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Despite lackluster opposition, Steve Kornell holds no punches for re-election bid

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council member Steve Kornell hosted more than 50 supporters for a campaign kickoff party Wednesday night at the Magnuson Hotel near the Skyway Bridge. Kornell is facing re-election against challenger Phillip Garrett November 3.

Though Kornell is considered a shoo-in for re-election against the relatively no-name candidate, Kornell isn’t taking any chances. He’s raced more than $30,000 compared to Garrett, who hasn’t raised a cent.

Kornell presented his priorities to supporters over snacks and drinks in the Magnuson ballroom with the gravitas of a seasoned local leader. Laid out before his backers were four priorities — public safety, job creation, education and the environment.

On public safety Kornell was quick to point out he’s been endorsed by both the local police and firefighter union. He touted a project he championed that brought a citywide apartment community crime-reduction program.

The mayor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 includes increased spending for police in order to hire what Kornell described as much-needed extra officers. The additional spending would also fund other upgrades, including plate readers, cameras, tasers and radios.

“They’re going to get everything they need as far as technology,” Kornell said, noting that even though he supported more spending in the agency, the city won’t be extravagant.

Kornell also touted his experience in furthering job creation efforts in his district that includes Greater Pinellas Point, the Skyway Marina District and Maximo. Under Kornell’s leadership council developed the Skyway Marina plan that ushered in a Jabil Circuit expansion to the Ceridian site.

But he was also quick to tell supporters the biggest employers in the city are not large corporations, rather small and moderate-sized local businesses. Kornell said he plans to propose setting up an endowment fund out of the BP oil spill award money in order to fund grants for small businesses.

“We do all sorts of tax incentives for the big guys and I’m OK with that, but knowing that the biggest source of job creation is those small businesses, I’m going to fight long and hard,” Kornell said.

He said he also plans to partner with the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce to proactively attract businesses.

In going through a list of priorities there were also some overlaps in individual wants. For the environment, Kornell said he wanted to also use BP award funds to put solar panels on city buildings. That, he said, would reduce cost and free up more money in the general fund. It’s also an opportunity for the city to attract the companies installing solar panels to set up shop in St. Pete

Kornell also hopes to ensure the city’s wastewater management infrastructure is improved. That issue was thrust into public scrutiny after the city dumped 15 million gallons of untreated sewage into Clam Bayou. Kornell has been critical of council’s decision several years ago to close, what he described as prematurely, the city’s Albert Whitted water treatment facility.

“I don’t think there’s been a mayor in this country that has ever held a ribbon cutting for sewer pipes,” Kornell said. “But this is so important — we are not going to neglect our infrastructure to the point where we had the problem we had in August.”

Kornell is also worried about education in his city. A recent Tampa Bay Times investigative story highlighted five St. Pete schools that were chronically failing. Kornell plans to mentor at one of them, Maximo Elementary, which is in his district.

That’s a huge win for Maximo, considering Kornell’s day job as a Pinellas County Schools social worker. He said mentors are great and encourages attracting more volunteers to work with troubled youth, but some kids are beyond needing a friendly ear or an adult to chat with over lunch.

Pinellas is home to some 3,700 homeless kids.

“If a kid’s homeless, all those other things that you might do I don’t think are going to be successful until the kid is stable,” Kornell said.

The topic was on the minds of Kornell supporters, too. After speaking for about 15 minutes, Kornell asked if there were any questions. Most surrounded the Failure Factories investigation and probed Kornell on how the city could help.

He pushed the city’s robust Parks and Recreation department as a way to keep kids off the street and get them engaged in learning. He said it should be fun so the city’s youth can relate to learning.

But perhaps the biggest problem facing Kornell is the issue surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays and Mayor Rick Kriseman’s memorandum of understanding with the team that would allow them to explore alternative stadium locations outside the city in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Kornell is one of four holdouts on council who have refused to vote in favor of the MOU. That’s earned him the ire of the Tampa Bay Times, which went so far as to call on anyone at all to attempt to unseat the six-year council member.

Kornell said he’s not opposed to signing off on a deal as long as it’s a fair shake for taxpayers. That’s something he said just isn’t the case with the most recent deal on the table. He mentioned a recent trip to Pittsburgh, where there is a stadium sitting on prime riverfront real estate where the Pirates play.

He said not one person is standing up shouting they want the team out of there so they can develop the land.

Also present at Kornell’s campaign kickoff was District 7 City Council candidate Will Newton. Newton also opposes the current MOU. Kornell endorsed him prior to the August primary election. He mentioned that endorsement during his remarks.

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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