Rick Kriseman Archives - Page 6 of 50 - SaintPetersBlog

Poll shows Rowdies soccer stadium referendum cruising to victory

During a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Rick Baker said there were no plans for direct mail or other campaign spending to win a May 2 referendum to negotiate a 25-year lease with the city to expand Al Lang Stadium.

That’s because Baker, the former St. Petersburg mayor and president of the Edwards Group who is quarterbacking the pitch for Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards, is confident St. Pete residents will support the stadium expansion as part of an effort to entice Major League Soccer to award the community an expansion franchise.

Per usual, Baker is right. Very right.

According to a new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls, 70 percent of city voters say they will vote to approve the referendum, 19 percent indicate they will vote against it, while 11 percent say they are unsure.

While not exactly relevant to the May 2 referendum (but entirely relevant to the upcoming mayoral election, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s favorability/unfavorability rating stands at 48 to 35 percent, while Baker is at 60 to 23 percent).

The poll includes only responses from those registered voters who have participated in a city election within the last four years.

Vote-by-mail ballots were sent out late last month. Polls will be open May 2 in several locations throughout St. Pete (a list of polling locations is at votepinellas.com).

The proposed upgrades to historic Al Lang Stadium would cost up to $80 million and would increase capacity from approximately 7,500 to 18,000. The full cost of the renovations would be financed entirely by Edwards, and the upgrades would only happen if Tampa Bay is awarded an MLS expansion team.

The Rowdies, who are moving from NASL to USL this year, submitted their expansion application to MLS on Jan. 30. The club is one of 12 groups in 12 different cities that submitted a bid. The league will announce two new expansion clubs in 2017, with those teams set to begin MLS play by 2020. Two more teams will be added at a later date, taking the league to 28 total clubs.

Material from MLSSoccer.com was used in this report.

At economic lunch, Bob Buckhorn blasts ‘Koch Brothers led ideology’ in Tallahassee

Bob Buckhorn announced last month that he won’t run for governor next year, saying it wasn’t worth separating himself from his family over the next couple of years. It’s certainly not for lack of how he would run his campaign, based on remarks he made on Monday in Tampa.

Appearing with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the two mayors of the Tampa Bay area’s two largest cities took turns bashing the state Legislature at the Florida Economic Forum Luncheon.

Hundreds of local members of the business community gathered at the Brian Glazer Family Jewish Community Center in West Tampa for the lunch, and with the local business leaders in the audience, Buckhorn used the opportunity to advocate for the continuing existence of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, the two state organizations in the line of fire this legislative session due to the influence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and nearly two dozen tax incentive programs. The House passed an additional “corporate welfare” bill that would subject Visit Florida, the state’s taxpayer-funded tourism marketing corporation, to higher accountability standards that any other state government agency while cutting its annual funding from $76 million to $25 million.

“All of you need to get your phone and call your legislators and say, ‘stop this foolishness. Stop it now,'” said a disgusted Buckhorn.

When only a few people in the audience began clapping quietly, Buckhorn exhorted them to clap louder. “You eliminate those organizations, and you’re going to put all of us at the local jurisdiction at risk.”

But Buckhorn was just getting warmed up. A little later in the Q&A (hosted by Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper), the Tampa Mayor tore into the libertarian oriented Americans for Prosperity, though not by name.

“What you’re finding in the Florida House is an ideological attempt, driven by the Koch Brothers and paid for by one of their think tanks, to reduce government down to virtually nothing,” he proclaimed. While acknowledging that offering tax incentives to lure businesses “don’t always make the case,” he nevertheless insisted that it would be universal disarmament for cities in Florida not to have that tool available to work with.

“If there’s problems with Enterprise Florida, they’re fixable,” agreed Kriseman.

Buckhorn later unloaded to this business-friendly audience that Tallahassee Republicans were hypocrites for their zeal in trying to take away control from cities, mostly controlled by Democrats, he asserted.

“I have never seen the assault on local government on all fronts,” the Tampa mayor said, insisting that his comment wasn’t political in nature. Buckhorn accused states like Florida that have both a Republican governor and Legislature of “cutting and pasting” state legislation that preempts local governments ability to do anything on issues like gun violence, LGBT rights and immigration.

