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CL Best of the Bay voting open; includes local politics

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Voting is underway for about a bazillion categories in the 2015 Best of the Bay Creative Loafing online poll. Included among those are best and worst local politicians.

The lists of nominees in both categories are extensive and even include some substantial overlap. However, with rampant partisanship, it’s no surprise that someone who gets nominated as “best” might also find themselves in the “worst” category.

What’s more telling are the politicians in either one category or the other.

Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin tops the list -– not for any reason than they are arranged alphabetically by first name. Her appearance on the “worst local politician” list likely stems from her involvement in ousting former Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

The move drew ire from the Tampa Bay Times and the resulting media coverage across the Bay area was wildly negative. This is evidenced by the fact that one of the other School Board members who voted in favor of terminating the Super’s contract, Sally Harris, is also nominated for “worst local politician.” So too is the “School District of Hillsborough County School Board.”

Also sitting in the hot seat in the “worst category” without a nomination in the “best” category are U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni, state Reps. James Grant, Richard Corcoran, Kathleen Peters and Larry Ahern, St. Pete Beach Mayor Maria Lowe, former state Rep. Ronda Storms, Hillsborough County School Board member Stacy White and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist.

Other “worst of” nominations highlight current local controversies. For example, St. Pete City Council member Steve Kornell falls on both the best and “worst of” lists. He’s been one of four holdouts on a deal aimed at allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to look for stadium sites outside of St. Pete. Much like the Hillsborough County School Board situation, the Tampa Bay Times has called for Kornell’s head over the issue, popularizing dissent.

And again like the School board fiasco, the entire St. Pete City Council was nominated in the “worst of” category. That could also be a result of the ongoing Pier debate that has pitted St. Pete residents in favor of restoring the existing inverted pyramid against those who support moving forward with Pier Park.

Before choosing the best and worst local politicians, I decided to narrow my frame of reference to the area I know best – St. Pete. In the “best of” category that left me with a handful of City Council members, Mayor Rick Kriseman, former Mayor Rick Baker, some state representatives and state Sen. Jeff Brandes.

I can first rule out any statewide seats. The Florida Legislature has been remarkably unsuccessful. Despite some good work from people nominated in this category, like Dwight Dudley’s work on rehabbing the state’s Public Service Commission or Jeff Brandes for being willing to step outside party lines on medical marijuana, there haven’t been any standout stars.

Rick Baker’s tenure as mayor of St. Pete was groundbreaking and ushered in some of the very changes to our city that continue today. His work with the Edwards Foundation has ushered in numerous downtown hotspots. But that work is furthered so much more by leaders at the city level.

Current Mayor Rick Kriseman has taken numerous positive steps for the city. He’s raised workers’ pay to a more livable wage, he’s genuinely trying to foster a sense of diversity among city staff and he’s well on the way to finally replacing the city’s outdated police headquarters as well as making strong efforts to improve relationships with people and police.

However, he’s also had some failings. The rollout of curbside recycling was shoddy and key issues with the program still have not been addressed.

That leaves me with City Council. Of the eight-member board, seven were nominated for best local politician. The only council member not nominated was Jim Kennedy. Of the seven nominated Charlie Gerdes, Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton were also nominated for worst local politician.

All three have their merits. Gerdes has led an organized council as chair and offers thoughtful critique on various issues. Kornell has taken giant strides in improving the Skyway Marina District and Newton has served as a check on the Kriseman administration.

However, with nominations at both ends of the CL spectrum, it shows the three candidates may not have broad enough support to earn the “best of” title.

That leaves Bill Dudley, Amy Foster, Darden Rice and Karl Nurse. Of these four local leaders, Amy Foster has done the most work on issues she campaigned on. Though Rice is a close second, having worked on the People’s Trash before running for office to bring curbside recycling to St. Pete.

Foster’s diligence in dealing with nuisance abatement in the city – particularly a cluster of problematic motels on 34th Street North around Fifth Avenue – has been a standout on council. Since taking office, two of the motels, the Mosely and New Plaza, have both been fined and forced to make changes. New Plaza was forced to close for an entire year.

Foster also gave careful thought to the Rays issue. She voted no on the original Memorandum of Understanding, siding with worries that the deal was too easy on the Rays and not in taxpayers’ best interests.

However, as conversations continued and concerns over development rights were remedied, Foster shifted her support to the mayor’s MOU.

Whether you agree with accepting the MOU or not, it shows careful leadership to take time on an issue and be willing to switch sides when the conversation is more robust.

My pick for best local politician is Amy Foster.

As far as “worst of” politicians, that was a little easier. Donald Trump was nominated in this category. That’s an easy pick, but I don’t consider him a local politician and am not even sure why he’s on the list. There are a number of politicos listed whose politics I think are skewed, but they haven’t done anything so overtly terrible they deserve this particular dishonor.

Even Rick Scott has done some good for the state.

My pick for worst local politician is Larry Ahern. His tenure in the Florida Legislature has been unremarkable at best and he’s part of the too-right GOP wing of the Florida House of Representatives that stands in the way of moderate, bipartisan, common-sense laws.

CL includes a flurry of other categories to vote on in the People, Places and Politics department, including best local activist, best local citizen, couple, beach town, nature trail, organized bike ride, best city, county, neighborhood and best news reporters, TV personalities and radio hosts.

This local reporter was nominated for best reporter and best blogger. Other SaintPetersblog contributors were nominated in news categories as well: Mitch Perry is nominated for best columnist. SaintPetersblog editor Peter Schorsch is also nominated for best local blogger, along with contributors Phil Ammann and Mitch Perry.

Other categories open for voting include two food and drink sections, goods and services and arts and entertainment. Voting opened August 6 and runs through September 8.

Winners will be announced in the September 24 issue when it hits stands. Nominees and others can also buy tickets for the Creative Loafing 25th anniversary celebration on September 23 at the Mahaffey Theater for awards presentations and an advanced copy of the “best of” edition.

Tickets for that are available on the CL website. They’re $25 in advance or $35 at the door.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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