Rick Kriseman Archives - SaintPetersBlog

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.

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Fear grips Latino communities in Florida as deportations increase

here is palpable fear amongst the undocumented community after the Department of Homeland Security issued new memos that gives U.S. officials sweeping latitude to target “removable aliens” for deportation, effectively making most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. priority targets.

Under Barack Obama, immigration officials were told to focus on convicted criminals instead of the broader undocumented population. The memos issued out this week by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly instruct agents to also prioritize undocumented immigrants who have been charged with a crime but not convicted of it, or committed an act that may be criminal offenses but haven’t been charged for it. Those categories mean that almost any brush with the American law-enforcement system could make an undocumented immigrant a target for removal.

“I’m very, very afraid,” says a St.Petersburg housekeeper who only wanted to be identified by her first name of Melissa.

A Brazilian native who has duel citizenship with Portugal, Melissa came to the U.S. last year with her Portuguese passport but has stayed past the three months she was legally able to. She keeps her two-year-old daughter in day care, and says she is terrified that if she gets picked up by local police she may never see her again.

“I’ll never call for some help, if I need the police here,” she says. “I’ll never call anyone to help me.”

There are approximately 610,000 undocumented people in Florida, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Daniel Barajas is the executive director with the Young American Dreamers, based in Auburndale. His organization has been hosting community forums this week, teaching the undocumented what to do if they’re confronted by immigration officers.

“We’re just trying to reassure the community by giving them the confidence in the means of learning their rights and keeping them organize, so when there’s actions where mobilizing the community would be strategic, we could do so,” he says.

Left untouched in the DHS directives is anything to do with DACA, an executive order imposed by President Obama  that provides 750,000 young undocumented immigrations a means to work and live in the U.S.

“We’re gonna show great heart,” Trump said in a news conference last week. “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you.”

“It’s not a security blanket, even though I do feel like I have a path to citizenship,” says Tampa resident Andrea Seabra, who is part of the DACA program. “It is what it is today, and I just hope every day that things get better.”

While big city mayors like Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman say that they will make sure that their police departments don’t go out of their way to detain undocumented immigrants, Edwin Enciso with Justicia Now says that isn’t the case in many other parts of Florida.

“The problem is that about 40 percent of the udocumented community live in rural counties and have sheriffs who have a history of cooperating with federal agents in this way, and so in those areas the undocumented community, especially farm workers, are more vulnerable,” he says.

Those sheriffs would include Polk County’s Grady Judd, who said at a news conference earlier this week that “our primary goal has got to be to get the illegal aliens committing felonies out of this country and keep them out.”

After the new directives were announced by DHS this week, Orlando area Democratic U.S. Representative Darren Soto held an emergency roundtable discussion, where he learned that students in Auburndale had been questioned by local school administrators about their immigration status. “Given the recent executive action and heated rhetoric on immigration, these unauthorized inquiries are deeply troubling to me and our constituents,” Soto said in a letter sent to Judd, Orange County Sheriff Jerry L. Demings, Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson and more than 20 school board members.

“What we find disturbing is that he hasn’t even found time to sit down with the Hispanic community to discuss what their concerns are,” said Barajas of Judd, who he has worked with in the past. Barajas said DHS’ orders affects more than just the undocumented, since there are many Hispanic families with “mixed status,” that is, with some family members who are documented, others who aren’t or who have those who are on DACA.

Most Americans believe that cities that arrest illegal immigrants for crimes should be required to turn them over to federal authorities.

A survey from Harvard–Harris Poll published by the The Hill this week found that 80 percent of voters say local authorities should have to comply with the law by reporting to federal agents the illegal immigrants they come into contact with.

Seabra says she wonders whether President Trump has ever had the chance to sit down with DACA students or farm workers, and says such a meeting could have an impact on his viewpoint.

“I feel he was actually exposed to people that work for him, the people who clean his bathrooms, the people that built his building, maybe he’ll understand that we’re not here to destroy his country, but to make it better.”

