- Kevin Tighe
- Mayor Kriseman addresses the crowd as Master of Ceremonies Bob Devin Jones (in green sweater) looks on.
One of the signature places in the new St. Petersburg has been the arts and community center The [email protected] So it was emblematic of where and how Rick Kriseman wants to take the city that he chose Bob Devin Jones, co-founder of the Studio, to MC the event.
The new mayor's succinct 13-minute address laid out a vision much different from that of his predecessor, Bill Foster. Speaking to hundreds of supporters gathered outside City Hall under threatening skies, Kriseman also addressed some of the criticism he's received in the weeks leading up to his inauguration.
After referring to issues that dominated the campaign (and haunted Foster's chances of re-election) — the Pier and the Tampa Bay Rays stadium situation — Kriseman discussed his goal to improve the fate of the citizens of Midtown and South St. Petersburg.
"Too many people are struggling," he said of the economically depressed section of town. "One out of every five residents is unemployed. One out of four lives are at or below poverty. Property values have fallen 42 percent since the onset of the Great Recession. This is happening right here in St. Pete, and it’s unacceptable, especially given Midtown’s rich history and potential."
Kriseman has shown in some of his early moves that he's serious about the issue, selecting Dr. Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich as the co-chair of his transition team, and Gypsy Gallardo as the head of the economic development task force that was created as part of the transition. Both are major players behind the 2020 plan that aims to reduce poverty by 30 percent in Midtown within the next six years. But he said that neither public nor private funds will be sufficient. "It will take hard work and a commitment from all of us to fully realize the dream of a seamless city of one St. Petersburg."
Although Mayor Foster and the editorial writers of the Tampa Tribune accused Kriseman of excessive partisanship during the campaign, the only true manifestation of that were the financial contributions he received from the Florida Democratic Party. But Kriseman is definitely ideologically more progressive than both Foster and Rick Baker, and he made that clear when he said, "No longer will we be a small city that refuses to engage in big issues, like climate change, gun violence and youth incarceration," getting a cheer from the crowd.
Kriseman has also distinguished himself from his two predecessors by hiring members of the community to high-level positions that haven't existed for over a decade, such as deputy mayor (Kanika Tomalin), press secretary (Ben Kirby), and chief of staff (Kevin King, his aide when he served in Tallahassee and on City Council).
The mayor has maintained that the state's fourth-biggest city needs to start acting like it, and that means hiring key people in these new positions. He reiterated that point in his speech, saying that City Hall simply hasn't kept pace with the times.
"With all that St. Pete has to offer, the only way we lose, in the pursuit of businesses and resources, is if we're outmanned and outmaneuvered," he stated, emphasizing that he's stayed "within the confines of our current budget" by making these new hires.
St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes, a supporter of Bill Foster during the campaign, said he didn't have a problem with the new job titles. "I look forward to his first 100 days in office," he told CL at the inauguration ceremony.
There had been criticism of the inauguration ceremony being moved from inside City Hall to outside, a change that would have backfired if Mother Nature hadn't cooperated. But the mayor said that a traditional ceremony would have not have allowed as many people to attend. "Today belongs to all of us," he declared, though that certainly didn't satisfy fiscal conservatives such as failed City Council candidate David McKalip, who tweeted, "Let the waste of taxpayer money begin with vanity inauguration."
St. Pete resident Sherry Suttrich said she was most interested in seeing where Kriseman would go regarding the Pier. Suttrich avidly opposed the Lens design and said one reason for Bill Foster's downfall was his failure to listen to the public on the issue. "We have to start over [regarding what to do with the historic structure] and I'm okay with that. It could have been a huge mistake, so let's start over." Kriseman pleased her and others by announcing today the imminent removal of the fence that surrounds the Pier Head, allowing public access within the next week.
Old Southeast resident Josh Rumschlag said his biggest hope was to see more positive development in the South Side. And by that he doesn't mean the new Family Dollar store being built in his neighborhood. "The biggest thing for me is to see positive development that creates non-minimum wage jobs on the South Side," he said, adding that there's never been a progressive, Democratic majority City Council and mayor at the same time in his lifetime, "so it will be neat to see how it changes the city."