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Key to the city is Mayor’s discretion

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Baltimore Reverend Jamal Bryant’s name has been making headlines in St. Pete. The controversial African-American religious leader is slated to be the keynote speaker at the 30th annual MLK Leadership Awards Breakfast. What makes his attendance controversial are his incendiary remarks toward the LGBT community in which he has compared being gay to having a gambling or drug addiction.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman declined to award Bryant a symbolic key to the city. At an appearance at Suncoast Tiger Bay last week, Kriseman explained that the move was not due to contempt toward Bryant’s anti-LGBT comments, but rather a change in city policy regarding criteria for doling out keys to the city.

That was news to us so we dug a little further.

According to the Mayor’s director of communications, Ben Kirby, there isn’t actually a policy at all. Instead, it is a discretionary decision to be made by the Mayor. Kirby explained that Kriseman wants to raise the bar in obtaining a “key to the city.”

“Reverend Bryant’s comments are divisive,” Kirby said. “They are not reflective of our city’s vision or our values and his comments would certainly preclude him from getting the key to the city.”

And that mirrors what Kriseman said at Tiger Bay.

“I find [Bryant’s] comments and the things that he has said not in line with who we are as a city and the vision of who we want to be as a city,” Kriseman said when asked about the issue even though he claimed that wasn’t exactly why he had chosen not to give Bryant a key.

Kriseman said he plans to talk to Bryant about the issue and “educate” him.

Kirby compared the Mayor’s decision to one he previously made to deny an anti-abortion group’s request to fly a anti-abortion flag above City Hall. The correlation was made because the issues demonstrate Kriseman’s discretionary privilege.

Bryant was chosen as the keynote speaker for the MLK event because of his leadership in the Black Lives Matter Movement and work on African-American rights. But some gay rights groups have called on the invitation to be rescinded.

Kriseman did not join in that request and plans to attend the breakfast. Nevertheless, his decline of a request to issue Bryant a key to the city angered the local chapter of the NAACP.

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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