Rick Kriseman Archives - Page 4 of 46 - SaintPetersBlog

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

With sanctuary city comment, Rick Kriseman defiant, but misguided

Whether you agree with the rules or you don’t, it’s never wise for a person in authority to say they are not going to follow the law. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman essentially did that when he stated the following in a blog post:

“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,” he wrote.

“We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States. Should our solidarity with ‘Sanctuary Cities’ put in peril the millions of dollars we receive each year from the federal government or via pass-through grants, we will then challenge that decision in court. Win or lose, we will have upheld our values.”

Kriseman was forced to retreat Sunday after Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his officers would enforce the law. That’s when Kriseman said in an interview that St. Pete isn’t really a so-called Sanctuary City — it just agrees with the concept.

That’s called trying to have it both ways. It usually doesn’t work.

That said, I agree completely with Kriseman that President Trump’s demonization of undocumented immigrants goes against everything America is supposed to stand for. So much about the president’s immigration policy is morally and ethically repugnant, designed to stoke irrational fear among the citizenry.

I just wish Kriseman had taken the approach of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He visited the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque Friday to support those jittery about the travel ban Trump wants to impose on people from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“This city has your back,” Buckhorn told them. “I don’t care what this President did — that is not who America is. That is not what we represent. That is not what we are all about!”

See the difference in the approaches of the two mayors?

Buckhorn stepped up to the line and maybe jumped up and down on it a bit, but Kriseman stepped over it.

Buckhorn was supportive. Kriseman was defiant.

Both are Democrats, by the way.

Buckhorn told reporters covering the Friday event that Tampa is not a Sanctuary City, but he left enforcement up to his police department. When Kriseman said St. Petersburg police wouldn’t stop someone suspected of being here illegally, that took it a bit too far.

Hence, his retreat Sunday.

That could have repercussions for Kriseman in a re-election bid. While Pinellas County has only 245 more registered Republicans than Democrats (out of 641,484 voters), Trump won there in November by about 5,500 votes over Hillary Clinton.

A recent poll showed Kriseman trailing former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker in a theoretical rematch (Baker has not declared he is running).

That’s a discussion for another day, though.

For now, I’ll give Kriseman high marks for having his heart in the right place. On the rest of it, though, he gets an incomplete.

Rick Kriseman declares St. Petersburg a ‘sanctuary from harmful immigration laws’

Although St. Petersburg isn’t officially classified as a sanctuary city, Mayor Rick Kriseman all but declared that’s exactly what his town is on Saturday. And if the Trump administration wants to deny the city federal funds because of that stance, the mayor’s response is essentially, ‘We’ll see you in court.’

“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,” Kriseman wrote on Medium on Saturday.

“We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States,” the mayor added. “Should our solidarity with ‘Sanctuary Cities’ put in peril the millions of dollars we receive each year from the federal government or via pass-through grants, we will then challenge that decision in court. Win or lose, we will have upheld our values.”

In general, sanctuary cities are defined as localities that help shield undocumented residents from deportation by refusing to fully cooperate with detention requests from federal immigration authorities. The right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies listed Pinellas (as well as Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando) as sanctuary counties in a 2015 report, but that classification has been strongly disputed by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

“When they ask us to do things within the law, we operate with them and their programs to help them take those that are illegal who have committed crimes . . . and get them out of here,”” Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times’ Laura Morel last week.

Although sanctuary cities and counties have existed in some form since the 1980’s, they became a much more potent political flash point in the summer of 2015, after 32-year-old Kate Steinle was fatally shot while walking on San Francisco’s Embarcadero by a Mexican national with a criminal record who had been deported several times.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump vowed to dismantle sanctuary cities, citing those areas for harboring dangerous immigrants who commit crimes against Americans. He followed up on that promise shortly after being inaugurated last month, signing an executive order threatening to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities.

While nearly every mayor of a sanctuary city has brazenly defied Trump’s executive order with rhetoric indicating that they will dig in and resist the threat (and in the case of San Francisco, gone ahead and filed a lawsuit blocking that executive order), Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has been one of the few local officials to heed Trump, ordering his jails to comply with requests from the federal government on detaining illegal immigrants.

There have been efforts by immigration activists in Tampa for months to persuade Mayor Bob Buckhorn to convert his municipality into a sanctuary city, and Kriseman acknowledges in his post that he too has received similar requests. Both have deferred on the issue, saying that the responsibility for holding undocumented immigrants is left to their respective county governments and law enforcement officials.