 

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Mike Suarez sounds like he’s running for higher office during speech to Hillsborough Democrats

In what could be a preview of things to come, Tampa City Council Chairman Mike Suarez promoted his prescriptions for a progressive city during a speech to the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Council.

The mood were notably different than the last time Suarez addressed the DEC in the same venue. In early December, he and several of his City Council colleagues were denied the opportunity to vote in the local party’s reorganization meeting, which led to Suarez angrily taking to the floor to defend his bona fides as a Democrat.

All of that was forgiven Monday night, however, as Suarez owned the floor in his ten minute address.

Beginning by discussing how he had recently participated in a meeting with organized labor, he quickly segued into referring to his own proposal that the council passed in 2015 that calls for all new contracts with Community Redevelopment Agencies to require that twenty percent of jobs are fulfilled by apprentices.

“What has happened over the past year, and what has happened in last November’s election, is that we need to make sure to get as many folks as ready and able to work, because right now having small minimum jobs are not enough to carry us over. We need more high paying living wage jobs and until we have that, we’re not going to get out of the hole that we’re in,” he said.

Suarez then switched on a dime to talking about the Council’s upcoming vote on an ordinance that would ban mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The issue was workshopped last week and will come back for a vote on March 2.

“How many people here who are gay, and have converted to something else?” he asked the crowd. “If you are born gay, you’re gay. If you’re born straight, you are straight. If you are someone who wants to covert for whatever reason, that is your prerogative as a human being, and your human rights should not be denied, because someone is going to tell you that you have a psychological problem, when in fact, you were born the way that you were.”

The proposal is opposed by conservative activist Terry Kemple, who vows that the city will be subjected to a lawsuit if it passes. Others, including a Democrat in the audience Monday night who said it wasn’t a psychiatric issue, have questioned the need for such policies. Nevertheless, the all Democratic City Council appears determine to pass the proposal.

“We’re not going to stand for it in this city,” Suarez continued. “We are about uplifting people. We are not about degrading people. We are about making sure of promoting people who want to be the best person that they possibly can be for them, for the city. Everyone knows we are a progressive city, a city that looks forward and doesn’t look back.”

He then talked about immigration and sanctuary cities, saying that the city of Tampa wasn’t going to do anything that make immigrants feel unwelcome.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that would strip federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities. Bob Buckhorn has said repeatedly that while detaining undocumented immigrants is a function of Hillsborough County and not the city of Tampa, he will not direct members of the Tampa Police Department to help Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) to round up the undocumented. Suarez used the opportunity to bash Republicans, who he said were hypocritical in not standing up for local control.

“I know that what Republicans love to talk about is like to talk about unfunded mandates – don’t put a burden from the federal government onto the  cities and states,” he said. “Let me just tell you something, when they say ICE is going to have to use our police force or our sheriff deputies or our jails in order to capture people who they believe should be sent back to their country of origin, that is an unfunded mandate, and let me tell you, we won’t stand for that here in the city of Tampa,” eliciting another whopping round of applause.

“We want to make sure that our police force, those men and women who work hard for the city of Tampa, have the tools necessary to fight crime and catch criminals, and not to worry about whether or not someone has an expired tag or a license that’s been expired who may be from another country. To me, that is unconscionable.”

Suarez used that same adjective to describe the Florida Legislature’s reluctance to support a proposal backed by Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and plenty of others in the Tampa Bay area at least that would change state law to allow large cities to hold their own tax referendums. Current Florida only allows counties to have that authority. It’s an issue that has been discussed for several years now, as those cities have shown much larger support for public transit referendums than in the surrounding counties.

However, whether anybody locally is pushing Florida lawmakers to pass such a law isn’t clear just weeks before the regular legislative session commences. Nevertheless, it’s another talking point that Democrats have maintained over the past year on the campaign trail.

“We have a Republican legislature that loves to talk about freedom, they love to talk about what’s right for you and your home, but they refuse to let you have the freedom to vote for your own transit needs, and to me, that is wrong,” Suarez said.

