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Rick Kriseman pledges $1 million for immediate South St. Pete improvements

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman vowed to find $1 million in the city’s current budget to provide immediate change for poor neighborhoods in South St. Pete. During a speech at the Sunday Best Dinner at the Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum in Midtown, Kriseman said he has directed city staff to carve out the money in order to implement four key areas of improvement.

“While we have many plans in place that are designed to make long-term generational change, our young men don’t have that time,” Kriseman said during what was probably the most moving speech he’s ever delivered. “We need to make a difference for them today.”

His announcement came as more than 100 residents, elected officials and city leaders watched on from a formal banquet-style setting under the large oaks at the museum. Hoots and hollers erupted from the jewel-clad chairs.

The city hosted Sunday what was the first annual Sunday Best Dinner with an update on improvements being made in South St. Pete communities, particularly those within the newly created Southside Community Redevelopment Area designed to infuse millions of dollars into the community over the next 30 years.

Among the four areas Kriseman plans to focus his latest spending plan are creating opportunities. That includes improving education, skills training and job placement. Kriseman said focus in this area will include increased partnerships with groups and initiatives like the 2020 plan and the Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition.

Kriseman also wants to focus efforts on what he calls a “catalyst for commerce” by increasing job recruitment and business retention. He wants to increase efforts to boost cultural arts and improve neighborhoods.

The city has already reduced the number of boarded up homes on the Southside by nearly half, but Kriseman wants to do more. He said fewer boarded homes means less crime and the city’s crime statistics prove the correlation.

Though Kriseman proposed a series of specific targets for the upcoming year, it was his thoughtful dedication to the poor communities of South St. Pete that attracted the most attention from the audience.

“This is the issue that I care most about,” Kriseman said referring to the shooting that rocked the South St. Pete community at the end of 2015. “Not the Pier or a baseball team. I care about people’s lives — their quality of life, their safety and whether opportunity exists for them.”

Kriseman attributed years of disenfranchisement in the African-American community for much of the problems associated with generational poverty.

“The shootings that shake our community the most ring out from a weapon most more menacing than any gun — disenfranchisement and despair are the determinants that we must change,” Kriseman said. “When we fill the hood with hope and pathways to possibilities, promise will replace problems, determination will replace danger.”

City Council members Darden Rice, Ed Montanari and Lisa Wheeler-Brown as well as about a half-dozen high-level staffers joined Kriseman for the inaugural dinner. Attendees dined on Cajun chicken, ham, rice and green beans prepared and served by students at the Pinellas Technical College – one of Midtown’s best partners for training residents for vocational careers.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin who was behind the planning for the event also joined Kriseman. She took to the podium to describe a Mayor who not only had already accomplished much for the black community, but one who would not stop.

She described Kriseman’s inauguration day. It was forecast to be stormy all day. Tomalin and some of the city’s event planners suggested the event be moved inside to avoid bad weather, but Kriseman told Tomalin to “give the possibility of sun a fair shot.”

It was poetic for the new Mayor whose slogan includes references to the sun shining on all in St. Petersburg. For the hour set aside for the inauguration, the sun did indeed shine.

“He is an eternal optimist,” Tomalin said when concluding her analogy.

She explained that his optimism makes him a fearless leader prepared to tackle even the toughest challenges – like those presented in the long-struggling South St. Pete.

Tomalin had some of her own ideas on tackling generational poverty on the Southside.

“We can create high-skill and high-wage jobs, and we have, but what good are they if those who need them don’t meet the qualifications to get and hold them?” Tomalin said. “We can generate scholarships for college, apprenticeships, and training, but if the young people who most need them are not excelling in school or attend a school that excels for them, what’s the point?”

Her point: The city needs to do a better job of preparing students for school, work and life. It’s a commitment Tomalin said was going to remain a priority.

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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