Rick Kriseman Archives - Page 7 of 50 - SaintPetersBlog

The political class react to Bob Buckhorn’s decision not to run for Governor

Bob Buckhorn’s decision not to run for Governor is eliciting plenty of reaction in Tampa. Many people say they are not surprised Buckhorn has chosen not to pursue a path to the top political job in Florida.

“Am I the only one who felt he wasn’t heading in that direction?” asked City Councilwoman Yolie Capin.

“I truly believe that he made the right decision because he has not demonstrated over the past six months that he had a keen interest in running for governor,” said Councilman Frank Reddick.

Alluding to the fact that he has done little over the past year to travel around the state to get to know Democrats like potential candidates Gwen Graham and Philip Levine, Reddick said: “I think his chances of winning would have been very, very slim. So I think he did the right thing to wait this out.”

“While I absolutely believe that the State of Florida needs a course correction and a new direction, the timing for me and my family would be a challenge,” the Mayor said in his statement issued out shortly after 5 a.m. Thursday. “As the father of two daughters who are 15 and 11, the all-consuming task of running for Governor would cause me to miss the milestones in their lives that I could never get back.”

“Although I’m not surprised, I’m a little sad that we won’t have a representative from Tampa running for Governor,” said Councilman Mike Suarez. “I would have loved to have seen him go out and talk about the vision that he’s been able to put together in Tampa for the rest of the state.”

“I think that Mayor Buckhorn should be commended for putting the interests of his family and the City of Tampa first,” said Councilman Harry Cohen. “Being Mayor is more than a full-time job, and the continued success of much of what is happening in Tampa right now depends on having a strong and totally focused Mayor.”

“Bob Buckhorn is an extraordinary leader who has transformed one of Florida’s and America’s great cities,” Graham said in a statement. “His successful service in Tampa shows what Florida can accomplish if we work together and focus on creating economic opportunity and improving the quality of life for families.

“As a Tampa native, I’m incredibly thankful for his vision and leadership,” says Democratic operative Ana Cruz, a close Buckhorn ally.

A former official with the Florida Democratic Party, Cruz appeared wistful that Buckhorn will not be making a run for governor next year.

“Mayor Buckhorn has transformed our city, led with integrity and is exactly what we need in Tallahassee,” she said. “Bob Buckhorn will always be my favorite pick for Governor.”

“He would have been a strong candidate and a great governor, but can’t blame my friend Bob for putting his family and Tampa first,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“The withdrawal of Bob Buckhorn leaves the democrats without a critical I-4  corridor candiates who has won an election,” said St. Petersburg political strategist Barry Edwards. “The I-4 cooridor is critical to the success of a democratic nominee in a general elction and this further errodes democrats pathways back to power.”

“His legacy will be that of a truly great man who loved Tampa and elevated our city to the national stage,” said Tampa state Senate Republican Dana Young. “Although he will not run for Governor, Bob Buckhorn is not going away by any stretch — except him to be a major player for years to come.”

Reddick said the same thing about the mayor, who will turn 59 in July.

“He’s still a young man, and he got a great future ahead of him if the timing is right for him, and that could be in another four years.”

The mayor himself had a news conference later on Thursday morning, which you can read all about here.

St. Pete to spend $16M on Northwest sewage plant upgrades by summer

Sewage continues to be a nagging problem for St. Petersburg, after two summers with huge wastewater discharges into Tampa Bay and surrounding waters.

At the center of the debate, reports Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, is whether to reopen the shuttered Albert Whitted Wastewater Treatment Facility, as well as expanding the Southwest sewage plant.

Getting not nearly as much press is the city’s Northwest plant, which also suffered a massive spill after Hurricane Hermine, dumping sewage in neighborhoods along 22nd Avenue N and into Boca Ciega Bay.

Although the city posted some warning signs, residents weren’t notified of the spillage.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman explained warnings were not necessary since the 58 million gallons of sewage was “reclaimed water,” a statement he later admitted was wrong and reclassified the wastewater as “partially-treated sewage.”

After a series of missteps over the spills, which Frago describes as “enraging residents and eroding trust” in Kriseman, the city is now looking at spending $16 million to upgrade the Northwest plant ahead of the upcoming summer rainy season.

Previously, the plant had no problem with overflow. But after Hermine, which Frago says “caused a bottleneck to develop at the plant’s filters preventing the water able to be treated.”

“The city plans to drill two new injection wells to dispose of treated sewage deep underground and add more filters to increase the plant’s capacity to treat sewage from 40 million gallons a day to 55 million gallons a day,” Frago writes. Work is scheduled for completion by the summer.

Among the work needed at the Northwest plant is a repair of one of the clarifying tanks, which allow solid waste to settle. During Hermine, one of the tanks was out of commission. Frago notes that the city will dig to new injection wells, which will require drilling rigs to operate around the plant 24/7 for about a year, with noise that could be heard by residents nearby.

Residents did complain about some work recently, but chief plant operator Sylvia Rosario tells the Times that it is a necessary trade-off for improved performance.

