseman also emphasized symbolic moves like signing on to the the group Mayors Against Illegal Gun and raising the gay pride flag above City Hall.
Unlike another progressive, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Kriseman so far hasn’t gotten himself sideways with his police force. He boasted of his hiring of Tony Hollaway as Police Chief, and in addition to the police headquarters plan, discussed the SPPD’s new dark-blue uniforms, which he said will be both cooler, cleaner and safer.
The mayor also noted that Saturday was the fourth anniversary of the deaths of police officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Sergeant Tom Baitinger, who were shot and killed while attempting to serve a warrant on a suspect with two outstanding warrants wanted for aggravated battery at a home on 28th Avenue South in 2011. He said that his top staffers were to visit the monument at Demens Landing to pay tribute to the two fallen officers.
But there are still issues to deal with. Some Councilmembers want to find money in the budget to hire more police officers, with the motivation being that there is still too much crime in some parts of the city.
Kriseman campaigned in 2013 on the necessity of integrating the South Side with the rest of the burgeoning St. Pete community, and he returned to those themes on Saturday. “A seamless city calls for blurred lines. And I am pleased to see lines and boundaries throughout the city being eliminated at a rapid pace.” Regarding poverty in South St. Petersburg, he said that while 16.1% of the city’s overall population was considered to be in poverty, that number is 32.6% in the Southside CRA, a plan between the city and Pinellas County aimed at eradicated poverty on the South Side.
How successful he is there over the next three years will be as important as anything in his mayoralty.
In other news,
We covered a few items on Friday. The one that bears watching back in Washington are the tensions between Republicans in the House and between the House and Senate, as articulated by Pinellas Representative David Jolly during a town hall meeting.
We also took in the first political forum of the Tampa City Council candidates.