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Jacob Smith says intensity of electorate will help Rick Kriseman win re-election

Rick Kriseman will make his case re-election this year, mostly based upon the progress St. Petersburg has made since his inauguration as mayor in January 2014.

“We came in with a lot of really big, sort of thorny projects, and the mayor has taken a lot of them by the horns and made them happen,” says Jacob Smith, Kriseman’s newly minted campaign manager.

Among those “thorny” projects are a pathway toward a new Pier, the upcoming groundbreaking for a new police station and what Smith dubs ‘The Kriseman infrastructure plan’: the $304 million investment to fix the city’s aging pipes and sewage plants.

Smith says the mayor looks forward to having a “public conversation” with voters on infrastructure overhaul. Kriseman is also poised to give details about how the money will be spent, where the revenues to pay for it will come from, and what shape the project will ultimately take.

“A lot of people will say that they don’t know — they know we’re spending that money, but they don’t know exactly what the mechanics of that project are,” Smith said.

The infrastructure plan emerged after what is inescapably Kriseman’s lowest moment as mayor — his handling of the sewage situation late last summer.

After a whistleblower had come forth September alleging the mayor falsely claimed millions of gallons of wastewater spilled from a treatment plan wasn’t a safety hazard, lawmakers called for more oversight. That resulted in the Department of Environmental Protection laying down a mandate for fixing the problem or pay a significant penalty.

Smith prefers to look at the sunnier side of that imbroglio, saying that the mayor deserves props for finally acting on a decades-in-the-making problem in regards to sewage management.

The 27-year-old Smith is a Fort Lauderdale native who was Kriseman’s field director during the 2013 campaign and has added a lot more to his CV since then.

After the mayor’s decisive victory over Bill Foster in November 2013, he went to work immediately on Alex Sink‘s bid for Congress in the special election against David Jolly.

In 2014, he worked as a field director for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial effort and then began work from the start in early 2015 on Hillary Clinton‘s run for the White House. He was living in Brooklyn before moving down to St. Petersburg recently to devote all his energies to the mayor’s race.

Discussion about the sewage situation segues quickly into more positive news, such as an online Fiscal Times report published in January that of the most fiscally stable cities showed that St. Petersburg was listed as the 23rd best city in the country (of cities of more than 200,000 population) and first in Florida.

“Since Mayor Kriseman has taken office, St. Petersburg’s credit rating has gone up, and we’ve become a city more attractive to lenders,” says Smith. “We’ve been called the most financially responsible city in the state.”

Conventional wisdom has it that only one man stands between Kriseman and another four years in office — former Mayor Rick Baker.

There is no bigger guessing game in St. Pete politics than figuring out what Baker will do. Smith says it won’t matter who his main opponent is, Kriseman continue to do his thing.

A favorite criticism among Republicans is that Kriseman has been too partisan.

“Since 2013 Mayor Rick Kriseman has shown he is committed to progressive, left wing policies that have done nothing to improve the quality of life the City of St. Petersburg has come to expect,” says Nick DiCeglie, chair of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

“This absent leadership has led to an infrastructure failure that has resulted in raw sewage being dumped into Tampa Bay. This is unacceptable and change must and will occur in city hall later this year.”

Referring to his support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality and respect for immigrant rights, Smith says that the mayor represents the values that St. Pete residents believe in. “What the mayor really wants is a city that is welcoming to all, that respects everyone and that we are living up to our best potential and our best values,” he says.

There is no question that the Democratic left has been energized since last fall’s election. In January, Kriseman took part in the Women’s’ March, an event that drew more than 20,000 to the downtown area, the largest such rally in the city’s history.

Smith predicts the intensity among progressive voters will have implications in the mayoral contest and appears to have Baker on his mind when he thinks of who their main opponent will be.

“At the end of the day, Rick Kriseman has always stood by Barack Obama, endorsed Hillary Clinton. Campaigned for her,” he says. “Any opponent he gets is going to be on the other side of the issue, right?”

“It’s going to be somebody who stood on stage with people like Sarah PalinPaul Ryan, Mitt Romney, where Rick Kriseman was out knocking on doors for Barack Obama, right?” he says. “I think that is a dynamic that will absolutely come into this race. A lot of the most fired up people right now are the people who stand with Rick on a lot of issues.”

Whether it’s Baker, Foster or another Republican who will step up and try to take down the incumbent, it’s getting close to the time when that candidate will have to step up.

The Kriseman campaign announced this week he has the backing of half the current City Council in November and has already raised $260,000.

I really don’t know Kevin King

I really don’t know Kevin King, the Chief of Staff to Mayor Rick Kriseman.

I believe — and Kevin can correct me if I am wrong — the last time he and I spoke was in early 2006. It was after my spiral from politics, when I was waiting tables at a now-defunct joint on Fourth Street. If I remember correctly, Kevin was charitable to me, probably feeling sorry for my station in life at the time. He was soon to become, if not already, the go-to Democratic consultant in Pinellas politics.

