St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s first year in office plows through campaign promises

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January marks one year in office for St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman. The year has whizzed by and the mayor’s first year in office has been marked by a number of sizable accomplishments.

Since his inauguration at the beginning of January, Kriseman has ushered in several new staff members including a cultural affairs liaison and a director of urban affairs to help oversee development in the economically strapped Midtown area. He’s broadened equality for city staff members and the city was recognized this year with a perfect score on an LGBT inclusiveness evaluation. St. Pete was the only Florida city to achieve a perfect score.

But Kriseman has also left some things on the table this year. The Tampa Bay Times’ Politifact is following 25 campaign promises made by Kriseman during his run against former Mayor Bill Foster. With 2014 nearly under his belt, Kriseman has already followed through with 20 percent of his promises with another 12 percent in the works. Politifact’s Krise-o-Meter says he’s broken 16 percent of his promises.

One of Kriseman’s most sizable accomplishments, and one of the first, was tightening the city’s high-speed pursuit policy. Under Foster, St. Pete was rife with complaints, and lawsuits, from the African-American community alleging police were frivolous in pursuing minority suspects. The debate became especially hot after police shot two teens in a car. The incident drew on already high tensions between the black community and police and drew the ire of both the NAACP and City Council member Wengay Newton.

Kriseman revised the policy in February to revert back to an older policy in which police can only pursue suspects involved in violent felonies.

Kriseman built on that momentum with the hiring of Police Chief Anthony Holloway. Holloway came on board with the intention of improving relations with the black community and increasing the city’s community policing model. His hire was somewhat controversial, though. Kriseman dismissed a group of candidates, including Assistant Police Chief Melanie Bevan, that had already been vetted through a lengthy process and instead hired Holloway with little input from others.

“He’s doing a remarkable job already,” Kriseman said during an interview with SaintPetersBlog, noting that the decision was one of his proudest decisions since taking office.

That’s not the only area Kriseman has focused on to improve conditions for African-American residents. Kriseman hired Nikki Gaskin-Capehart as director of urban affairs for the city. Her $95,000 a year job centers on developing an economic agenda for Midtown.

“I think we’re starting to see life that has been breathed back into that corridor,” Kriseman said. He also noted the city has ramped up its efforts to remove blight in the neighborhood. “We’ve seen more blighted homes demolished in any one year than has ever happened any year before.

Kriseman’s focus is not just on the Midtown neighborhoods that have long struggled with poverty and crime; he’s also gearing some of that attention to other parts of South St. Pete. In fact, Kriseman said his number one priority in 2015 will be on economic development there. That includes Midtown and the Skyway Marina district.

There’s always a downside. Two areas Kriseman aggressively campaigned on haven’t gone quite the way he expected. Of the four promises Politifact says Kriseman broke, they all center on two issues: the Pier and red light cameras.

Kriseman had long been a proponent of red light cameras, arguing they were for safety and not revenue. Yet the program was killed in September after Kriseman had said the cameras were no longer paying for themselves. Politifact rates this a promise broken, but Kriseman doesn’t see it that way.

“What we saw happen was the number of tickets being issued decreased to such an extent that the program wasn’t even covering its own expenses anymore and what we saw was there was continuing to be decreases in the number of tickets, which means the need for the cameras probably didn’t exist anymore,” he said.

And Kriseman emphasizes the point that his decision was based on a change in behavior and wasn’t motivated by money. The drop in revenue was evidence that drivers were getting the message.

“If the tickets start up-ticking again, I’m going to come back here about bringing the cameras back because clearly the behavior modifications weren’t lasting,” Kriseman said.

Politifact also calls Kriseman out for failing to deliver on his lofty promise to have a new pier built by the end of 2015. Kriseman’s revised timeline has that happening around late 2017. But this is another area he says his promise wasn’t broken, because it wasn’t a promise – it was a goal.

“In life you set goals, some of them you achieve, some of them you have to revise,” he argued. “In order to do this right, it was going to take longer.”

Kriseman said patience on building the pier is key to making sure the city doesn’t wind up in another situation like the Lens. City leaders chose the Lens design by Michael Maltzan Architecture after a lengthy public input process, but citizens still felt like they didn’t have a say. A group of vocal opponents fought the plan all the way and ultimately won after voters largely rejected the plan at the ballot box.

Now Kriseman has implemented a team of stakeholders to come up with a new process. His plan includes an online voting tool where residents, even if they’re not voters, can vote for their favorite plan based on a list compiled by the Pier task force. While this process will take considerably longer than Kriseman had originally hoped, he’s confident it’s the right thing to do to ensure the city gets what residents want.

Kriseman also notes he’s not an architect.

“The other piece that you don’t know until you’re really working with the professionals is how long does it take to work through the plans,” Kriseman said. “That process takes much longer than I ever dreamed it would take.”

Kriseman has ushered in other campaign goals this year, including universal curbside recycling. While residents aren’t loading recyclables into large bins just yet, the council has already approved the program.

“Now the only thing that’s [keeping] us [from] implementing it is waiting for the supplies to come in so we can do it,” Kriseman noted. The city has already ordered new trucks and bins.

The mayor also touts completing some items left on the table by Foster. The former mayor failed to reach an agreement with the Rays to allow the baseball franchise to begin looking outside St. Pete in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a new stadium site. In Kriseman’s most recent campaign promise fulfillment, a Memorandum of Understanding lays out a plan including $4 million annual payments if the Rays play somewhere else through 2018. That amount decreases to $3 million a year in 2019 and ultimately $2 million during the final years of the Rays contract with St. Pete.

There has been some criticism that the agreement is too relaxed and doesn’t force the Rays to pay enough for searching outside the city. During a press conference following the agreement, Kriseman dismissed that, arguing the dollar amount was just right to ensure the Rays stay in Tampa Bay.

With three years left in this term, Kriseman still has nearly half of his campaign promises yet to work on. That includes reducing or eliminating the pier subsidy, delivering a state of the city address every year, having service learning available in all of St. Pete’s public schools and this reporter’s favorite, making staff available to press on a regular basis.

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.