“It is a frontal assault on us, because we happen to be Democrats and because many of these legislators are rural and they don’t get votes in the city. So they are punishing us,” Buckhorn said, adding, “Leave us the hell alone.”

Kriseman said he feared that the Legislature will eliminate Community Redevelopment Agencies, governmental bodies created to promote affordable housing, economic development, health and safety in under-served neighborhoods. St. Petersburg is devoting major resources to a CRA in the city’s Southside.

Buckhorn later blasted the fact that the Legislature is no longer in the business of offering tax incentives to lure film productions to Florida, specifically lamenting the fact that the Ben Affleck/Denis Lehane adaptation of Live By Night was filmed in Georgia, even though the novel was set in Ybor City, where Affleck and the producers wanted to film parts of the movie, but chose not to when there weren’t any incentives available.

On transportation, Buckhorn said that Hillsborough County may be ready to put up another half-cent sales tax referendum on transit in 2020, but not anytime sooner, a notion that Kriseman agreed with. As he has done in the past, Buckhorn blasted the critics of any such referendum, labeling them either as largely limited to living in the eastern provinces of Hillsborough County or as “disaffected former washed up politicians and PR firms who will try to throw any amount of sand in the gears to distract people from the fundamental question, which is, we need more mobility options.”

Kriseman again brought up the notion of the Legislature changing state law that would allow big cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa to hold their own transportation referendums, a familiar complaint that has gone nowhere for years in Tallahassee. In fact, he admitted that it wouldn’t happen in the near term, and said that meant St. Petersburg and Tampa need to get creative for themselves.

“Whether it’s grant funding for state and federal governments or it’s governments coming together and working together and saying, ‘we’ve got to try something.'”

That then provided Kriseman with one of his passion projects – the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project which runs boats daily for passenger travel between Tampa and St. Petersburg, and which has seen an uptick in business in the past few months. “We’re going to have to bite off pieces that we can do on our own until we get significant funding.”

Whenever you get the two mayors together, inevitably the conversation moves towards the Tampa Bay Rays and their continued search for a new location in the Bay area. Buckhorn gave major props to Kriseman for coming to terms with the franchise to allow them to sniff around for possible sites in Hillsborough County, adding that “I don’t have a couple of hundred millions dollars laying around to pledge for a baseball stadium.”

“I have confidence in Pinellas County and in particular, St. Petersburg,” said Kriseman, who continues to advocate that the best place for the Rays to play is back at the Tropicana Field site, though with a different stadium and more development at that site.

Longtime friends and disciples of the centrist leaning Democratic Leadership Council of the 1980’s, the two  spoke often about how they are not in competition with each other, but are working together to make the entire Tampa Bay area a better place for the business community.

“You will never hear us disparage each other, you will never hear us disparage our respective communities,” Buckhorn said. “We’re here to grow together.”

It was all Kumbaya on Kriseman’s part as well, saying that if a company he is recruiting ultimately opts not to do business in St. Petersburg, “I want them to go over to Tampa.”


Rick Kriseman raises $51K in March, sounds ready for a challenge from Rick Baker

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman raised more than $51,000 for his re-election effort, his campaign announced Sunday night.

With that haul, Kriseman has now raised more than $292,000 for his bid for a second term.

And, perhaps just as important, it sounds like he’s preparing to use those funds to fend off a challenge from former Mayor Rick Baker.

Although Baker hasn’t officially announced that he will run again for the job that he held from 2001-2010, Kriseman is already painting him as out of touch with the sentiments of city, more than seven years after he left office.

“St. Petersburg is a progressive city, a welcoming city,” he said while speaking to a crowd of Democrats who gathered this weekend in his city for a retreat at the Hilton Carillon Park Hotel.

“I’ve called us a shelter from harmful federal policies,” he said, referring to his controversial comment declaring St. Petersburg was a “sanctuary” from Trump administration threatened policies like withholding money from cities who don’t cooperate in detaining undocumented immigrants.

Although the mayor’s office race is technically a nonpartisan race, Kriseman is a proud Democrat and Baker a staunch Republican. And the current Mayor wants the people of St. Petersburg to know the difference.