Suarez is one of more than half a dozen serious names being discussed as a potential mayoral candidate in Tampa two years from now, when Buckhorn is term limited out of office.  He has never indicated that he isn’t interested in the position, and his short speech on Monday night seemed if anything a preview of the message he might carry when that campaign gets serious, which won’t really happen until after the 2018 midterm elections.

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Phillips Development and Realty closes on $70M Skyway Marina project

Phillips Development and Realty, LLC (PDR), a Tampa-based development firm, has officially closed Wednesday on over 9 acres of prime real estate in St. Petersburg’s Skyway Marina District.

The proposed 300+ unit multi-family, mixed-use development will be the first of its kind in this area.

The land, once owned by The Home Depot, has sat empty for years. Its potential is what has drawn Donald Phillips, managing director of PDR, to this land. “It is areas like this that we focus on. The Skyway Marina District is screaming for retail, luxury

“It is areas like this that we focus on. The Skyway Marina District is screaming for retail, luxury living and involvement from the St. Petersburg art scene” said Phillips. PDR will include a vibrant mural to mark the entrance to the District facing neighboring I-275.

PDR will include a mural to mark the entrance to the District facing neighboring I-275.

Local elected officials and neighboring homeowner associations (HOAs) have greeted Phillips’ $70m project with strong support.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson wrote in a letter to the community: “Mr. Phillips’ company is known to be a provider of achievable rental housing that is built with quality and consideration for the community at large.”

Rouson feels strongly that this project will bring great things to the area and spark a growth it deserves. The Senator reaffirmed his support of the development, emphasizing the “… overwhelming support for this project at all levels of the community.”

During the planning stages, Mayor Rick Kriseman wrote in a letter to PDR pledging the City’s “complete support of the proposed project by Phillips Development in the Skyway Marina District.”

As PDR’s team worked with the District’s planning committee, Kriseman stated: “The City has agreed to provide $1 million in public improvements adjacent to the site to directly enhance this project, recognizing that Phillips Development is the first developer to propose a major development in the District. This commitment is in addition to the $1.6 million expended or budgeted for public improvements that include gateway signage, landscaping, pedestrian lighting and banners, and bus shelters within the Skyway Marina District.”

PDR plans to construct more than 13,000 square feet of restaurant/retail space along with the area’s first “lazy river” and beach-style dining.

The proposed plan also includes close to 100,000 square feet of attractive, Class-A climate controlled storage space with the partnership of Jernigan Capital of Memphis, Tennessee.

The property is located at the southeast corner of US 19 and 30th Avenue South.

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Activists are pushing for Pinellas to be declared a sanctuary county

Despite a published report listing it as a sanctuary county, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri adamantly rejects classifying Pinellas  with such a designation. But a group of activists who held a news conference in St. Petersburg on Tuesday want the County Commission to call themselves a ‘welcoming’ county.

They met in front of City Hall to call on the members of the City Council to support a resolution, calling on the Pinellas County Commission to give themselves that title. Although there is no formal definition of a sanctuary city or county, it’s generally recognized as a community that has advised its law enforcement officers not to cooperate with the federal government when it comes to detaining undocumented immigrants unless they have committed a crime other than legally entering the country.

A report issued out on Tuesday by the liberal Center for American Progress said that contrary to President Trump’s recent claims, low-income immigrants access fewer public benefits than U.S.-born individuals. Activist Kofi Hunt cited that report in making his case for Pinellas to become a sanctuary county.

“When you have policies that basically treat undocumented people who live in the community as residents, you don’t hunt them down, and they feel comfortable integrating into society, that it’s better for the community and that’s one reason we’re saying this,” Hunt said.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman recently got himself into a slight kerfuffle with Gualtieri after making a statement earlier this month where he declared that “While our county sheriff’s office is ultimately responsible for notifying the federal government about individuals who are here illegally, I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws.”

The editorial page of the hometown Tampa Bay Times also criticized Kriseman for the statement, writing that “Kriseman’s statement was a well-intended message of inclusion during a time of uncertainty and division over immigrants’ place in American society. It’s a shame he muddied it with poorly chosen words.”

Hunt applauds Kriseman’s intentions, saying it reflects the character of St. Petersburg and the values of the people who live in the city.

