If there is one thing that is abundantly clear after Rick Kriseman’s first 100 days in office, it is that he is neither the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, nor is he anything like his predecessor, Bill Foster.
This past week, Kriseman marked the occasion of his first 100 days in office by distributing a report titled “100 Days, 100 Ways: St. Petersburg is moving forward together.” Among the highlights St. Pete has become a “Beta City” with Indino, a mobile app that can be used to highlight city festivals, sporting and arts events; the Police Department deployed a new unit of gun-sniffing dogs; and 1200 feet of old, undersized clay sewer pipes have been replaced with new 8″ PVC pipes to provide better service.
Of course it’s unfair to compare Kriseman to one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century, but it’s the Kriseman administration which put such a heavy emphasis on celebrating Mayor Rick’s first 100 days. All that was missing were fireside chats.
Actually, what substituted for that was an “unprecedented” gathering of 800 city employees at the Mahaffey Theater, where Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, City Council Chairman Bill Dudley, and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon rolled out Kriseman’s vision for his first term in office.
“Wow! This is impressive,” Kriseman said at the beginning of his presentation, although its unclear what was so impressive about corralling hundreds of government employees for an on-the-clock pep rally. Still, it had to be a heady moment for Kriseman, who had previous to winning the Mayor’s Office, spent the better part of the last decade having his ideas ignored by Republicans in Tallahassee.
The Tampa Bay Times Kameel Stanley concluded that Kriseman and Tomalin presentation focused more on how the two intend to lead, rather than specific actions or issues.
Tomanlin was omnipresent at the event, just as she has been omnipresent throughout Kriseman’s nascent administration. She is Al Gore to Kriseman’s Clinton — a strong number two who is comfortable enough in her own skin, but smart enough not to upstage her boss.
Tomalin is the darling of the new administration. She is Kriseman’s insurance policy with the Tampa Bay Times, where Tomalin’s husband is a well-regarded reporter. She is also Kriseman’s insurance policy with the African American community, to which Kriseman can say, “Look who was my first appointment … a strong black woman!” She is a jack-of-all-trades, except it’s not clear what trades she will work on that would be worked on if her position did not exist.
The same can be said of much of Kriseman’s mayoral staff: It’s not that they aren’t good, well-meaning people, but if they did not show up at City Hall for a week, would anyone notice? Would the fire trucks no longer run? Would permits not be issued? Would the water not come out of the faucets?
For a million dollars a year, the mayoral staff has to be about more than making Kriseman look good at doing his job.
All of this said, Kriseman’s first 100 days are going along swimmingly, if for no other reason than it seems like the rest of the world woke up one day and decided St. Petersburg — the ‘burg — is in vogue. To cement this status, The New York Times named the city one of the must-visit places in the world.
The truth is, St. Petersburg continues to succeed IN SPITE of its elected leaders. The city’s four years under Bill Foster proved this.
And therein lies Kriseman’s greatest strength. Simply put, he is not Bill Foster.
The debate about what to do with The Pier is as muddled as ever. So what, Kriseman isn’t flip-flopping Foster, who managed to antagonize all sides of the debate.
The Rays are still stalemated at Tropicana Field. So what, Kriseman hasn’t said he some sort of ridiculous “secret plan” to keep the Rays, as Foster said he did.
In any number of ways, small and large, Kriseman is nothing like his befuddled, infuriating successor. He is a much stronger communicator, but so is a street sign when compared to Bill Foster.
Kriseman does not seem to be haunted by decades of sheltered existence, the way Foster, who worked at a funeral home as a teenager and in a cluttered, dusty wills and probate law office as a professional, carried himself.
Kriseman cannot do enough to embrace the change working its way through St. Petersburg, while Foster — who rode a scooter to City Hall and, at times, seemed to be playing the part of a police academy trainee — could not have been a bigger impediment.
Reviewing what I wrote about Foster’s own first 100 days in office, it’s remarkable how much controversy Foster generated. His first three major personnel decisions were to retain Goliath Davis, to eliminate five Park Ranger positions at Boyd Hill Nature Trail and to hire his former campaign manager for a $50,000 a year position.
Those first 100 days would be viewed as a relative high point for Foster.
So let me give credit to Rick Kriseman for something it would inappropriate of him to seek credit for: He is not Bill Foster. And that’s a good thing.