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In campaign kickoff speech, Rick Kriseman aims to take St. Petersburg to next level

Rick Kriseman says he ran for Mayor four years ago because he felt that the big issues in St. Petersburg weren’t being addressed.

Kicking off his re-election campaign Wednesday night, he said, “It’s so important to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”

“This is a time that’s really important for the city of St. Petersburg,” Kriseman told a crowd of around 100 supporters who filled in the courtyard of Three Birds Tavern on 4th Street. “We have a lot of big issues that we need to address, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Kriseman has an impressive slate of accomplishments on which he’ll be able to run on this year, including establishing a curbside recycling program, hiring a new police chief, implementing the downtown waterfront master plan, the creation of the Southside CRA to attempt to eradicate poverty and a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tampa Bay Rays to energize their search for a site to host a new ballpark.

But that hasn’t been the dominant theme in the media over the past six months, thanks to several self-inflicted errors in coping with the city’s sewage crisis that emerged last September.

The problems transcend sewer. The mayor has gotten sideways with some members of the LGBT community for his announcement that he will pull city funding for the St. Pete Pride Parade, after organizers said they would move the route from its usual Grand Central District path to one closer to downtown.

Councilwoman Darden Rice, who gave Kriseman a rousing introduction at Wednesday’s event, says the city should stand behind parade organizers. “I don’t think it’s something that the mayor needs to step into,” she said. “Let’s let the stakeholders figure that out.”

Wal-Mart’s decision to leave Midtown is another blow, with city leaders scrambling to try to persuade the giant retailer to reconsider.

The city’s downtown renaissance, which originated toward the end of Rick Baker’s tenure and completely taking off in the Bill Foster era, has continued to prosper under Kriseman.

Two of the biggest issues that dragged down Foster — the Pier and the Rays — have yet to be resolved, however, though it’s rumored that the Rays will finally be making a decision about their future sometime this year. The mayor continues to insist that the best place for them to land up is on the same 85-acre space where Tropicana Field currently resides, a questionable move considering that the Rays seem determined to want to play anywhere but there.

There have been concerns about the escalating costs of a new pier, which was initially set at $46 million for several years but is now up to $80 million.

But with all those concerns, the fact remains that Kriseman is the heavy favorite to win re-election.

Although Pinellas County Republicans have criticized the mayor since he took office, the only serious candidates that they have floated are the two men who held office before Kriseman took over — Baker and Foster.

Polls have shown that Baker would present a serious challenge to Kriseman, yet nobody knows whether he will pull the trigger. His recent history indicates that he won’t.

And if he won’t, who will? Local Republicans insist that a wealthy businessman will emerge as a legitimate challenger, but that apparently remains to be seen.

Until then, the mayor has the field to himself, and the power of incumbency, to make people forget about the problems with the city’s sewage system and his staff’s ability to clearly communicate what is happening there. Though he can’t control the weather, he can control how the city copes with those storms.

Looking at the crowd on Wednesday, the mayor joked that there were some who have been in his corner for years, going back to his previous runs for the state House and City Council.

Also in the crowd was his wife Kerry and son Samuel.

“When you are in public service there’s a lot of hours that you’re not at home and a lot of things that you miss,” Kriseman said. “It’s a big sacrifice on the family, so I would be remiss not to thank them for everything they do to support me.”

“I think he has done a really good job of  bringing a lot of prosperity and economic development to the city of St Pete, which has impacted the entire region and Pinellas County as a whole, and that’s why I’m supporting him as a resident of Gulfport,” said Jennifer Webb, a local Democrat who ran against Kathleen Peters in the state House District 69 race last fall.

Regarding the lack of transparency issues that surfaced during the sewage crisis, Rice says that both the mayor and the council learned that they can communicate better concerning the various plans and money allocated in addressing the treatment of sewage moving forward.

“That will be one of the biggest challenges, and it’s a lesson on how good communication is a form of leadership,” she said.

Along with Rice, Councilman Charlie Gerdes also made a quick appearance, grandson in tow.

Rice and Amy Foster are the two incumbent members of the council who are up for re-election with Kriseman this year.

The mayor called both “dedicated servants for the city of St. Petersburg, and they need to be back for four more years at city council.”