Marc Rodrigues is with the West Central Florida Labor Council. He says that people who risk everything to make it to this country so that they could feed their families or find better opportunities “are not our enemy.”

“As the Florida labor movement we stand in opposition to Trump’s recent executive orders concerning immigration and we are also troubled by the fact that lawmakers in Tallahassee – with all the problems in this state that need to be addressed, from our embarrassingly low wages to our public school system and infrastructure – are wasting precious time and resources on trying to pass laws that would actually punish local municipalities that decide to take a “welcoming” or “sanctuary” stance toward immigrants and other vulnerable communities,” Rodrigues says in an email. “We stand with our community partners here in Pinellas and Hillsborough and elsewhere who are trying to pass such statutes and call on our local leaders to heed these efforts.”

Hassan Shibley, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida, said President Trump’s executive orders on immigration, as well as comments made on Sunday by senior White House adviser Stephen Miller that the President’s power on national security and how it will “not be questioned” are very concerning.

“The President thinks he has authority that is not granted by the constitution,” said Shibley. “The president holds these beliefs and it is up  to the states and the counties to protect their residents against a President who clearly doesn’t respect the constitution.”

Given Gualtieri’s previously very public stance against being considered a sanctuary county, Shibley admits it won’t be easy to persuade the County Commission to override their own sheriff. But he says they must.

“It’s a challenge, but I think more people are recognizing  that we need to unite to build communities where all of our residents feel safe, and I think the more we see aggressive policies coming out of the White House that show a total disrespect for the rule of law, the Constitution, and the limits on authority, that the more support we’ll see at the local level to take action that make people feel welcome and feel safe,” he says.

” I think we live in a time of a fast growing civil rights movement and I think my hope is that voices that stand in the way of that will  further be  marginalized as time goes on,” Shibley added.

“I’m sure the Sheriff will have his position, but from the energy that you’re seeing after the election, a lot of it is in tune with solidarity with immigrants,” says Hunt. “It will take some political ppressure, but that’s why I myself and others work as activists and organizers on the grass roots level,to let local residents about the issues at hand and how we can address them, and once  we get the people active and engaged in the topic, will see which way the political winds blow.”

The Center for Immigration Studies has also listed Hillsborough as a sanctuary county, a charge that Sheriff David Gee denies. Two weeks ago, a large group of citizens addressed the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council to recommend to the County Commission that Hillsborough become a sanctuary county. BOCC Chair Stacy White says he has no interest in doing so.

Last week in Tallahassee, Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean and Yalaha Republican Larry Metz introduced companion bills ( SB 786 and HB 697)  that would ban “sanctuary polices” in Florida and create fines and penalties for state agencies, local governments, or law enforcement agencies that use those policies and don’t cooperate with the federal government.

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Tampa Bay Rays owners donate more than $31,500 to Rick Kriseman’s re-election campaign

The Tampa Bay Rays, deadlocked with the City of St. Petersburg over where the baseball club may build its future home, donated more than $31,500 in January to the re-election effort of Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Kriseman is running for a second term as mayor of the Sunshine City. Voters will decide his fate later this year, with a primary election slated for August and a general election set for November.

Last week, Kriseman told supporters he had crossed the $200,000 raised mark for his re-election campaign. This includes money donated to his campaign, which caps donations at $1,000, and contributions made to allied political committees, which can accept donations of any amount.

At the end of January, Rays owners Stuart Sternberg, Randy Frankel, and Tim Mullen each donated $9,000 to Sunrise PAC, a political committee managed by Tom Alte, a Democratic campaign consultant who is quarterbacking Kriseman’s re-election campaign. In addition to those contributions, team owners Ander Cader ($1,000), Gary Goldring ($1,500) and Stephen Levick ($2,000) all made contributions to the committee.

“St. Petersburg is a city going through a renaissance,” said Brian Auld, president of the Rays and a himself a financial supporter of Kriseman’s campaign. “We see a progressive city that encourages development and growth, and we want to see that continue.”

A cursory review of campaign finance records shows that the Rays ownership has never donated at this level to an individual candidate.

