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Contrary to Times editorial, Steve Kornell shouldn’t be ousted

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times published an editorial Wednesday calling for the heads of five City Council members who voted against Mayor Rick Kriseman’s original deal brokered with the Tampa Bay Rays to allow them to look outside of St. Pete for potential stadium sites.

The editorial, to put it mildly, was brutal. The Times’ editorial board called Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley lacking in leadership. It said Amy Foster ran for her seat based on business acumen, but has yet to show it. It called Jim Kennedy’s stance that the Rays should only be allowed to look for stadium sites in St. Pete, unreasonable.

But worst of all, it called for Councilmember Steve Kornell to get voted out in the next election. Three of the five seats occupied by no-vote members will be on the ballot this year. Dudley and Newton will be replaced due to term limits and Kornell is seeking re-election.

The Times all but begged a challenger to emerge, calling him “the biggest disappointment in this group.”

Why? Because Kornell has stood steadfast in his defense of St. Pete residents demanding that if the Rays want to look elsewhere, there needs to be a compelling deal on the table.

To him, it wasn’t just about development rights; it was compensation. As I’ve heard from readers who agree with Kornell, when in real life does anyone ever work so hard to help a tenant break its lease?

Take whichever side you will on the Rays debate. Get a deal going to keep them in the region or bleed them out of their contract at the risk of seeing them leave. Whichever side the Times’ is on – and that’s clearly the ‘take the deal’ side – doesn’t matter.

Kornell shouldn’t be hung out to dry over one issue.

In its scathing report of Kornell’s perceived failure, the Times’ editorial board acknowledges Kornell’s work and advocacy for St. Pete juveniles and various youth programs, but it notes he is shortsighted in not realizing the Rays’ revenue could help pay for some of those programs.

But that’s precisely why in a workshop, where Kornell joined his colleagues in supporting keeping the Rays in St. Pete, he called for an independent economic impact study looking at just how much revenue the Rays bring into the city.

Kriseman’s administration declined that study.

And Kornell’s list of reasons why he’s been an effective representative for residents in his South St. Pete district and others throughout the city is both long and impressive.

In his time on council Kornell has worked closely with his board to implement youth crime diversion programs, literacy, after-school enrichment and various other programs to keep kids off the streets and boost graduation rates. He’s used his experience as a social worker and current work with the Pinellas County School district to assist in those endeavors.

He ushered in a deal transferring ownership of a crime-plagued apartment complex in his district to a developer who is dumping millions into the complex to turn it into a livable community and stamp out the rampant crime that had vexed the area for years.

He’s worked with seniors and other low-income residents to get better responses from landlords when dealing with problems in their homes. He’s called for more oversight of apartment complex owners.

He continues to push for redevelopment of the Skyway Marina District to further improve the economic viability of South St. Pete and quality of life for its residents.

Most importantly, Kornell has been an unabashed leader questioning anything coming across council’s dais rather than rubber-stamping it.

And he’s been the city’s first openly gay council member representing a growing trend of inclusion, diversity and acceptance in St. Pete embraced by most of the city.

But despite all of this, the Times says he must go.

The Rays issue is an important one and time, unfortunately, is of the essence. It’s understandable to find opposition to Kornell’s reluctance to accept a deal. But throwing the baby out with the bath water over one issue is every bit as shortsighted as the Times’ accuses Kornell of being.

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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