"It sure helps to make an argument as a city councilmember rather than a neighborhood leader," Karl Nurse says, hours after his swearing in to the St. Petersburg City Council on May 1.
On April 24, city councilmembers chose Nurse, a former CONA president, after a heated appointment process to fill the District 6 seat vacated by former city councilmember Ernest Williams.
To some community activists, Nurse's appointment signals a city council less beholden to Mayor Rick Baker (see "Balance of Power," April 23). Before the appointment, over 200 people signed an online petition supporting Nurse.
The council's decision, though not unanimous, surprised some observers who thought race relations would prevent the Old Southeast resident from gaining the seat. Nearly 54 percent of voters in District 6 are African-American. Nurse is the first white councilmember to represent District 6 in nearly 30 years.
In the end, councilmembers James Bennett, Herb Polson, James Kennedy and Jeff Danner voted for Nurse. Leslie Curran voted for Gwendolyn Reese, CEO of Infinite Solutions. Bill Dudley and Wengay Newton voted for Cassandra Jackson of the Pinellas County Black Republicans.
"Obviously, I didn't support him," says Newton, who decried African-Americans' diminished role on the council. "I think it would've been easier for someone who looked like them to represent them."
On his first day, Nurse wasted no time tackling one of his major issues. He asked city staff to research what the city can do to stave off foreclosures.
"For a small amount of money, we could save hundreds of people from losing their homes," he says.
Nurse will serve until the 2009 city elections. He's signaled he'll run again for the seat.
"I have 18 months to pitch ideas inside the castle that I've been pitching for 20 years outside the castle," he says.