Last February, the city launched its Baseball Forever campaign, an initiative of the city of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, residents, and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays. The goal of the campaign is to convince the Tampa Bay Rays that their current site, reimagined and redeveloped, remains the best location for Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.

In January, Kriseman met with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to discuss the future viability of MLB and the Rays in the St. Petersburg area.

As Janelle Irwin reported in the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Kriseman traveled to New York City, joined by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and Chief of Staff Kevin King for an hourlong meeting with the commissioner. What was not mentioned, however, was St. Pete’s “funding advantage in the region.”

To fund a new stadium, Pinellas County will expect use additional bed taxes, something the team will probably demand as a condition for staying.

“I am thankful for Commissioner Manfred’s time and share his desire for the Rays’ success,” Kriseman told reporters afterward. “I am confident that the team’s regional search will make clear that their current site, re-imagined and redeveloped, remains their best option.”

Confounding the entire situation is the Rays’ lackluster attendance record, which, for the fifth straight season in a row, was dead last in the league for 2016. The team averaged about 16,000 fans per game during the 2016 season. — nearly half of the attendance the team sees during away games.

Even more challenging is finding a location in St. Pete/Pinellas County region — as opposed to a stadium in downtown Tampa — with demographics suitable enough to support the franchise in the long-term, although, as the Tampa Bay Times optimistically noted, attendance did rise just under 4 percent in 2016, despite the Rays’ losing season.

As the Times’ John Romano wrote in October, the slight bump in attendance, and relative consistency in numbers, shows that the Rays may not be leaving the market anytime soon: “Leases, TV ratings and territorial rights are still in the bay area’s favor.”

“But the clock is ticking louder in St. Pete,” Romano added. “St. Pete needs to up its game if it doesn’t want to lose the Rays to Tampa.”

And a boost to Kriseman’s re-election coffers just might help.

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Rick Kriseman campaign says it has raised $200K towards re-election

Incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has some important news to share about his re-election campaign.

“Now that we’ve had a chance to add everything up and double-check everything, it’s clear we’ve passed an important milestone,” Kriseman wrote in an email that was distributed last week. That milestone is that he has crossed the $200,000 raised threshold for his re-election bid.

Kriseman is seeking a second term as mayor of the Sunshine City. Voters will decide his fate later this year, with a primary election in August and a general election in November.

Currently, no serious contender has filed to challenge Kriseman, but it’s widely reported that former Mayor Rick Baker is contemplating a return to local politics.

Having $200,000 in the bank should send any would-be challengers the message that Kriseman is not taking his re-election chances for granted.

As impressive as that $200K number sounds, it should be noted that $92,450 of it came in before the end of 2016, according to Kriseman campaign staffer Tom Alte. That’s contrary to how the Times’ Adam Smith framed it when he reported that “the mayor raised $200,000 in the first month since he announced his re-election kickoff.”

Still, 200 grand is 200 grand. That will buy a lot of TV time and direct mail in a citywide race. As Kriseman noted in his email, this is a “historic” level of early support.

“Mayor Kriseman is grateful to have the support of voters, activists, community leaders, and employers who have donated to his campaign so that he can continue leading St. Petersburg,” Alte said. “They’ve said loudly and clearly that when we stand together for progress, we can take on the tough issues and move our city forward.”

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St. Pete City Council candidate Brandi Gabbard wants more economic prosperity to Gateway District

Brandi Gabbard calls herself an everyday person representing everyday people.

Her bid for St. Petersburg City Council District 2 this year may be her first run for public office, but when it comes to working on public policy and serving the community, Gabbard’s no rookie.

The Indiana native moved to St. Petersburg in 2003 and began selling real estate in 2005 (she’s been with Smith & Associates since 2011).

Nearly a decade ago, Gabbard joined the Pinellas Realtor Organization as a volunteer and immediately began serving on their public policy committee. She started their young professional network in 2010, and ultimately became chair of the Realtors board in 2014, the youngest ever for the group.