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Bob Buckhorn, Rick Kriseman and George Cretekos to offer “State of the Bay” address at Tiger Bay

The mayors of the three biggest cities representing the Tampa Bay area: Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman and Clearwater’s George Cretekos, will come together to address members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, January 31.

It will be a reunion of sorts for the three executive lawmakers, who participated in some campaign forums back in 2014 when they were all in support of the ultimately doomed Greenlight Pinellas transit tax proposal.

It’s an election year for Kriseman, who will undoubtedly give a positive spin on “The Sunshine City” that he has led since crushing Bill Foster in November of 2013.

In his State of the City address offered on Saturday, Kriseman touted the local economy, saying that new business registrations have increased by 105 percent since he took office, and nearly 175 percent on the Southside. He also insisted that his plan for a new Pier were on target, and compared it favorably to Tampa’s RiverWalk, referring to how it took over four decades for that project to ultimately become the jewel that is across the bay in Tampa.

Bob Buckhorn is always an engaging speaker, and undoubtedly some “Tigers” in the audience will be asking him about his plans (if any) in 2018. Whether he has anything more than a vague response to give his interlocutors to his plans would be revelatory, since he’s been keeping his ambitions close to the vest in recent months.

Mayor Cretekos was re-elected last year for a second four-year term in Clearwater.

The Tiger Bay lunch will take place on Tuesday, January 31, at high noon at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. N. in St. Petersburg.

If you’re not a member and want to attend the lunch, you can register here. 

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By asking for more Pier money, Rick Kriseman misreads political mood

If we have learned anything from the just-completed election, it is this: People are fed up with the political status quo. I mean, isn’t that obvious?

Apparently not to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

He wants to shift an additional $14 million into his city’s Pier project, which could bring the overall cost to $80 million. Kriesman’s logic is exactly the reason millions of people voted for Donald Trump.

“I’m looking at, if we invest some more money, we can have a world-class Pier,” Kriseman said in the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s more taking the elements that would exist in the current budget and taking them up another notch.”

Oh dear.

Grab hold of your wallets when mayors and other elected officials start using words like “invest” and “world-class” because it usually means they’re investing in a world-class monument to themselves.

The money would come from a special tax increment financing plan, or TIF district. That sounds good because it doesn’t sock taxpayers directly, but as city council members pointed out some of the TIF money could be directed to other more pressing projects that aren’t as glamorous as the Pier.

Even giving the good mayor the benefit of the doubt on that one, he surely must know that those words “invest” and “world class” are etched on the tombstones of politicians whose careers died because they wanted to take things “up another notch.”

The more prudent approach would be to take the city’s crumbling sewer system “up another notch” – well, a lot more notches, because no one has forgotten the stench in the streets in September after Hurricane Hermine overpowered the wastewater system and sent ca-ca flowing into the streets.

That is a public safety issue.

The Pier is not.

Whatever happened to holding the line on costs?

This doggone Pier was originally supposed to cost $46 million. Google, a wonderful invention, popped up a Times story from about five years ago, that reported if the city would just throw in a few million more the Pier would be a whole lot better.

Sound familiar?

That same story included a promise from officials that they absolutely, positively were going to cap costs at $50 million. It included a great quote from then-Mayor Bill Foster: “For $50 million, people will get a Pier.”

Oh darn.

Well, it’s already at $66 million and now Kriseman wants more. I suspect he is misreading the mood of the voters on this one. I also imagine they will explain that to him at the appropriate time.

 

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Tall Ship Lynx to dock in St. Pete — permanently

The Tall Ship Lynx, a modern interpretation of an 1812 American privateer, is scheduled to sail into St. Pete on Wednesday morning where it has found a permanent winter home.

The 110-foot ship is expected to come under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge with full sails sometime around 10 a.m. It will then head into the Vinoy Basin/North Yacht Basin, do a four-gun salute and make her way to Harborage Marina where she will berth until the seasonal dock is finalized right next to the ferry. They plan is to begin opening the boat up to the public for tours, sailing trips, and corporate events this weekend.

The idea of offering the Lynx a permanent berth first came up during then-Mayor Bill Foster’s administration. But the idea never seemed to gel until recently, said Greg Holden, chair of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. More recently, with the support of Council member Ed Montanari, Mayor Rick Kriseman, local businesses and others, the dream looks as if it might become reality.

“This is one of those five-year, overnight successes,” Holden said.