While the issue of sanctuary cities isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it’s been superseded by the fallout from Trump’s executive order signed last week banning travel into the U.S. by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.

On Friday, Buckhorn attended Friday prayers at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque, where he called Trump’s actions “an attack on Islam as a religion.”

In his post on the online platform, Kriseman wrote that “the larger debate is no longer about sanctuary cities but about President Trump’s demonization of Muslims and the recent suspension of our refugee program.”

On Saturday morning, the State Department announced that previously banned travelers will be allowed to enter the U.S after a federal judge in Washington state on Friday night temporarily blocked enforcement of the president’s immigration ban.

“We have reversed the provisional revocation of visas under” Trump’s executive order, a State Department spokesman said Saturday. “Those individuals with visas that were not physically canceled may now travel if the visa is otherwise valid.”

At Tiger Bay event, George Cretekos calls for Clearwater to get more respect

As leaders of the region’s two biggest cities, Bob Buckhorn and Rick Kriseman dominate headlines in Tampa Bay politics.

But it was Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos who became the breakout speaker at Tuesday’s meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

All three mayors were on stage at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Only recently has Cretekos emerged as a leader in his own right, coming into the spotlight after 36 years serving as an aide to the late C.W. Bill Young before he was elected to the Clearwater City Council in 2007, then mayor in 2012.

Clearwater is the third major city in the greater Tampa Bay area, which has now developed into the 11th biggest media market in the U.S.

Currently, city leaders are discussing the Imagine Clearwater master plan, which seeks to establish a framework for the future of the downtown Clearwater waterfront area. Cretekos’ biggest concern these days, he said, is that the city will still be discussing Imagine Clearwater five years now, vowing “that cannot happen.”

“We need the private sector to step up and take a role in reclaiming our downtown in investing in what we’re trying to do to imagine Clearwater that not only draws tourists but also has a high-tech center in downtown,” Cretekos said.

The mayor added that a redeveloped U.S. 19 corridor is also part of the plan.

Being an elected official in Clearwater can be challenging, particularly when dealing with the fact that the city is the “spiritual home” for the Church of Scientology, the incredibly controversial organization which owns more than half a billion dollars of property in the city.

Cretekos was asked to comment on actress Leah Remini‘s popular A&E docuseries “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” The show featured former Scientologists sharing stories of their involvement with the church: being abused, stripped of money or separated from families.

Cretekos praised Clearwater citizens who are members of the COS, saying they cared about the community as much as everybody else.

Then he went further.

“What we’ve seen in the Leah Remini story is one — the Church of Scientology has a terrible PR department. They are just awful. And they also need to understand that … churches support families. They shouldn’t divide them,” Cretekos said, adding the Church “ought to think twice about its policies on families.”

Cretekos lashed out at the editorial direction of the Tampa Bay Times, blasting the paper for concentrating resources far too much into St. Petersburg and Tampa, while forgetting “the rest of the communities.”

“They think that what goes on (in Clearwater) should only be in a weekly section. Well, it’s embarrassing when you read the Sunday paper, and there are four pages of obituaries in the local section, and two pages of news,” he said indignantly.

“That’s not Pinellas County. That’s not Tampa Bay,” he said, generating a large round of applause.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman just held his campaign kickoff fundraising event for his re-election effort last week. The year 2016 was rough the mayor, ostensibly because of how he handled the city’s problems with wastewater management, which has led to several harsh editorials in the Times.

“Mayor Cretekos was saying that he’d like to get some more ink from the Times versus St. Pete and Tampa,” Kriseman cracked after his introduction. “I’d be OK with it,” which elicited perhaps the largest collective laugh of the afternoon.

During the Q&A portion of the luncheon, Matt Lettelleir, director of party development for the Pinellas County Republican Party, asked Kriseman directly if last summer’s sewage dumps negatively affected Tampa Bay,

Lettelleir wished to know whether it ultimately did “no damage,” as Kriseman told the Times last month.

“Anytime that you’re discharging into the Bay, it’s not a good thing,” Kriseman admitted. “Fortunately for us, what we did discharge into the Bay was partially treated wastewater, it wasn’t raw sewage. And fortunately for us, what we did discharge into the Bay had low fecal coliform levels, instead of high ones, which are what causes health issues.”

“Any discharge is not a good discharge,” he added.

Kriseman said his administration intended on doing everything possible to avoid that from happening again but added that he can’t control the weather.

Although the mayors deliberately downplayed partisan politics when talking about how they go about doing their jobs, the facts are that Buckhorn and Kriseman are Democrats, Cretekos is a Republican.