The Pinellas Realtors Organization had led the effort to pass the Greenlight Pinellas transit tax initiative, which lost badly at the polls in 2014.

“The ballot amendment could have been written better,” Gabbard says in retrospect. “If people can’t understand it, then the automatic response is typically no. That certainly did not play in our favor.”

Representing the Gateway area, Gabbard embraces the renaissance in downtown St. Pete, but says she wants to bring some of that economic prosperity to her neck of the woods.

“We need more opportunities here. More restaurants, more boutique shops,” Gabbard says, believing that the Carillon and Gateway business districts can support more small businesses.

At the Starbucks on 4th Street North at 88th Avenue, Gabbard muses that perhaps in another year or two, a follow-up interview could be instead at a Kahwa coffeehouse.

“That’s my vision for the district,” she says. “I want to see that vibrancy that goes on down there spread to all parts of the city.”

Gabbard has advocated on many issues over the years, and is most proud of her work on flood insurance. This year, she’s vice chair of the National Association of Realtors Insurance Committee, and locally serves on the St. Petersburg Program for Public Information (PPI), a task force to track outreach projects and create a message to educate the public about flood hazards, flood insurance, proper building and floodplain functions.

Gabbard speaks enthusiastically about St. Pete recently being given a 25 percent reduction in floor insurance policies from what is known as the Community Rating System.

Regarding some of the bread and butter issues that are always front and center in St. Pete elections of late, Gabbard says as a fiscally conservative person, she has “concerns” about the cost of a proposed new Pier.

“A decision has been made, a plan has been set in place, a budget is there. Let’s get it done,” G says.

Gabbard also says she’d love to see the Tampa Bay Rays decide to relocate in District 2. Derby Lane on Gandy has been mentioned as a possible new site. Mayor Rick Kriseman said he hopes the team will choose to return to a revamped and improved Tropicana Field site.

“You don’t sell someone a house that they don’t want to be in,” Gabbard says to that idea.

Usually voluble and gregarious, Gabbard suddenly becomes quiet when asked her impression of the Kriseman era.

“I have no comment on the mayor,” she said firmly.

Segueing to the problems ensuring from the sewage problems of 2015 and 2016, she does offer that “the time for finger pointing is done” and says it’s time to move forward.

“I believe that (public works administrator) Claude Tankersley has all good intentions of having a very quick plan to meet the rainy season, and it is my full hope that that happens,” she says, adding that regardless of who made previous decisions, “when you are in a seat of leadership, it’s your responsibility to take the brunt of that.”

Gabbard is married with a 5-year-old son. She says being a “T-ball mom” will add a different perspective to the council.

Gabbard joins Barclay Harless as a candidate for District 2. Incumbent Jim Kennedy is term-limited out this fall.

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Former prosecutor, young GOP leader Berny Jacques contemplating run for House District 66

Former Pinellas County Assistant State Attorney Berny Jacques is seriously considering a run for the state House District 66 seat next year, which will become an open seat with Republican Larry Ahern term-limited out.

The 29-year-old Haitian native has been active with the Pinellas County GOP since he arrived in the community in 2009 to attend Stetson Law School in Gulfport. That’s when he says he was drawn into the grassroots aspects of state government.

In many ways Jacques and his family are the embodiment of the American dream. His parents worked two and sometimes three jobs concurrently when they moved to the states in the mid-1990’s.

“They had to work hard to put their children in a better position,” he says. “And to see me go to college and graduate and become an attorney all within their lifetime, I mean, that’s a strong testament to what this nation has to offer, and I think that’s made possible by a free enterprise system that capitalizes on people’s desire to work hard.”

Jacques’ father currently teaches English as a second language in Naples, Florida, while his mother works as a registered nurse at a nursing home. He says they always stressed the power of education when he was growing up.

“They said if you take your schooling seriously and you apply yourself, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone.  I’ve always taken that with me and ran with it.”

Jacques was president of the Pinellas County Young Republican club in late 2013 when longtime U.S. Representative Bill Young died, igniting what would ultimately be one of the most expensive congressional campaigns ever. He got behind David Jolly’s candidacy early on. He also assisted on the campaigns of Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls in 2014.