“I’m likely to face my own challenge this year,” he told the audience, “from a former mayor who campaigned for John McCain and called Sarah Palin ‘a great pick for Vice-President.'”

As the crowd guffawed, Kriseman paused for a moment. “You can’t make this stuff up.”

But he wasn’t done with the mockery just yet.

“He then served as campaign manager for Herman Cain’s (Florida) campaign and also served as Mitt Romney’s advisor on urban policy, and we all know how well Mitt did in urban areas,” the mayor continued, before acknowledging that it’s not a given that he’ll ride easily to re-election.

“Regardless of that, I may have my work cut out for me,” he acknowledged. “I will need your support.”

In fact, surveys conducted bSt. Pete Polls in late 2016 and early this year show Baker leading Kriseman if the two were to face each other.

If Baker does pull the trigger and run against Kriseman, he’s not expected to do announce for another month, after residents vote on a ballot measure that would give the Tampa Bay Rowdies an extended lease at Al Lang Field. The vote is required for the soccer franchise  to expand the seating area in the event that they are chosen to play in Major League Soccer (MLS). Baker is leading that public campaign, meeting with neighborhood groups throughout the city as the point man for Rowdies owner/businessman Bill Edwards company.

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.

Four St. Petersburg City Council members announce support for Rick Kriseman’s re-election

With the hire of a campaign manager earlier this week, Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign is in full swing, more than seven months before Election Day.

Four members of the St. Petersburg City Council — Chair Darden Rice along with Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, Amy Foster and Charlie Gerdes — announced Wednesday that they are endorsing the mayor.

“Councilmembers Rice, Wheeler-Bowman, Foster, and Gerdes have been great allies for progress on our city council,” Kriseman said in a statement. “I have worked closely with each of them to fund solutions to our infrastructure challenges, move the new Pier forward, keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Pete, and bring economic opportunities to South St. Pete. They are dedicated to making our entire city a better place to live, work and play.”

“Mayor Kriseman cares,” said Rice, who introduced the mayor at the campaign kickoff event for his re-election in late January. “We don’t always agree, but we always find solutions to the biggest challenges facing our city. With the mayor’s leadership, we have taken action on significant issues that past administrations looked past or did not solve.”

“I have worked side-by-side with the mayor to fight for my district” added Wheeler-Bowman, the Council vice-chair. “I especially applaud Mayor Kriseman’s leadership on public safety. From hiring Anthony Holloway to be our police chief to identifying the funds for a new station to bringing back community-oriented policing and working to keep the wrong guns out of the wrong hands, I trust the mayor’s vision for our future.”

Kriseman’s campaign announced earlier this week that he has raised $260,000 so far in his campaign, giving him a substantial head start against his opponents.

Three people — Paul Congemi, Jesse Nevel and Anthony Cates III — have announced their candidacies. All eyes remain fixated on whether former Mayor Rick Baker will enter the contest. Baker has said he is considering a run.

Rick Kriseman taps Jacob Smith to lead re-election campaign

Jacob Smith will serve as campaign manager for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election campaign.

Smith worked in Democratic politics going back to his freshman year at the University of Florida in 2008 when he volunteered for Barack Obama‘s effort in Florida. He also worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign in Southwest Florida.

His most recent job was working as the Michigan organizing director for the Hillary Clinton campaign last year. He began working for the Clinton campaign in April of 2015 as a regional organizing director in New Hampshire, then moved on to Maine and Illinois. He later was selected as organizing director in Indiana and Northern California.

This isn’t Smith’s time working with Kriseman. He served as the field director for Kriseman’s successful 2013 campaign for mayor in St. Pete and then moved on to serve as the field director for Alex Sink’s bid for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat against David Jolly in early 2014. He then went on to work as field director for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014.

“Being a part of the team that elected Mayor Kriseman was an incredible experience,” Smith said. “I’m honored that the mayor asked me to be a part of it again. The mayor has accomplished a lot over the last 3 years. We’re excited to talk about how far St. Petersburg has come under Mayor Kriseman’s leadership.”

Public gets another shot at suggesting fixes to St. Pete’s ‘Sewer-gate’

It’s a crisis that’s become something of a boondoggle — and, moreover, a public health issue.

