It's a diverse district that a progressive incumbent, Council Chair Darden Rice, represents. Rice won her seat in 2013, and despite her popularity in the district and citywide, has a challenger in relatively obscure newcomer Jerick Johnston. While Johnston's campaigning hasn't been remotely aggressive (he didn't return our emailed request to send him our questionnaire), we have seen yard signs for him here and there.
Rice has been a champion of progressive causes, namely in the realm of the environment and worker protections, and given her name recognition and her incumbency, she shouldn't have much of a problem getting reelected (though she has said she is campaigning as though she does).
As part of our coverage of the St. Pete City Council races (which will be decided Tuesday, Nov. 7), we sent Rice the same questions we sent candidates for other districts.
Here are the questions as well as her responses.
What is the first thing you would like to accomplish if elected and why?
Just as I succeeded in bringing universal curbside recycling to St. Pete and to getting buses out of Williams Park, I am going to focus on infrastructure, economic development, and jobs in my second term.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the city (or your district), what would you change and why?
If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about St. Petersburg, I would eradicate poverty through jobs and education and I would also improve access to affordable, quality healthcare in our city. St. Petersburg’s poverty rate is on the decline, and this is the result of many years of hard work by the city, local initiatives, community leaders, organizational partners, businesses, and others. But there are still people that are struggling with poverty, and it will take more years of persistence and energy to erase poverty in St. Pete. The good news is that we don’t need a magic wand. We can get there through political will and determination to see through the long-term success of local policies. That’s why I serve in local office- to work toward these urgent solutions.
Out of all the issues impacting the city — the Pier, the Rays, etc. — which do you think is the most misunderstood and what would you like the public/officials to know about it?
One of the most misunderstood issues facing St. Pete revolves around the Pier. People often say that the Pier is over budget, but this just isn’t true. The Pier itself has a $46 million budget that has not been exceeded. The additional $20 million for the approach to the Pier is part of the downtown waterfront master plan, not the over-water portion of the Pier, and the other $10 million is TIF money for that district authorized by the county. The time to make enhancements to the approach to the Pier is while the Pier is under construction, so that everything is finished around the same time and everyone can enjoy the entire Pier experience.
There is a lot of talk about St. Pete’s cool factor these days, but without help, rising rents and other cost-prohibitive things are driving the people who made it cool out of the city. How do you reverse that?
St. Petersburg is a very cool city, and we need to make sure we’re protecting what makes our city so special. Part of that is making sure we create economic development environments that help support existing and beginning businesses. That means we need to make sure housing stays affordable. We can do that by building affordable homes on vacant lots owned by the city, modifying ordinances to incentivize transit oriented and workforce housing, and providing more incentives to developers to reserve some of their units for affordable apartments and condos or pay into a fund the city can use to build more affordable housing options. Keeping St. Pete affordable is another reason why the Pier is such an important project. Beach Drive is becoming unaffordable for the average person, but the Pier will be one place where everyone can visit and have fun, regardless of how much money you have in your pocket. We also need to work to keep rent affordable for our local businesses that make our city the unique place it is.
The two mayoral candidates are obviously very different from one another. You are more aligned with one. Should you and his opponent be elected (instead of your favored mayoral contender), how do you work to keep your political and ideological differences from getting in the way of confronting the city’s issues?
I love St. Petersburg, and I love the work I do on City Council. I am elected to go to City Hall and work proactively and professionally with everyone, and not waste time by picking fights. I will always work for what’s right for our city and its residents on council. As long as the person who is elected Mayor in November wants what’s best for St. Petersburg, then I am very confident there will be common ground to work on any number of issues to make our city stronger. I am ready!