It’s an “amazing” opportunity for the city, he said. Having a tall ship in port is a draw for businesses and tourists. It’s also an attraction to help more people get out onto the water and to learn a bit of history.

The Lynx, he said, would harken back to the days of the Bounty, which was a reconstruction of the 1787 Royal Navy sailing ship HMS Bounty. The Bounty summered in New England and wintered in St. Pete, operating out of the Pier.

“There’s been an overwhelming amount of support” for having the Lynx use St. Petersburg as a permanent winter home, said Don Peacock, executive director of the Lynx Education Foundation. “We’re looking at this as a long-term program.”

The Lynx was built as a hands-on educational tool to teach American history. When she was in St. Petersburg last winter, Peacock said the crew worked with recreational centers in south St. Petersburg and with Admiral Farragut Academy. Kids from both sailed on the ship for a day while they learned how to sail her the way she was sailed in 1812 when the original Lynx went to sea.

“It’s all done by hand,” Peacock said.

Peacock said the Lynx would like to expand its outreach to more schools and recreational centers this year.

The Lynx and its educational programs are run by a non-partisan, nonprofit organization. The funding comes from donations and from the fees that corporations and members of the public pay to go on sails or to rent the Lynx for events.

The Lynx is an interpretation of an 1812 vessel of the same name that was one of the first privateers to take to the seas after the start of the War of 1812. A privateer was used to prey on British merchant vessels. Although the Lynx was designed like a privateer, she was outfitted for trade so she could help keep supply lines open for the Americans during the war. She was captured about a year into the war and saw service as a Royal Navy vessel called the Mosquidobit. In the late 1990s, the modern Lynx was built to the plans of the original.

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Kathleen Peters slams decision to close Albert Whitted sewer plant

Considering the effect of the summer’s rains on leaky sewer pipes, it’s not surprising that Pinellas County’s aging infrastructure was a prime issue during a debate Tuesday between Kathleen Peters and Jennifer Webb.

Kathleen Peters
Kathleen Peters

And it’s probably not surprising that the cities, especially St. Petersburg, came in for harsh criticism from Peters, a Republican running for re-election to State House District 69. Webb, a Democrat, is opposing her.

“Local governments throughout the county have not done their job,” Peters said.

Peters had particularly harsh criticism for St. Petersburg’s Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman although she never mentioned him by name. Instead, she referred to an “administration” or “this administration” when criticizing the decision to close one of three sewer treatment plants.

In answer to a question about the need to create mitigation strategies to deal with climate change, she said she was less interested in that than in another issue.

Jennifer Webb
Jennifer Webb

“My focus is right here with infrastructure. We can’t even get that right,” Peters said.

Peters then referred to “this administration” that had closed a sewer plant despite claiming to be an environmentally friendly community. Peters said it irked her when the administration blamed a previous administration for closing the plant. She further criticized the administration for not spending BP money for items other than infrastructure.

Ben Kirby, the mayor’s spokesman, agreed Wednesday that it was clear Peters was referring to Kriseman. But, he said, she had her facts wrong.

“Rep. Peters is just flat wrong,” Kirby said. “This administration didn’t close any wastewater treatment plant.”

The discussion about closing the Albert Whitted plant began years ago during the tenure of Rick Baker as mayor as the result of a consultant’s report, Kirby said. The St. Petersburg City Council voted in 2011 to close the plant. That, he said, was during Bill Foster’s term. Kriseman didn’t take office until 2013. Baker and Foster are both Republicans.

St. Petersburg’s sewer woes come from “years and years and years” of neglect, he said. The sewer discharge doesn’t come from lack of treatment plants but rain water seeping into leaky pipes that then overload the system. The council and the Kriseman administration, he said, have committed millions – including some BP money – to fixing the infrastructure.

Rick Kriseman
Rick Kriseman

Even so, Peters said she had done her part since she was elected to the Legislature to help solve infrastructure problems by bringing back about $1.7 million in state money to help Gulfport and St. Pete Beach deal with their sewer issues. Peters and state Sen. Jack Latvala called for a meeting of area officials and the Legislative Delegation to discuss what needs to be done. That meeting is set for Tuesday.

“Nobody will work harder at this than I have,” Peters said.

Webb responded, saying $1.7 million “over five years is a pittance compared to what it’s going to take.”