Now St. Petersburg’s overwhelmed and dilapidated sewer system is again at the forefront as officials held another round of public discussions in the costly and complex issue of best to go about fixing the problem.

The topic of the evening, as reported by The Tampa Bay Times, a 12-page consent order written by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – faulting city officials when the system became overwhelmed in the wake of Hurricane Hermine September, spilling somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 million gallons of partially treated sewage.

DEP slapped the city with an $810,000 fine for the unauthorized move, but in fairness, city officials say, it was unavoidable.

“When we’re put into a situation where we have to choose between public health and the environment, either way, we lose,” Claude Tankersley, the public works chief for the city, told The New York Times days after the spill happened. “The fact that our system was constructed over decades makes it more complicated.”

The event became a controversy when city officials, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, claimed most of the sewage was filtered rain water and dramatically underestimated the amount spilled, which dumped into Tampa Bay, adding to tens of millions of gallons also spilled by area municipalities like Tampa, Largo and Clearwater.

On Wednesday Kriseman listened, Tampa Bay Times reporter Claire McNeill noted in her story.

“You all let my 8-year-old daughter go sailing right in the immediate area where the discharges were occurring,” Martha Collins, 44, told officials, according to The Tampa Bay Times. “And that’s absolutely unacceptable.”

It was a chance for several people to let city officials know how they felt about being misled — about the loss of trust.

One young candidate for City Council, Eritha Cainion, 20, discussed the termination of a black employee with the City of St. Petersburg, who had been terminated in the unfolding aftermath of the spill, intoning the man had been made a scapegoat while also noting spirits were not high in that department.

“We’re talking about a Department that has severe racial tension,” Cainion said, McNeill’s article said.

Tankersley, who was present at the meeting Wednesday, which was held at Azalea Recreation Center, mediated the meeting. He thanked the young man and explained the course of events in September, when Hurricane Hermine swept through, dumping inches of rain in a brief period.

As the meeting moved forward, opinions ranged from conservationism to anger, with one individual calling for the arrests of those responsible, McNeill’s piece said.

“Somebody needs to go to jail for what happened,” the person said, wrote the Times. “That was a crime.”

Police union endorses Rick Kriseman’s re-election

The Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association and their members announced Monday they are endorsing St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for re-election.

“We are proud to support Mayor Kriseman, who has been a champion for the St. Petersburg police department,” said George Lofton, president of the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association. “Mayor Kriseman has shown steady leadership, and he’ll continue to fight for the resources the St. Petersburg Police Department needs to keep our officers and communities safe. Everything from the performance of Police Chief Holloway to the construction of a modern police station have made this an easy decision for the Sun Coast PBA.”

Since his election in 2013, crime has decreased by 6 percent, and violent crime dropped by 26 percent under Kriseman, who selected Anthony Holloway to lead the SPPD in 2014.

“I’m honored to accept the endorsement of our men and women in uniform,” Kriseman said in a statement from his campaign. “I thank them for their work with our neighborhood leaders to create safer streets and stronger communities. Together we will continue the progress our city has made, and I’m grateful to have them on our team.”

Opposing Kriseman (so far) in his bid for re-election by Anthony Cates III, Paul Congemi and Jesse Nevel.

All eyes, however, remain on whether or not former Mayor Rick Baker will enter the contest. Recent polls suggest he is the only potential candidate floated about who could present a serious challenge to Kriseman’s goal of being elected for four more years.

Tampa a ‘final four’ city to host National Gay & Lesbian Chamber Convention

Tampa is one of the final four cities in the running to host the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Convention this summer.

Last week, a team of NGLCC officials visited Tampa to evaluate the location for the gathering scheduled for Aug. 7-10, 2018.

Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to attract the conference to Tampa — competing against Austin, Texas; Philadelphia and New Orleans. The chosen city could see an economic impact of more than $2.1 million, with bookings for approximately 2,450 hotel rooms, including another 700 on the peak night.

If Tampa does make the final cut, local leaders say it would represent a significant nod toward Tampa’s thriving economy, inclusive policies, and regional support of LGBTQA issues. Both Tampa Mayor Bob Bckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, along with Visit Tampa Bay, have welcomed and supported the selection of the city as a host of the 2018 conference.