If he pulls the trigger and announces later this spring for 2018, he says his platform will center around three main tenets – public safety, education and job creation.

Regarding education, he says you can expect him to be a strong advocate for school choice. On business, he talks about the importance of government creating “the environment” for businesses to grow.

Now working at the St. Petersburg law firm of Berkowitz and Myer, Jacques considers himself “very pro Second Amendment,” saying that he wants to put individuals in the position too protect themselves as much as possible.

On the battle between House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Governor Rick Scott regarding whether or not it’s a good thing to offer tax incentives to lure businesses to Florida, Jacques doesn’t take sides, saying  that “it’s important to understand that they both have the same goals, and that’s to create jobs for the state of Florida.” He does state that the doesn’t want government to choose between winners and losers.

On transportation, Jacques adamantly opposed the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas transit tax. Yet he also says that he wouldn’t oppose changing state law to allow big cities like St. Pete or Tampa to hold their own referendums. Current law only allows counties to do that.

For the past several years, both Rick Kriseman and Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn have unsuccessfully lobbied Bay area legislators to give them the power to tax themselves to pay for rail projects in recent years. Jacques says as a legislator he wants to hear what the people say, and if they want the right to tax themselves, he says he wouldn’t stop them.

“I’m all for empowering voters to make decisions, so  if the people of St. Pete feel it’s appropriate, and it’s clearly stated that here’s the funding structure, and here’s what you’re going to be on the hook for, if they decide then they decide that,” he says, adding that his baseline philosophy is to err on the side of empowering the people to make the decision themselves. “I would probably vote no if you asked me to raise taxes, but my fellow citizen might feel otherwise.”

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Online poll shows majority of Floridians support sanctuary cities

An online poll of 600 Florida residents conducted by Florida Atlantic University shows that by a 52-36 percent margin, Floridians do not want the Trump administration to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. And a plurality – 46-38 percent – don’t want the U.S. Justice Dept. to take any legal action against sanctuary cities.

However, the same poll also shows that only a slight majority (fifty-five percent) have ever heard of the term ‘sanctuary city,’ before being polled to opine on it. Sanctuary cities are generally defined as localities that help shield undocumented residents from deportation by refusing to fully cooperate with detention requests from federal immigration authorities.

After President Donald Trump signed an executive order threatening to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced that his county would abandon the practice of being a sanctuary city. That decision by itself could affect the fate of more than one million undocumented immigrants. By a 62 to 39 percent majority, those surveyed said that Miami-Dade County shouldn’t end the practice of being a sanctuary county.

Interestingly, the poll also asked if Tampa should become a sanctuary city (the question posed said that it is considering becoming one). By a margin of a 61%-39%, those surveyed said Tampa should designate itself as such.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said that officially Tampa is not a sanctuary city and would not become one, but that he won’t be directing Tampa Police Officers to act as immigration agents anytime soon. Those responsibilities are actually handled by Hillsborough County. Last week, the Hillsborough County Diversity Council voted 8-1 to recommend that county commissioners look into becoming a sanctuary county, However, County Commission Chair Stacy White says that won’t be happening.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has essentially said the same thing, though he confused some people over the weekend by issuing a statement saying that, “I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws.”

Republicans were the only group who supported cutting federal funds with 70 percent in support and 24 percent opposed.

A full two-thirds  of those surveyed also said they do not want to pay for a border wall on the Mexican border (66 percent to 33 percent).

The poll also shows that 66 percent of those surveyed disapprove of President Trump’s job performance, with only 34 percent approving.

But the attitude of those surveyed was equally critical towards incumbent Democrats. Only 28 percent said he deserves re-election in 2018, while 72 percent said it was time to give someone else a chance.

The online survey was taken between February 1 and February 4, , with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson appears vulnerable in his 2018 re-election attempt in this poll, with 28 percent saying he deserves re-election while 72 percent said it was time to give someone else a chance.

Of the 600 people surveyed, 148 were Democrats, 147 were Republicans, 144 were independents, and 161 were not registered to vote.

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