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St. Petersburg’s elected officials have plenty to be thankful for

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It’s that time of year again. Families all over the country are looking forward to a short week and getting ready to join families in saying thanks for all the many things of which they are grateful.

Sure, the usual friends, family and health are likely to top the lists, but local St. Pete officials and various politicos each have a unique list of reasons they should include this Thanksgiving.

St. Pete is hot off one of its most contentious City Council races ever that came with a host of wins for various elected officials when Lisa Wheeler-Brown was elected to replace City Council member Wengay Newton.

Of all the people who should be most thankful for Wheeler-Brown’s win, Mayor Rick Kriseman tops the list. Plagued by several high profile issues this race, Kriseman can look forward to likely crossing one of them off his list.

City Council has been deadlocked on whether to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to look outside of St. Pete for alternative stadium locations to aid in its long-standing poor attendance ratings at games. Newton has been one of the council’s staunchest holdouts.

Wheeler-Brown is expected to break that deadlock by favoring a deal similar to one already brokered by Kriseman. That means, once she’s inaugurated this January, Kriseman will likely come back to council with another deal and this time it’s likely he’ll get the support needed to finally solve the more than decade-old debate surrounding the Rays.

Halfway through his term and with the stinky business of sewage and ugly hostility surrounding the Pier, it may be the win Kriseman needs to maintain enough support and confidence to earn re-election in 2017.

And it’s not just elected officials who should find gratitude in Wheeler-Brown’s win. The Tampa Bay Times pushed for Wheeler-Brown intensely based solely on the Rays issue. Brian Auld, the Rays’ president, also owes her a solid.

Jim Kennedy should give thanks for not having to face re-election this year, or at all for that matter. Had that been the case, he would have fallen victim to the Tampa Bay Times’ pro-Rays agenda. Kennedy served as one of four consistent no-votes on the Rays deal. The Times proved through its endorsement of council member Steve Kornell’s underqualified opponent that it was willing to stop at nothing to stand in the way of the Rays “obstructionists.”

Council members Darden Rice and Karl Nurse should also be thankful for the Wheeler-Brown win. Both were fierce supporters throughout her campaign and never wavered despite a series of campaign finance controversies.

Had Wheeler-Brown lost, the two may have wound up with egg on their face. Both Nurse and Rice have also been supporters of letting the Rays look for new stadium sites making her victory a double win.

And speaking of Karl Nurse, he should bow down in thanks to the rally of support over the city’s aging sewage infrastructure. In the midst of his last term, Nurse is rumored to be a possible opponent to Kriseman. The sewage issue alone separates the two who are otherwise ideologically similar. Should Nurse choose to challenge Kriseman, his insistence on addressing sewage issues immediately could earn him favor among many St. Pete progressives sensitive to environmental issues.

City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes’ name has also been thrown out as a possible Kriseman contender, but most of those in the know in St. Pete know that’s not a likely possibility.

Still, Gerdes could be a strong candidate eventually. So for Gerdes, should he have any eventual Mayoral aspirations, it’s fortuitous that his eight years in council will be up just before it comes time for Kriseman to vacate office should he earn re-election. That paves the way for a potentially strong bid against whoever may emerge in six-years. There are a lot of what-ifs in this scenario, but it’s still a win for Gerdes.

Council member Steve Kornell made fast enemies with the Tampa Bay Times over the Rays issue, but he bested them by trouncing his opponent, Philip Garret, in the most recent election. The paper launched an all-out attack on Kornell calling for a coup to his reign of power in South St. Pete.

Kornell perhaps has this blog to thank in that race. For every shortsighted Times editorial or column blasting the six-year incumbent, SaintPetersblog was there to remind readers not to make the race about one issue.

Amy Foster toppled the troubled New Plaza Motel on 34th Street North by pushing improvements to the city’s nuisance abatement process. Thanks to her work, the drug dealing, crime mecca was shut down for a year while the business makes plans to improve conditions. Foster can count among her blessings taking giant strides to fulfill one of her biggest campaign promises.

And then there’s Bill Dudley and Wengay Newton. I can’t think of anything in the world more worthy of thanks than to leave council after eight years of stalwart service.

Newton may have often been pegged a trouble maker for standing as the often lone no-vote on various issues, but for those he represents he stood as a check on both the Bill Foster and Kriseman administrations and as a vocal advocate for his mostly poor District 7.

Dudley leaves office as the sole Republican on the board but has mostly left partisanship out of the issues. He’s shown resolve in working with his colleagues on council. He can also leave office knowing his replacement, Ed Montanari, will continue to provide a more conservative voice on an overwhelmingly liberal body.

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 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 [email protected]

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