Nick Janovsky, a Board Member of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber — the local chapter of the NGLCC — says Tampa hosting the convention would cap off series of successful scholarship programs and a record year for the annual Diamonds in Diversity gala, which honors local political and business leaders.

 “We at the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce are proud of our members and their companies for embracing diversity as a strength and the impact their small, medium and large companies are having to make our region a thriving economic hub — attracting a talented workforce,” Janovsky said in an email. “We applaud Mayor Buckhorn and Mayor Kriseman for their support and are confident Tampa is the best city in the country to host the 2018 NGLCC Convention.”

Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada says hosting this event will “elevate the entire Tampa Bay community in the eyes of the world as a major LGBTQ destination capable of putting on a significant, high-quality national event.”

Ashley Brundage, President of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber added that the national conference “will put Tampa Bay on the Map with LGBTQ Conventions and the more than 200 major corporate partners of the NGLCC.”

Ashley, along with her wife Whitney, will serve as co-chair for local efforts in the event should Tampa be selected.

For more than 30 years, the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber has provided an environment for business owners and local organizations to “build an alternative community based on shared goals, friendship, and trust.”

More information about the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber is at https://www.diversitytampabay.org.

At Holocaust Museum in St. Pete, citizens gather to discuss ways to combat hate and fear of the ‘other’

Last month, an intentionally set fire damaged a prayer hall at a Tampa-area mosque, the second such fire at a Florida mosque in the past six months.

Earlier this month, Joseph Schreiber was sentenced to 30 years in prison for setting fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce on Sept. 11. It was the same mosque that Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen attended occasionally. Mateen shot and killed 49 people last summer at the Pulse nightclub in what was the largest mass shooting in the country, at an establishment frequented predominantly by those in the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, in January, three Clearwater congregations — all within a mile of one another — were targeted with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi graffiti on the same day.

With these incidents of hate taking place over the past year, a coalition of groups gathered in front of more than 150 people at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg on Thursday night to stand in solidarity with those who have been targeted by acts of hate.

And nationally there have been several incidents where Sikh men have been shot and killed.

“We live in a moment where fear has run rampant,” said Jeff Johnson in kicking off the evening. He’s the founder of Love Not Fear, a new community-based nonprofit. “Our culture breeds fear of the ‘other,’ however defined, and fear calcifies into a hatred that leads to despicable acts against our fellow human beings.”

Johnson said he began brainstorming up the idea of creating the group around a year ago and received help from Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith in creating his organization. He said it was an attempt to become the antidote to the fear that he said was “tearing our world apart.”

Smith said that the worst thing the community can do when there are acts of hate taking place in these different communities is to “be fearful and be silent.”

“We refuse to allow hatred, and we refuse to allow fear to overwhelm us and become the new normal,” she declared.

Participating in a panel discussion to talk about the current situation and how to improve it was members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

Johnson asked members what they doing with their groups or faith communities to stand up for those who are of a different faith.

Dr. Gagandeep Mangat, a Sikh himself, said it was crucial for people simply to begin talking to other people.

“We gotta stop tweeting about it,” quipped the Rev. Kenneth Irby, from the Historic Bethel AME Church in St. Petersburg, eliciting applause. “It is the action and the engagement that allows us to replace the fear with curiosity,” he said, adding that “if we are to make appreciable gains we have to get out of our comfort zones.”

Also participating in the panel discussion was St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Toward the end of the talk, Kriseman said that when he was campaigning in 2013, he heard from people who said he should change the name of South St. Petersburg because of the “perception” of that part of the community.

“I don’t want to change the name, I want to change the perception,” the mayor said, adding that if it were up to him, the Trader Joe’s that opened up on 4th Street North and 27th Streets two years ago would have actually opened on MLK and 62nd Avenue South. “It would have drawn people from all over the city to that community.”

“The more we can interact with each other, the more we can learn about each other, the better off as a community will be and the quicker things will change,” he said.

Among those in attendance were St. Pete City Council members Amy Foster, Steve Kornell and Karl Nurse, along with the St. Pete Area Chamber of Commerce’s CEO and President Chris Steinocher.

After the panel discussion had concluded, the organized engaged those attending in some interactive exercises to help them identify commonalities that bridge the diversity of the group.

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