Almost anyone who has spent more than five minutes watching a meeting of the St. Petersburg City Council recognizes that Karl Nurse is invariably the smartest guy in the room. And that’s actually saying something considering that the council has two members – Charlie Gerdes and Jim Kennedy – who are obviously intelligent attorneys.
Yet, since being appointed to the Council in 2008, Nurse has sometimes struggled to reach his full potential as an elected official. His frustration with former Mayor Bill Foster was one obstacle, while his rivalries with former Councilmembers Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner were another. But with Foster, Curran, and Danner no longer in office, it would appear Nurse is on a roll.
First of all, he belatedly, but wisely joined Wengay Newton in opposing “The Lens” concept for the redesign of The St. Petersburg Pier. As much as I disagreed with his decision to do this, it turned out that Nurse made the smart political decision.
Second, Nurse now has on Council at least two natural allies, Amy Foster and Darden Rice, who is a genuine protege of Nurse’s. Instead of being on the opposite side of Curran and Danner, Nurse is now the leader of a coalition.
The recent headlines suggest Nurse is using his enhanced standing to accomplish some of his long-standing goals.
He persuaded his colleagues to agree to split the proceeds from a recent real estate deal between the popular Rebates for Rehabs program and a fund that allows the city to demolish decrepit homes.
The money — $290,000 in all — comes from the sale of three parcels of land at 2201 First Ave. N, 2245 First Ave. N and 2163 First Ave N to developer Nick Pavonetti, a deal approved by the City Council last week.
On Nurse’s suggestion, the council decided to designate about two-thirds of the proceeds ($194,000) for code compliance-related demolitions and one third ($94,000) to the rebates program.
However, that money for the housing projects was small potatoes compared to Nurse’s behind-the-scenes effort to help convince Builders of Hope to buy dozens of distressed properties in south St. Petersburg. The organization plans to sink at least $1.5 million more into the project.
Nurse also recently scored a victory by persuading his colleagues to explore building a 40,000-square-foot skate park, with possible locations including Spa Beach and the approach to a redesigned pier.
Of course, Nurse’s most dramatic win was convincing the Rick Kriseman administration to review how the city was managing its capital budget. This resulted in nearly $4 million being found “under the sofas” in City Hall.
There are many, many other ways Nurse has used his influence in recent months, but that is a list too long for this blog post. It’s just good to see Nurse is finally getting to be the public servant he’s always wanted to be.