So it's no wonder that the race to fill the soon-to-be open St. Pete City Council District 6 seat was packed with upwards of ten candidates prior to the Aug. 29 primary. The top two vote getters in that contest, Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll, are facing off on Nov. 7. The current occupant of the seat, Councilman Karl Nurse, is vacating due to term limits.
Though the district encompasses areas of south St. Petersburg, downtown and Old Northeast, voters throughout the city can weigh in.
Both are political newcomers.
Bean is an entrepreneur and activist as well as a moderate Republican (he has said that shouldn't matter in nonpartisan municipal races). Driscoll, the sales manager at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Downtown St. Pete, is heavily involved with civic organizations like the St. Petersburg Downtown Neighborhood Association, enjoys support from many local Democrats.
We wanted to present the candidates in their own words, so we emailed both candidates five questions. (As we did with candidates in the two other races on the ballot.)
What is the first thing you would like to accomplish if elected and why?
Justin Bean: My number one initiative is to open the doors for community-led economic development, especially in the portions of my district outside the downtown core. Our citizens need to have a city hall that keeps the barriers to opening new businesses as low as possible. I want the citizens to come to us with ideas on how to improve their districts, not the other way around.
Gina Driscoll: The first thing I want to accomplish when I’m elected to St. Petersburg City Council is the development of a revitalization plan for the Deuces. To ensure success, I will prioritize collaboration with the residents, businesses, and other stakeholders in the area. This will be a community-led effort that honors the area’s history while creating a vibrant district that truly serves its neighborhood.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the city (or your district), what would you change and why?
JB: I believe we need to reunify the neighborhoods of midtown and downtown. A major physical barrier to that happening is Interstate 175. If I could wave a wand, I would get rid of 175.
GD: If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about St. Pete, I would make all our public schools the best in Florida. Our class sizes would be smaller, the teachers would have all the resources and support they need inside the classroom, and there would be a diverse range of before- and after-school programs to mentor students, help them with their homework, and provide them with more opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities. Even though City Council does not have direct control over our schools, I would advocate for our city to play a stronger role. All of our students deserve a quality education, and a strong educational foundation is one of the major keys to a successful future for our students in St. Petersburg. In reality, supporting our schools and our students requires a lot of hard work. I’m dedicated to making that happen for our children.
JB: I think homelessness is the most misunderstood. The majority of our homeless population suffers from mental issues or substance abuse. We need to help these people and not just tell them to get a job. I am a strong supporter of the “housing first” model which is having success around the country and I believe we need to improve our implementation of that model here.
GD: I’ve been talking to many people on the campaign trail, and one of the most misunderstood issues in our city is actually how our elections for St. Petersburg City Council work. Many people still don’t know that in the November election, every St. Petersburg voter can vote for Mayor and every City Council seat that’s up for election this year, regardless of the district where they live. It’s incredibly important that everyone knows they will choose three City Council members this year, and that they take the time to learn about each one of these races.
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?
JB: The city needs to work with, and possibly incentivize, developers to build affordable housing. A large sector of our workforce is in the service industry but those workers are forced to live outside the city for lack of housing in their price range. We must grow smarter than we have in recent years.
GD: This is not a new issue in our city, and it’s a growing challenge in cities across the country. We need to do everything we can to preserve what makes St. Petersburg such a special place to live, work, and play. We must prioritize affordable housing and continue to direct resources to that effort so that people who live here can stay here. The right mix of moderately priced homes and quality affordable multi-family housing is vital to our city’s economic development. We also need to make sure retail space remains affordable for our local businesses. One approach we can consider is to provide incentives to landlords of existing retail space and developers of new retail space to keep rent reasonable for small businesses. I want St. Petersburg to remain a welcoming city for everyone who wants to thrive here, and I look forward to working with all stakeholders to achieve that.
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?
JB: I don’t think it is fair to say I am more aligned with one candidate for mayor over another. I was honored to be chosen by Mayor Kriseman to be on the Pier Uplands Selection Task Force and I have relied on Mayor Baker for advice and insight in my work to transform Williams Park into a world class outdoor venue. I do have serious concerns about Mayor Kriseman’s handling of our sewage dumps but I also am extremely frustrated by Mayor Rick Baker’s lack of support for the LGBTQ community and his failure to recognize man’s effect on climate change. Regardless of who wins, I will continue to work with both mayors as I value their input but I will not be a rubber stamp for either one.
GD: When I’m elected to City Council, my job is to listen to my constituents and do what’s best for the City of St. Petersburg. The same will be true for whoever is elected Mayor in November. If we both remember those two things, we’ll be able to work together on solving the issues that face our city.