As many local politicos file into the Palladium for the Bay News 9/Tampa Bay Times debate between former mayor Rick Baker and current Mayor Rick Kriseman Tuesday evening, mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel plans to condemn another contender in the St. Pete mayoral race, Paul Congemi.
Congemi's comments during a recent forum opining that African Americans got reparations in the presidency of Barack Obama and that those who disagree should go "back to Africa" went viral earlier this month. In a press release, Nevel, who has long been active with the Uhuru movement and has sought to bring reparations to center stage as the city debates its future, said the protest aims to send the message that Congemi's incendiary remarks don't reflect the city.
"We want the world to see, Congemi does not speak for St. Petersburg," Nevel said.
Also taking part will be Eritha "Akile" Cainion, who like Nevel is running on a reparations platform.
Last week, the two held a press conference in which they elaborated on Congemi's remarks and how, while shocking, they actually reflect a sentiment many people have.
“Go look at the Tampa Bay Times comment section. That's Paul Congemi,” Nevel said Thursday.
Indeed, protected by their anonymity, many commenters on news stories on the Times website are incredibly offensive and bigoted.
Cainion said Thursday that while Congemi's comments were obviously racist and offensive, he was bluntly addressing reparations, and that Baker and Kriseman aren't exactly embracing the idea, either.
“Not only did he attack the black community, but his statement was in opposition to the question of reparations to the black community," she said. "This is what has to be understood: all Congemi did was come out against the demand for reparations, something that Baker and Kriseman have already done.”
Releases sent to media leading up to Tuesday's protest don't mention Baker and Kriseman beyond saying they're invited to the event, which starts half an hour before the debate. But the two mainstream candidates have been a favorite target of Nevel, who says he believes that despite some differences, the two are essentially cut from the same cloth — so it wouldn't be surprising if they were also a target at the Tuesday protest.
Nevel has also railed against his exclusion from the Palladium debate (of the six candidates, only the two Ricks were invited to participate), and the decision to limit audience attendance to invite-only. So the fact that the protest venue, Williams Park, is just a few blocks away from the debate venue may lend itself to a march to the Palladium, where Nevel and his supporters alike have been excluded.