Candidates for the St. Petersburg District 6 City Council seat gathered for a meet-and-greet opportunity Monday night at the Coquina Key Clubhouse in Coquina Key, the island in the southeastern part of the district.
It was a relatively low-key affair, with candidates given a minute before and after the event to interact with members of the community; many confessed beforehand they knew very little about the eight candidates in the race.
In her introduction, Gina Driscoll opted not to refer to her recent endorsement by Karl Nurse, the man all the District 6 candidates are seeking to succeed. But she was quite proud of receiving his backing.
“It was such an honor to receive his endorsement,” Driscoll said Monday night. “Karl and I have known each other for a few years now, and we’ve worked together on a lot of issues that mostly revolve around downtown.”
“Gina Driscoll is the most ready to step into this city council seat due to her years of civic investment,” Nurse said in his statement.
While some (most?) endorsements can be overrated in the media, Nurse’s backing should be the boost to distinguish Driscoll in a diverse field of eight candidates, seven of whom were at the Coquina Key event (Akile Cainion did not attend).
Civically speaking, Driscoll’s best known in St. Pete for being the president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association (which encompasses the downtown area from Fifth Avenue North to Fifth Avenue South and westward into the Edge District).
An Indiana native, Driscoll grew up in Dade City and transferred from the University of Tampa to the University of Central Florida. Driscoll lived in Orlando for a decade, with nine of those years spent working for the Disney corporation, starting part-time in attractions before moving up to marketing and publicity, ultimately getting into the resorts division, where she had hoped to gain experience that could be used in another field.
That’s where Driscoll fell in love with the hotel business, where she now makes a living as sales manager for the Hampton Inn & Suites on Beach Drive.
Driscoll was one of the latest candidates entering the race.
“It was a big decision and I gave it a lot of thought,” she says, adding that watching Nurse serve as her representative on the Council taught her a lot and “instilled a passion for everything that happens in our city and what council has to go through to make good change in our city.”
“So once his seat was open I spoke with him, got some insight from him,” she says, “I really decided that this was the way for me to do more.”
On the issues, Driscoll is relatively centrist. Regarding the Pier, she is glad that construction is finally underway, but admits to harboring concerns about how the Kriseman administration is spending on enhancements for the Pier approach.
“I’m going to watch how every single dollar is spent and make sure that we do create a world class destination, but that we’re still doing that with an eye on every single dollar,” she says.
While interacting with Coquina Key residents, one woman asked her about “the poor education system, especially on the South side.”
“The schools are just a mess,” the woman continued. “I know the city council has a limited purview over that, but I was wondering if that was part of your agenda?”
Driscoll agreed it was, and she wants to get the business community more involved in providing mentorships and helping with summer youth programs to help kids see a path to success.
“Because a lot of them simply don’t see that,” Driscoll said. “They’re stuck thinking that what they see around them is all they have to shoot for, and we can do better with that.”
She would like to create a centralized “volunteer hub” where people can call and be directed to where there are schools in need of mentors or volunteers.
In campaign forums and debates, Driscoll is very precise in what she says, sometimes looking cautious in carefully crafting a response. When asked who she supports for mayor, Driscoll replied that she hasn’t decided yet, while admitting it could be a tough decision for the citizenry.
“I have a good relationship with Rick Krieman and also with Rick Baker,” she says. “I’m really confident that whoever is elected, I’m going to be able to work with them for the best interests of the people in District 6.”
After Aug. 29, the eight candidates for the District 6 seat will whittle down to two for the Nov. 7 general election.
As of Monday, the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections has sent more than 1,050 vote-by-mail ballots.