Last December, as part of Creative Loafing’s annual auction to raise funds for The Children’s Home, CL offered readers the opportunity to bid on having lunch with a local lawmaker and CL’s news & politics editor — aka yours truly.
The winner? St. Petersburg political blogger extraordinaire Peter Schorsch, editor of St.Petersblog 2.0. His choice of lunch partner was St. Petersburg City Councilman Steve Kornell, a school social worker in Pinellas County who was elected to the council in 2009 and then again in 2012.
We met late last month on a Friday afternoon at La V, the Vietnamese fusion establishment on Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Peter Schorsch (looking at Kornell): You’re a liberal. What do you think of Charlie [Crist] coming into the [Democratic] party?
Steve Kornell: I think whomever our nominee is, I’m going to wholeheartedly support him. If it’s Charlie, I will; if it’s Alex Sink, I will. If it’s some other person, I will. Because I believe Rick Scott is one of the worst governors that we’ve ever had … Alex Sink would be much better than him, and Charlie Crist was much better than him as governor.
CL: What do you make of Scott’s announcement that he wants to give every teacher in the state — not just those who have “merited it,” as the saying goes — a $2,500 raise? Good politics?
SK: It’s a funny thing about teachers. Some of them teach math, and they’re good at it [laughter]. And they know that on the whole the governor has not given them an increase. They have not advanced under this governor, and they’re very low to begin with. And we know that, and aren’t going to forget that.
Bill Foster’s been getting some increased criticism of late, such as [for not being] proactive in preventing the closing of the Sweetbay store in Midtown.
SK: Personally, I’d like to see a more localized store going in there. Same kind of store and same kind of services …
PS: This store was destined to fail the moment Wal-Mart built that store on 34th Street. … The thing that strikes me is, it’s like a tale of two grocery stores, and I think it’s so striking that the Midtown Sweetbay is failing and yet a mile north of it they want to put in a massive Whole Foods. And that speaks to me how difficult it is to be black in St. Pete right now. It’s not that we’ve abandoned Midtown, because we haven’t. But the momentum that we had there is gone after Mayor Baker left. And it’s just difficult. Remember when Bill Foster said he wanted to be the first black mayor of St. Petersburg? I just want to ask him — have you accomplished your goal? Because I think it’s more difficult to be black in St. Petersburg since …
Well, people said this would happen after Goliath Davis was let go two years ago. Foster said he would be “the guy” in Midtown. That was two years ago. What has happened since?
SK: I’d like to see our whole economic philosophy change about growing local businesses, growing what we have here. Look at Kahwa Coffee, for example. They’re locally owned; they have at least three locations. They’ve gone into Tampa (and maybe more). They have a production facility that’s here. I’d like to see us help them grow bigger. I don’t know that we do that very well. We’re great at recruiting, like if Starbucks said they were interested in leaving Seattle, we’d go out there and we’d recruit ’em and we’d wine and dine ’em and talk to them. But we’re not good at taking our local [businesses] and saying, “Let’s help you become the next Starbucks.” I think that should be an emphasis, because when you do that, you build up your corporate base, and then things like we have in Midtown tend to happen differently because you have an executive that’s from your city who cares about your city and understands what it means to live in Midtown, that maybe somebody sitting in an office in Belgium just looking at a ledger sheet doesn’t understand. And I think that we can do both. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t recruit those other companies. But we should invest more in our local businesses.
PS: It is a fair discussion. I think our friend [and now declared City Council candidate] David McKalip is on the other side of this discussion — there’s something to be said about his point that this is an example of government gone wrong. We tried to subsidize the free market. It didn’t work. We artificially messed with …
You’re choosing winners and losers.
PS: And you have to remember, there are people in this town who don’t think we should do anything about Midtown. Or do anything to save a grocery store there. There are a lot of business owners saying, “Why are you saving Midtown and not saving Phil’s Auto Shop on 34th Street North or whatever?”