The St. Petersburg mayor’s race: Bring it home

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Earlier, Adam C. Smith at the Times lamented the “incredible shrinking mayor’s race” here in St. Petersburg:

These three [Ford, Foster, and Kriseman] are running to be mayor of the fourth-largest city in Florida, and yet they seem more like candidates for Oldsmar city manager.

In most major Florida cities — Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Miami, Fort Lauderdale — you’ll find mayors widely viewed as potential candidates for statewide office. No one is courting Foster for higher office the way they regularly do with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and used to do with former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.

Some of it may be the nature of St. Pete, with its Midwestern, conservative sensibility.

Suck on that, Oldsmar.  For the record, I strongly support Rick Kriseman and find him to be more inspiring than Smith seems willing to give him credit for.  However, with respect to the race at large, it is difficult not to find yourself in at least some agreement with Smith’s blistering critique.  

Primary Day in St. Petersburg is Tuesday, and you can’t help but feel like the conversation has been driven largely — indeed, almost exclusively — by what amounts to a poorly communicated government works project.  In fact, the issue of whether or not to keep the contract with the design firm to build the Pier was so much a part of the conversation of this primary campaign that the issue finds itself on the Tuesday ballot, likely driven to an unthinking, pathetic end-game.  Recent polling shown on this blog indicates that the Vote No: Build the Pier crew — who I support — are in for a long, depressing election night.  But the very fact that the Build the Pier team was able to mount such a strong showing at the eleventh hour at all is a testament to their hard work, ingenuity — and, I believe, ability to tap into the desire of people who simply want more out of politics.  This crew is the future of politics in the area, and whether you vote yes or no on the Pier, we’re all the better for it.

I’ve written in other places about how Tampa Bay seems to be at a sort of tipping point.  For it or against it, people want to talk about light rail and transportation.  People in St. Petersburg — and Pinellas, and Tampa Bay — are interested in the future of governmental services for at risk children and families.  Even our ability to keep a major league sports team (I wrote about this here) is part of the conversation.

Two St. Petersburg elementary schools are among the worst in all of Florida with respect to math scores.  That is the tip of a very disturbing iceberg for schools in St. Petersburg (several of which are great, for the record; it is the wide disparity which must be addressed, not just the fact that some schools are abysmal).

The homeless issue persists in the Tampa Bay area, and St. Petersburg particularly.  This is not an indictment of Mayor Foster, but of a primary election which featured exponentially more coverage of the Pier — which at last check didn’t house the homeless — than of a virtual humanitarian crisis in the parks of Tampa Bay.

Florida continues to lead the nation when it comes to the foreclosure crisis, and what they typically call the “Tampa Bay area” falls into the top fifth percent — or better — for foreclosures.  I recognize that the Mayor of St. Petersburg does not set national economic policy, is not the Secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department, and isn’t even passing budgets in Congress.  Still, one hopes the two who survive the primary on Tuesday make it a point to address the housing crisis in our own backyard.  

Perhaps the general election will finally see those conversations come to fruition.  There are too many things happening — too many important things — in this city, this region.  Whoever wins on Tuesday, whether you support them or not, they share this home with you.  Make sure they are talking about the things you care about.  

Benjamin J. Kirby published the Spencerian, a political blog covering national and local politics, for eight years. He spent twenty years serving in national and local government as well as the non-profit sector.  A contributor to Context Florida, he is currently the principal of Typeset Media Strategiesproviding writing services, social media content, and communications strategy for non-profits, political leaders, and drivers of community conversations.