At-times bizarre St. Pete mayoral debate fleshes out candidates' differences

Hijinks ensued.

By Dinorah Prevost

Attacks were flying in all directions among the candidates at Tuesday night’s mayoral debate at St. Pete City Hall. The candidates took aim at each other over everything, from the sewage problems in St. Pete to accusations of paying for votes at the polls. But the lesser known candidates dominated the night with some eyebrow raising (and racist) comments.

Moderated by the League of Women Voters, the debate featured six candidates including regulars Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker and Uhuru candidate Jesse Nevel.

Once again, Kriseman fielded criticisms about the controversial sewage dumping into Clam Bayou and Tampa Bay that city officials ordered last year in the wake of heavy rains that inundated the city's wastewater infrastructure.

When asked about whether he believed in global warming and his plans for it, Nevel pivoted to the sewage topic.

“Global warming did not shut down the Alfred Whitted sewage plant, knowing that would result in a sewage disaster for this city,” Nevel said. “The whole idea that Kriseman or Baker represent some kind of green candidacy or environmentalism (is false). Big money (referring to the large donations both Kriseman and Baker receive) is the enemy to the environment and to the people of this city.”

To repair the sewage system problems, candidate Theresa Lassiter proposed using some of the millions of settlement dollars the county received from 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Current mayor Kriseman has so far allocated $1 million to that issue.

“What I would do is find out, number one, how much money we got left from all that BP money and use it to go ahead and fix the sewer system,” Lassiter said.

Lassiter, a Midtown community activist, also denounced the city for bringing in out-of-towners to plan and design the St. Pete pier.

“Why is it they have to have consultants from New York and everywhere else come and design for my community and my city? We have enough qualified, creative people (that) live here. Why can’t they come up with a plan from the people of the city?” Lassiter said.

Instead of offering more police presence or community programs to reduce crime, candidate Anthony Cates III called for water safety in the black community, linking it to crime increases. Cates claimed that lead in the water supply throws off the body’s dopamine levels, leading to more impulsiveness and less rationality and then more crime.

On youth recreation opportunities in the city, Kriseman highlighted the new skate park currently under construction at Campbell Park in Midtown and floated the idea of a new roller skating rink.

“Something I’ve heard from the kids frequently that we’re working on is trying to bring a roller skating rink to St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said.

Nevel also made stinging comments about the county school system, calling the school board the “failure factory” and high school resource officers “cops that stalk children, black children in particular.”

He again cited his exclusion from the first two mayoral debates as a reason to question the fairness of the mayoral election. He trashed next week’s televised mayoral debate as the “Jim Crow debate” and accused Baker paying people to wear Baker t-shirts to debates.

In his first debate appearance this election cycle, third-time candidate Paul Congemi berated Nevel over his call for reparations for St. Pete’s black community. Congemi called out former president Barack Obama as a “form of reparations” and then told the black community to “go back to Africa” if they weren’t satisfied with that.

Needless to say, the mostly African American crowd that filled in a conference room at City Hall to watch the debate on TV erupted in disbelief and taunts toward Congemi.

Congemi went on to also attack “the...filth and shame of homosexual marriage” that he claimed Kriseman supports and “left wing liberalism” many times.

At the end of the debate, Nevel said Congemi was like "the comments section of the Tampa Bay Times" personified.

The next mayoral debate is Tuesday at the Palladium, though only Baker and Kriseman were invited and admission is limited.

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