“They have to make a choice: do they want to put up with the noise for a year or risk another overflow?” she said.

Frago reports that Kriseman is committing $304 million through 2021 to fix the city sewage system, with almost $59 million for the Northwest plant. But rebuilding trust may be another challenge.

Jeff Brandes and Kathleen Peters file legislation to limit the release of sewage discharges

Following the dumping of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and other waterways by local governments in 2016, two state lawmakers filed legislation Thursday to incentivize local governments and private utilities to dedicate more resources to improving their sewage infrastructure.

St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes and Pasadena Representative Kathleen Peters‘ bill (SB 1476) creates within the state Environmental Regulation Commission, the Blue Star Collection System Assessment and Maintenance Program to limit the unauthorized releases or spills of treated or untreated wastewater and the unauthorized discharge of pathogens. 

“This legislation gives utilities an incentive to improve their infrastructure assets and prevent harmful discharges into our waterways,” said Brandes. “With this bill we are able to recognize those utilities that implement industry best practices and encourage continued upgrades to limit future discharges.”

“I have given my commitment to working on solutions for Florida as they relate to our sewer systems,” added Peters. “I believe this bill is a first step to ensure our public and private utilities are operating optimally state wide and an effort to prevent another storm from resulting in more overflows or dumping.”

Certification under the program requires a utility to engage in detailed assessments of their sewer infrastructure, reinvest resources into maintenance, identify strategies to improve infrastructure to meet state requirements, as well as several additional requirements. To incentivize participation in the program, the department may reduce penalties for a future sewer overflow based on a utility’s status as a Certified Blue Star Utility. The bill allows financially constrained counties to apply grants to implement the requirements of the Blue Star certification. The bill also authorizes existing grant funds to assess the vulnerability of wastewater infrastructure to identify needed improvements to prevent future discharges and overflows.

Peters has also filed legislation requesting $5.5 million for sewer improvements in St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach. Of that, $3 million in state funding would be earmarked for St. Petersburg to smoke test sewer pipes for leaks, install and seal manholes, among other work. The remaining $2.5 million would go to St. Pete Beach for the engineering, construction and permitting of the city’s sanitary sewer system. There is no Senate companion for that yet.

Sewer systems in South Pinellas were the focus of extensive news coverage last year after the repeated sewage discharges into Tampa Bay by local governments. St.Pete’s sewage system discharged more than 200 million gallons of waste into waterways, roadways and neighborhoods in the over the past two years.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has pledged to spend $304 million to fix the city’s sewers by 2021.

Cross-Bay Ferry carries more than 6,000 paying passengers in February, the most to date

Officials with the Cross-Bay Ferry announced Thursday more than 6,000 tickets were sold in February, the best month yet since the pilot project began operating between Tampa and St. Petersburg in November.

There was a total of 6,070 tickets purchased last month, a 57-percent rise from January, when just 3,867 people bought tickets, the lowest monthly total to date.

Overall, more than 22,000 have utilized the service since it began operations in November.

“This pilot project is meant to test all aspects of ferry service in real life — prices, times and services — and I’m very pleased with the response so far,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “Everyone I meet who has taken the ferry raves about it and asks if we can run it more often.”

The service will run through April. Then local officials in the four local governments that put up $350,000 each to help fund it — Tampa, St. Petersburg and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties — will have discussions about maintaining it going forward. It’s being operated in concert with Seattle-based HMS Ferries.

As with any publicly funded transit operation in the Tampa Bay area, critics are watching closely to see how the service is operating. A month ago, Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said he was “unimpressed with the lack of volume of people using it.”

The ferry recently launched discounted $5 one-way tickets during weekdays, new discounts on Tampa Streetcar fares, and the Commuter Value Pass package price is also cut by 50 percent to just $2.50 per trip. Ferry managers attribute the reduced prices to being a factor with the increased ridership last month, along with better weather and “a growing awareness of the ferry as an enjoyable option for crossing the Bay.”

Project adviser Ed Turanchik says that ferry operating revenues were covering more than a third of operating costs, which is considerably higher than the operating recovery percentage of any transit system on the West Coast of Florida, including busses.

“We began testing different prices and new connectivity earlier this month,” Turanchik said. “We know that fully robust commuter service will only be possible with much more frequent service, which isn’t possible during this short test and just one boat. But now we know with the certainty of a real-life test that there is strong demand for water transportation.”

A recent survey of ferry passengers revealed that more than 90 percent of those purchasing tickets are residents and not tourists. When asked why they were taking the ferry, 77 percent said they dined when they got to their destination, 25 percent went to museums, 24 percent went shopping, and 11 percent went to a sporting event. Only 11 percent said they took the ferry exclusively for the experience, without a specific reason to travel across the bay (the numbers exceed 100 percent because ferry officials say they are not mutually exclusive activities).

The breakdown of ridership breaks down like this: 4,700 people rode the ferry in November, approximately 5,400 people in December and 3,867 in January.

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.

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.”


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.

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.

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.

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