As city elections heat up, Kriseman's St. Pete vision contrasts Trump

Hey, look, St. Pete, another election is happening.

Are you a Democrat?

If yes, then how are you not in hibernation by now, given that we're between presidential election years?

Or whatever state of suspended animation it is that keeps many of you from voting in off-year elections?

Well, Democrat or not, now that we have your eyeballs, we'd like you to know that St. Pete is having an election this year and that you may want to pay attention to it. (Noted: so are other municipalities, like Gulfport.)

Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was in New York Friday trolling Donald Trump between conversations with Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, began his run for reelection earlier this month. His campaign launch party, held Wednesday at Three Birds Tavern, packed the outdoor area where it took place with supporters.

“This campaign's really going to be about continuing to move the city forward, and keeping the momentum going, and not stepping back, not stopping the momentum. An continuing to grow, but not in a way that honors and preserves our character,” he said.

So far, Kriseman, a Democrat (note: municipal races feign nonpartisanship), only has one challenger, a relative unknown on his third mayoral run who has already lost the LGBT and the KFC vote.

Looming on the horizon, of course, is a giant pile of Republican money that may take the shape of either former Mayor Rick Baker or former Mayor Bill Foster. And, if we're reading the political winds correctly, possibly Councilman Steve Kornell.

Kriseman isn't deluding himself about the problems the city has had since he took office, whether it's acrimony over how the St. Pete Pier debacle was handled or infrastructure issues that led the city to repeatedly dump millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into the bay as a result of major rain events, lest said water back up into city streets and bathtubs. He knows he's got to articulate how these things went wrong and why.

“We have to deal with our infrastructure. There's just no question about that. And we're committed to doing that, dealing with our water, our sewer, our storm water system. Transportation. But also, still continuing to attack poverty, to work on creating jobs and to pay a living wage. Those are the things that we are going to continue to focus on,” he said. “It's also a system that wasn't designed to handle what we're now getting, the kind of rain events and storm events that we're getting. Our system and no one else's. You take that and you combine it with the fact that we haven't historically invested in our system to keep up with the maintenance that needs to happen and we find ourselves where we're at, but we're going to deal that.”

St. Petersburg's city elections (with their August primaries and November general) are happening at a time when city leaders everywhere are seeking to counteract some of the impacts of Donald Trump's administration, either through embracing those he openly demonizes, like muslims, or by not urging law enforcement to aggressively target undocumented immigrants.

Earlier this week, Kriseman announced he will host what will likely be the first mayoral Iftar dinner in city history, an event to take place in June during Ramadan as a way to reach out to the city's muslim population at a time when the Trump Administration and others are maligning them, including through concrete policies like banning Syrian refugees.

“Looking at how we have the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast and there are a lot of religions that have been recognized, and some that have come under some scrutiny or pressure and really, I think, unfair focus," he said. "And the muslim community and a lot of the folks in that community have always been friends of mine, they're always been people who have volunteered and done things to help lift the city up. This to me is an opportunity to celebrate the muslim community in a way they haven't been celebrated here for their contribution to the city and the role that they play as a piece of the quilt that is St. Petersburg.”

He also hopes to help St. Pete set an example as something of a foil to Trump and his supporters' fixation on scapegoating undocumented immigrants for the country's problems, unlike, oh, I'unno, Miami. While the city does not have official sanctuary city status as others do, he wants those who fear harassment or deportation to know that they won't be subject to persecution.

“What we've tried to do is make it very clear that without going through the process of doing what it takes to be recognized as a sanctuary city, we're doing those things, practically, that you would want to do as a sanctuary city,” he said.

The election is technically in August, though if more than two people run and no one gets more than half the vote, there would be a runoff in November.

Several crucial City Council seats will also be on the ballot. Councilwomen Amy Foster and Darden Rice are finishing their first terms (the latter will be running for reelection; the former has yet to announce).

There are also races for the two open seats that Councilmen Jim Kennedy Karl Nurse are leaving due to term limits. for Kennedy's District 2 seat, there are two candidates so far, Corey Givens and Sharon Russ. Contenders for Nurse's District 6 seat thus far are Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless.

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