When the Clearwater Mayor somewhat spontaneously delivered a tribute (of sorts) to President Donald Trump, the crowd went strangely silent.

“I know that many of you are frustrated that Donald Trump is our president, but I’ve got to tell you, and you’ve got to admit that Donald Trump was saying things that many of us were too embarrassed to admit.”

It should be noted more than a few people were shaking their heads quietly as Cretekos went on.

“I’m not saying that he’s right. I’m saying that some of the things that he was saying is that we all believe, and that’s how he got elected.”

Former Sarasota Mayor Kelly Kirschner indirectly asked the mayors if their cities were sanctuary cities, classified as communities opting not to cooperate with the federal government in identifying undocumented immigrants.

Cretekos used the occasion to mention how Clearwater is the home to many Mexican-Americans.

“Those who are legal in the United States, we will protect and we will work with them. Those who are illegal are an important part of our economy,” he said before being literally cut off by a bell.

Cretekos chose not to speak over the sound.

Buckhorn said Trump’s emergency order, issued Friday night setting up a temporary ban on refugees, “was inherently wrong.”

“I think it was a religious litmus test,” he said. “I think it goes against the values of who we are as Americans and what we stand for as Americans,” generating a healthy cheer. He went on to say that the country needed to improve the immigration system which included tough vetting of anybody legally entering the country, but noted that “you do not put a religious test on the ability to come to America. That’s not who we are.”

And Buckhorn repeated that, while Tampa is not a sanctuary city, his officers are “not the immigration police;” they won’t be chasing after the undocumented.

Kriseman said, philosophically, the city will embrace everyone but then pointed out it was Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri who is the law enforcement official in charge of that effort.

Naturally, the issue of a Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium came up.

The saga — now more than eight-year-old — is currently at the stage where, within the next few months, the Rays are expected to announce where they intend to play in the Tampa Bay area.

Buckhorn was asked if he knew for certain that the team would draw more fans in Tampa than they currently do in St. Petersburg, where the Rays languished on the bottom with the worst home attendance for several years in a row.

“I can’t tell you that I can assure you that would be the case,” Buckhorn acknowledged. Nor did he say he had any idea how the city could pay for a ballpark estimated to cost at least $600 million.

All three mayors also discussed transportation.

Cretekos called the lack of a mass transit system in the area “an embarrassment.”

Buckhorn, blasting Tea Party activists, said “some people think rail is a U.N. plot. That’s how patently absurd some of the arguments I heard during the course of this.”

Kriseman once again called for the state Legislature to allow cities like Tampa and St. Petersburg to hold their own transit referendums. But, despite pleas to do so, the Legislature has shown zero inclination to support such a proposal.

Second poll in a row shows Rick Kriseman losing to Rick Baker in hypothetical match-up

Rick Kriseman would have a tough time in his re-election bid for St. Petersburg mayor, especially if former mayor Rick Baker entered the race, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

A StPetePolls survey conducted Jan. 30 shows Baker would defeat Kriseman by 10 points — 47 percent to 37 percent — if the election were held today. Just over 16 percent of respondents were undecided.

Although Baker, the popular Republican who during his nine years as mayor built an impressive legacy, has told reporters that running again was “not on my radar,” nearly half the city wants to see him return to City Hall. Baker is currently president of The Edwards Group, the firm owned by St. Petersburg entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Edwards.

As a Democrat, Kriseman gets somewhat tepid support from his own party — 45 percent to Baker’s 39 percent, with nearly 16 percent unsure. On the other hand, Baker gets nearly 61 percent of Republican voters, compared to 25 percent for Kriseman. The two split the independent vote: 39 percent for Baker, 38 percent for Kriseman.

Baker also outperforms Kriseman with both men (47 percent to 36 percent), women (47 percent to 38 percent) and in nearly every age group. Kriseman does best with ages 50 to 69, behind Baker by only a single point (43 percent to 42 percent), while the poll reports a substantial number of undecideds.

As for a breakdown along racial lines, Baker is preferred over Kriseman by both blacks (48 percent to 33 percent) and whites (47 percent to 38 percent). Baker also is the choice of Hispanics (33 percent to 28 percent), despite nearly 39 percent of Hispanics remaining undecided.

The poll for FloridaPolitics.com used an automated phone call system with a sample size of 892 registered voters in the city of St. Petersburg. Results were weighted to account for proportional differences in demographics and that of the active voter population as of Dec. 6, 2016. Demographics included political party, race, age and gender. The results have a 3.3 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

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