Barclay Harless, a 31-year-old banker and former aide to state Sen. Darryl Rouson, will be running for District 2 seat on the St. Petersburg City Council next year.
Harless announced Tuesday he will be seeking the seat currently held by Jim Kennedy, who is term-limited out of office next year.
“We have a great city and we want to keep it that way and we want to improve upon everything that’s been built over the past two decades,” Harless said last week as to why he’s running for Council.
Speaking at Hawkers Asian Street Fare in the city’s Edge District, Harless believes millennials like himself are continuing to be a part of the fabric of the St. Petersburg.
“They’re opening businesses. They’re becoming policemen and teachers, and so I want to preserve what we’ve built and fix what’s not working.”
What’s not working?
“We have an infrastructure challenge,” referring to one of St. Pete’s major stories of the year — sewage system problems that has been gripping City Hall for months.
Harless also mentions the continuing work with the Pier. If elected, he wants to amend the city’s permitting process.
“Just naturally being at a bank with a lot of small businesses,” Harless says, “you hear from folks who have opened up businesses in Sarasota and Tampa and elsewhere.
“They’ll tell you that the St. Pete permitting process is challenging, compared to some of the others.”
Another improvement would be on the lack of affordable housing for middle-income people in St. Pete. Harless suggests the city look at changing zoning requirements, freeing up more housing for people without children or pets.
“We need to rezone some of these areas that are maybe single family homes that were made for two bedrooms and one bathroom,” he says, quickly adding that it should be “privately driven.”
“But I think the city can encourage private industry to move in that direction.”
When asked about how he feels Mayor Rick Kriseman has handled the sewage problem, Harless is sympathetic, saying that leaders need to solve problems; he believes that the city now has a set plan going forward to deal with major storms.
However, the closest Harless comes to criticizing anyone on the matter is when he mentions Mike Connors, the longtime city public works administrator who resigned abruptly a year ago.
“I know he had a lot of power in a very central location,” Harless says. “And sometimes in an organization, that can cause fear.”
Crime is a concern that needs to be taken seriously, Harless notes.
“I have a lot of friends who say they’ve been the victim of criminal activity, and they say ‘I’m not going to bother with filing anything,’ and I always tell them, file it,'” he says, adding that with more data, the more likely that city leaders can understand the underlying issues behind such activities.
Running for political office at this stage of his life wasn’t something he was thinking about until about a year or so ago, until officials with both the St. Pete Chamber and some nonprofit agencies suggested he might be a viable candidate in District 2.
Harless was born in Melbourne, Florida, and has lived in St. Petersburg since he began attending USFSP more than a decade ago.
After graduating, his first job was as a legislative aide to Rouson.
“It was a pleasure working for Darryl because he’s just so involved. Not just in the Legislature, but he’s also active on the local level,” Harless recounts. “He has his hands on all types of projects, so even if he wasn’t working on them, he wanted to be informed about them if they impacted his area.”
In late 2013, Harless left Rouson to become a campaign scheduler for Alex Sink, who had just announced her campaign for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which opened after the death of C.W. Bill Young.
Following that campaign, Sink, a former banker herself, suggested Harless get into the banking business,
The “best advice I ever got,” he says.
In May 2014, he was hired by Trevor Burgess, the then-chief of C1 Bank in St. Petersburg, as a business development officer. In May 2016, Harless was promoted to assistant bank officer, shortly before CI was sold to Bank of the Ozarks.
Harless worries about street parking, saying he knows of some business owners who were forced to leave downtown because it has become too big of a problem for them — specifically Ricky P’s Orleans Bistro, which closed shop this past summer in the Edge District for its location on 4th Street.
Harless’ political aspiration began in college. He was elected student body president at UFSP, but his brief reign ended ignominiously in 2007, after alcohol was found in his campus office.
Facing the threat of an impeachment proceeding conducted by the Student Government, Harless resigned.
“I was 22 years old,” he says deliberately, clearly prepared to be asked the question. “It was after a long day. I invited some good friends of mine back to my office. It was night time. It was after hours. I violated campus policy.
“It’s changed since then,” he recounts, “but back then you have to file for a ‘social’, essentially, and I dealt with it. I lied about it initially, and then I took responsibility for myself and resigned.”
In retrospect, he says that in some ways it was one of the best things that could happen have happened to him. “I hate to say it was a testing phase of my life … I didn’t violate any laws, you know? But it was a lesson I’ll never forget, and it means a lot to me.”
Harless becomes the first candidate to announce for District 2 in the upcoming election cycle, to represent the area encompassing the northern part of the city.
Councilmembers Darden Rice and Amy Foster will also be seeking for re-election in Districts 4 and 8, respectively. The District 6 race will also feature new candidates, as incumbent Karl Nurse is term-limited out next fall.