Cities have asked for help, she said, but the pleas have fallen on half-deaf ears. True leadership, Webb said, requires officials to help when they see their constituents under water and their streets turning into “sewage rivers.” And, that leadership, she said, needs to be provided “even when it’s not an election year.”

Webb said she believes the state and perhaps the federal government should help finance the needed infrastructure improvements.

Webb also had a differing point of view when it came to establishing hazard mitigation strategies for climate change. The question involved ways to get Gov. Rick Scott to deal with the issue. The question wasn’t clear as to what the questioner wanted Scott to do, but Webb got one of the few laughs of the evening when she said, “You mean, like to actually use the words ‘climate change’?”

Hazard mitigation is essential, Webb said, and it needs to be statewide. As for Scott, Webb said he’d be out of office in two years, and that would be a better time to create such rules.

The debate, the first between the two, was sponsored by the Crossroads Community Association.

HD 69 includes Gulfport, South Pasadena, Pinellas Park, parts of St. Petersburg and some of the south Pinellas beach communities. The election is Nov. 8.

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New poll shows Rick Kriseman is popular, but could lose to Rick Baker in 2017

Two-and-a-half years into his mayoralty, voters in St. Petersburg are strongly supportive of Rick Kriseman.

Yet a new poll suggests that his re-election isn’t guaranteed, especially if former Mayor Rick Baker challenges him in 2017.

A St. Pete Polls survey conducted on Tuesday of 600 registered voters in the ‘Burg shows that Baker gets 37 percent support, with Kriseman at 36 percent, a statistical tie. An additional 27 percent are undecided.

Baker was a popular mayor of St. Petersburg from 2001-2009 before leaving office. Bill Foster succeeded him in 2009, but lost decisively to Kriseman in November of 2013. Baker has been mentioned for several different political positions since he left City Hall, but has chosen to remain in the private sector. He has not said whether he has any interest in challenging Kriseman next year.

The new survey shows that nearly half the electorate — 49 percent — approve of Kriseman’s performance, with 30 percent disapproving. An additional 20 percent were unsure.

As St. Pete continues its renaissance that began toward the end of the Baker era, Kriseman is reaping the benefits of the city’s success. A majority, 52 percent, say the city is going in the right direction, while 33 percent say it’s going in the wrong direction. Another 15 percent weren’t sure.

The City Council also gets high marks, though not as high as the mayor. When asked if they are doing a good job, 42 percent of those surveyed say they are, while 36 percent disagree. Another 23 percent are unsure.

One issue where the public is not pleased with the city is in the handling of the sewage system’s overflow problems. Heavy rains in early June forced St. Petersburg to pump nearly 10 million gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay. Storms during the summer of 2015 caused over 31 million gallons of treated and partially treated sewage to be spilled or dumped.

When asked how the city has coped with the situation, 55 percent say not very well. The rest of the public was divided on their reaction, with 23 percent supporting how the city has dealt with the storms, while another 23 percent were unsure.

Although the Tampa Bay Rays finally were allowed by city officials to negotiate with Hillsborough County officials about possibly relocating a new baseball park in that region earlier this year, Kriseman says that the current site where Tropicana Field sits remains the best location for a club to prosper in the future.

The poll shows that the public agrees with that attitude, with 43 percent supporting the idea of a new park built next to the current site. Another 34 percent say that want to make sure the park remains in Pinellas County. Not surprisingly, only 10 percent say the team playing their games in Hillsborough County. Another 13 percent were unsure.

This poll of 620 registered voters in St. Petersburg was conducted on June 28. The survey has a 3.9 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

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Who’s who of Pinellas politics join Jeff Brandes for campaign kickoff in St. Pete

State Sen. Jeff Brandes is hosting a kickoff reception Wednesday evening for his re-election effort.

More than three dozen current and former local officials are on the host committee for the event, set for the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Host committee members include Republican Reps. Larry AhernChris Latvala, Kathleen PetersChris Sprowls and Dana Young, as well as former Reps. Frank Farkas, former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst, and former St. Petersburg Mayors Bill Foster and Rick Baker, among many others.

Brandes is currently unopposed in his re-election campaign, which due to new district maps in 2012 and 2016, will be his third Senate run in four years.

