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St. Pete Council candidate Justin Bean pushes ‘community-led economic development’

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

With Ziya Kardas entering the race, the number of candidates now vying for the St. Petersburg City Council District 6 seat stands at nine.

That means it’s likely that no candidate will earn the 50-percent-plus-one-vote needed to win the August 29 primary. Even if one candidate does get a bigger percentage of the vote, the race to succeed Karl Nurse will go citywide.

Justin Bean hopes he’ll be one of two survivors making it to November.

The small business owner and civic activist says he hears a lot about the need for more affordable housing, fixing the sewers, the Pier and education, an issue he says he intends to lead on if elected.

“We can focus on early childhood education and school readiness,” he says when asked what the city can do on that front. “We have programs that are in place, but the working poor aren’t necessarily getting access to that.”

Speaking at a fundraising event at the downtown tavern The Galley, Bean said he believes that while the Council will never be part of how local schools are administered, it can help by providing different programs to push students “get to the next level.”

Bean supports Nurse’s plan to use the $21 million that will be available for the next batch of Penny for Pinellas projects (if approved in the fall) and substitute that for the city’s downtown TIF money to spend on affordable housing and transportation.

“I think that plan is pretty exciting because you can’t spend that money now on what we need,” Bean said, referring to the fact that Mayor Rick Kriseman has proposed spending $14 million in TIF funds for the Pier this year.

Bean says that while he hears a lot of questions from the public if the new Pier project is still on track, he says the focus should be on where the funding for a more expensive Pier is coming from.

“If we’re taking it from the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency for downtown St. Pete), which is supposed to be on economic development and spending it on a Pier, and spending it in an area where it’s a beautiful area, Beach Drive, then we have to question why we’re doing it,” Bean says.

Bean was speaking just a short distance away from Williams Park, the downtown hub which Bean and a partner have made it their mission to clean up. Two years ago, Bean and friend Sean King created the Williams Park Partnership, and in March, local businesses came together to form an official business district to better brand the area and attract economic activity and development.

Along with Sharon Russ, Bean is the only other registered Republican in the ten-person field. He says he’s not sure if that fact helps or hurts him in what is a Democratic-leaning city. He says he’s staying out of the political aspect of the contest, saying that he finds it divisive when his job as a leader is to bring people together.

“I think we can do that in certain ways that we approach economic development and all the things that we need to address schools and affordable housing, there’s a lot that we need to do, but if we focus on Republican vs. Democrat we’re just going to argue and get distracted from what we really need to do.”

Bean says the work he’s done in Williams Park is what he called “community-led economic development, and he says he believes more such corridors can be created throughout the city.

“I want to become a city that has different unique pockets, so you can go from South St Pete to North St Pete, east to west, and you can experience different things that are chosen by this area.”

Bean currently leads the field in fundraising, though the race has only grown larger since the last financial report was filed for the end of April.

Since then, Gina Driscoll entered the race. As president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Neighborhood Association, Driscoll has a following in the district, which covers portions of downtown and south St. Petersburg as well as Old Northeast.

In addition to the aforementioned candidates, the District 6 field also includes Eritha “Akile” Caisson, Corey Givens Jr., Jim Jackson, Sharon Russ, James Scott, and Maria Scruggs.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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