But even before that, we really didn’t know each other well. I don’t think we ever socialized, even though we were about the same age and doing about the same thing with our lives. We first came across each other when he was managing Kriseman’s campaign for the City Council, and I was advising first-time candidate Bill Dudley. I recall there being this sort of tension because I wanted to service Kriseman’s campaign by selling it collaterals, direct mail and the like. King wasn’t interested, which was perfectly fine, although his rebuff felt more like an I-know-better than just a simple ‘No.’

King and I have certainly not spoken since Kriseman first ran for the Florida House. During that campaign, King’s disputed criminal history came into play after someone mailed information about him to the local media. King thought/thinks I had something to do with that, but I did not. Still, a relationship that was, at best, lukewarm, turned to ice after that. King and I sniped at each other — mostly in private to others — for the next eight years.

Although we never spoke during Kriseman’s mayoral campaign, I did what King could not, namely help take out Kathleen Ford. Once she was out, Kriseman had a clear shot at incumbent Bill Foster, and the rest is local political history.

After Kriseman installed King in a newly created chief of staff position, I came to King’s defense and pushed back against those who wanted to hold King’s disputed criminal history against him. I argued that King absolutely deserved a second chance from those people who had not given him one (King’s career was never derailed, like mine was, by his mistakes; it’s just that no one really cared if King was a legislative aide to a backbench member of the Florida Legislature. King serving in a well-paying, highly visible leadership role in City Hall was really the first time many people were confronted with his history.)

I hate to see the mistakes King made more than a decade thrown into his face every time he is at the center of a controversy, as he is now that the Times’ Mark Puente has reported that King told a City Hall employee to not talk negatively about a transfer out of the mayor’s office.

“In September, Kriseman’s closest aides told the Tampa Bay Times that Lisa Brekke, 32, was moved to fire headquarters as a training specialist to enhance her “professional growth” in city government. At the time, Kriseman chief of staff Kevin King and spokesman Ben Kirby stressed that nothing else triggered the transfer.

But records the Times recently obtained show tension between King and Brekke led her to tell top fire, human resources and legal officials that King intimidated her and left her in tears when a reporter asked the mayor’s office about the transfer.”

The incident with Brekke, in and of itself, isn’t a mortal wound to King, but it is part of a troubling pattern that does not reflect well on his boss.

Increasingly, King is described as “controversial” or a “lightning rod” by the Tampa Bay Times and other local media. King’s role, as well as those roles of others in the Mayor’s Office, may be fodder for the campaign trail.

But you know what? King isn’t going anywhere. Kriseman won’t part with him. And King really doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Unless King has committed a documented crime, something I highly doubt, in his execution of the day-to-day administration of Kriseman’s vision for the city, the Mayor is not going to cut off his right-hand man.

As for those who try to throw King’s disputed criminal history in the Mayor’s face, well, didn’t Kriseman know about that when he first hired King? Of course he did. Just as he knew about it when he made King his legislative aide during his time in the Florida House and just as he knew about it when he made King his Chief of Staff at City Hall.

Kriseman made a decision — right or wrong — that the mistakes in King’s past were not relevant to their joint future. And Kriseman has certainly benefited from this alliance, as he has had whip-smart lieutenant by his side for the last 15 years.

But this is also what makes me feel truly sorry for King. And it’s a realization I only recently came to.

Think about it: what does King have, professionally speaking, if he doesn’t have Kriseman? What would King do were Kriseman to lose his re-election campaign?

Fortunately for King, the Mayor has provided steady employment for the last two decades. King’s current position pays him nearly $121,000.

That kind of great job would probably not be in the cards for others once accused of propositioning an underage girl for sex.

That kind of powerful job in politics would probably not be in the cards for others who “tr(ied) to get two female students, ages 14 and 15, to skip school and drink beer with him, and asking one to perform a sex act on him.”

And there’s the tragedy. By Kriseman’s side is the best place King can do for himself even though, given his ambition and talent, he probably could have risen above that station. But where can he go in major league politics where his past would not be made an issue?

I know of what I speak here, having had my own legal issues. I know why I couldn’t make a statewide political campaign. Heck, the Tampa Bay Times spelled it out for me. I know — like King must know — that I will never get to work in The White House or be elected to office.

Realizing all of this, I deconstructed my past, atoned for my sins, and built a new, more entrepreneurial life — one that does not require the public’s trust. I was granted the perspective to understand that if I had not gone through what I had, I would not be where I am today.

Still, don’t think there aren’t moments when I wonder what life would have been like had I taken a right turn instead of a left.

I’m not sure if King realizes all of this or not. I assume he does. But, like I said, I don’t know him very well.

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.”

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. 

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.


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.

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.

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.

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

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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