The newly redrawn SD 24 has a slim GOP edge, and narrowly voted for Obama four years ago, making it possible Brandes could face a Democratic challenger in the fall. Heading into April, the Pinellas County senator had raised about $184,000 for his re-election campaign and had about $59,000 of that money on hand.

Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. RSVP with Rick Porter at 407-849-1112 or Rick@PoliticalCapitalFlorida.com.

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Ken Welch to launch fourth re-election campaign

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch is officially launching his re-election campaign next week. Welch will be meeting with supporters at the Hangar Restaurant located at 540 First Street SE Wednesday, February 10.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor will be on hand as a special guest, though an invitation sent to prospective donors makes clear she “is not asking for funds or donations” as per campaign finance rules.

Welch has already built an impressive host committee consisting of several current and former mayors. Rick Kriseman from St. Pete, Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn and Gulfport’s Sam Henderson are supporting Welch. So too is former Mayor Bill Foster. While Kriseman, Buckhorn and Henderson are all Democrats Foster is a Republican.

Former Governor and current Congressional candidate Charlie Crist and former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Alex Sink have also joined Welch’s host committee as well as St. Pete City Councilors Darden Rice, Karl Nurse, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes.

Welch is also drawing support from School Board member Rene Flowers, Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman, former Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart and PSTA citizen board member Ben Diamond.

Several high-profile community activists and leaders have also joined on including Jeff Copeland, Martha Lenderman, Johnny Bardine, Scott Wagman, Ray Neri, Craig Sher, Bob Devin Jones, Gwendolyn Reese, Watson Haynes, Clarence Williams, Kenny Irby and John Evans.

First elected to the County Commission in 2000, Welch is currently serving his fourth four-year term.

Welch is a former accounting, Information Technology, and Financial Systems Administration specialist for Florida Power, now Duke Energy. He also served as Technology Manager for Welch Accounting & Tax Services, a family-owned business.

Welch is a lifelong St. Pete resident. He graduated from Lakewood High School and went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of South Florida. Welch also earned a master’s in business administration from Florida A&M University.

In addition to serving residents of Pinellas County as a County Commissioner, Welch also serves on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the county’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, the Business Technology Services Board, Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization and the advisory committee for Pinellas Transportation, among other services.

Welch is facing an opponent this year. Retired St. Petersburg College worker Sharon McManus filed to run against him as an independent candidate. It’s possible another challenger could jump in the race. Republicans have made regaining a majority on the commission a top 2016 priority.

They’ve already pitted Mike Mikurak against Democrat Charlie Justice. Janet Long, also a Democrat up for re-election this year, has not drawn a challenger yet. According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website, the qualifying period for the election is June 20-24.

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Subtle MOU provision means Rays might play “home” games outside of Tampa Bay area

A provision of the Memorandum of Understanding approved by City Council Thursday evening means the Rays could eventually play outside of Tropicana Field before they’ve technically abandoned the Dome, but only if they’ve already entered into a termination agreement with the city.

The MOU allowing the team to begin immediately exploring alternative stadium sites outside of St. Petersburg in Pinellas or Hillsborough counties includes a provision allowing the Rays to play up to 10 home games outside of Tropicana Field under a section defining “excused games.”

WTSP Reporter Noah Pransky quoted former Mayor Bill Foster raising the specter that the approved MOU weakens the city’s “original agreement so much that you’re setting a measure of damages allowing them to leave the region prior to 2027.”

Pransky explained Foster’s interpretation was that “the failure to require a long-term commitment from the Rays might open the door for the team to use the 10 “home” games to test the waters of other potential MLB markets while still playing the majority of their games in a temporary location elsewhere in Hillsborough or Pinellas County.”

What’s not mentioned is that the Rays would only be excused from 10 games a season once they entered into a termination agreement with the city. Under that scenario, the Rays playing baseball outside of St. Pete would be imminent.

If they were playing home games above and beyond the 10 excused games at a “temporary” site in Pinellas or Hillsborough, that would mean the Rays would have already vacated Tropicana Field.

The section Foster referenced refers to the period of limbo when the Rays would be preparing to move to a new stadium location, but still playing at Tropicana Field. If they played at an alternative site during that period for what would otherwise be a home game that would count against the 10 excused games.

Although Foster is not the only critic of the latest MOU and the previous versions that weren’t approved, Rick Kriseman and his administration continue to maintain the deal is intended as the best way to ensure the team does stay in St. Pete.

Kriseman and his allies argue forcing the Rays to stick strictly to the current Use Agreement through 2027 is the best way to ensure the team leaves the entire region after the term expires. Instead, they say allowing the team to look outside the city in areas throughout the region will show the Rays there is better value in a St. Pete stadium than elsewhere. And, worst case scenario, they at least stay in the region.

However, critics worry the city is offering too many concessions to the team whose iron-clad contract bars them from considering other stadium sites during its term.

While there are reasonable arguments on either side, the latest controversy over an “excused game” provision appears moot. It would not allow the team to play home games outside of the Trop during its term unless they already entered a termination agreement. That would mean the city would be set to collect the monetary compensation set forth in the MOU of up to $24 million depending on when the team left.

Where Foster’s speculation holds some weight is in his assertion that the team could, under the new contract, payout the $24 million required by contract to begin playing baseball in a temporary location within Pinellas or Hillsborough and then play ten “home” games in other markets. Montreal and Mexico City have been batted around as potential contenders.

What isn’t immediately clear in the MOU and would likely be up for interpretation is whether or not the Rays would be subject to the 2027 timeline and be tied to the region after they leave Tropicana Field. The question would then become — what does a contract look like to play at another site.

What is clear is the Rays are still be contractually obligated to play all home games at Tropicana Field while exploring alternative sites, and if they decided to stay in St Pete through or beyond their contract, the provision would not be applicable.

The Rays play about 80 home games a season.

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St. Pete looks to replace racist mural 50-years gone with culturally significant art

The city of St. Pete is budgeting $10,000 for a mural that would cover the long blank wall on the left landing of the main stairs in City Hall. The wall was once shrouded in a racist mural created in the 1940’s after City Hall was erected in 1939 using New Deal funds.

In an act of civil disobedience, a young African-American activist named Joe Waller tore the mural down in 1966 after the city refused multiple attempts to remove it. Waller, who now goes by the name of Omali Yeshitela and heads the international Uhuru group based in St. Pete, ultimately spent more than two years in jail for the act.

This isn’t the first time the city has sought to replace the mural. Because of tension involving the history of that space and racial sensitivities, the city has been unsuccessful in gaining majority consent for a new display.

In 1998 a group called the Concerned Citizens Action committee successfully petitioned the city to adopt a resolution directing staff to commission a plaque as an expression of apology to both the African-American community and Yeshitela.

However, dissent among council led to questions of the appropriateness of such a move. Bea Griswold, a City Council member at the time, asked for a more broad conversation about whether or not an apology needed to be directed at Yeshitela. She also thought such a plaque should not be placed in such a prominent location.

Former Mayor Bill Foster who was a City Council member at that time also had reservations. Another council member at the time though, Frank Peterman accused naysayers of playing with semantics” and argued they merely took issue with Yeshitela’s affiliation with the controversial Uhuru group.

The mural depicted a jovial scene set at Pass-a-grille Beach where white park-goers were enjoying music played by black artists who were collecting spare change. Not only did the image depict the African-American music players and dancers as subservient to whites, they were also depicted in the racist stereotype known as black face minstrel.

There faces were so dark features could not be noticed. Only their eyes and lips were lightened. Historically, black face was a depiction in shows in Northern states of African-Americans.

The 50th anniversary of the mural being torn down is this year.

Now the city finally appears to be taking action to remedy to blank scar at City Hall that serves as a reminder to so many of what once covered that space.

“The art must respect the event(s) that caused the still-vacant space where the mural once hung while honoring and celebrating the advances in civil rights and inclusivity in the city today,” the city’s call to artists reads on its website.

The city does not offer any further specifics on design specifications other than the size of the space that must be filled. The mural will occupy a 7-foot by 10-foot section of the stairway.

The selection process is open to professional artists and students. Professional artists must have completed other public commissions, received awards, grants or fellowships within the last five years, have works that appear in major private, corporate of museum collections and have exhibited art in a museum or gallery.

Student artists are not subject to those requirements.

Applications and all pertinent documents listed on the city’s website are due by February 8. Those applications can be hand delivered to City Hall by 5 p.m. on the deadline. Otherwise, they must be postmarked by the deadline.

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