Rick Kriseman vs. Thomas Piccolo

Florida House of Representatives District 53

On the Saturday morning I meet with Rick Kriseman, he's hoofing it through neighborhoods around 38th Avenue N., a little west of 49th Street, lobbying for the votes of registered Independents and non-party affiliates. Dressed in a white campaign T-shirt, shorts and sneakers, Kriseman, 44, exudes warmth.

"My whole focus ever since I've been on [the St. Pete City] Council has been, 'What can I do to make things better,'" he says.

At the top of Kriseman's list are insurance and taxes, issues he says are brought up by most voters. Only a few people answer the 20 or so doors that Kriseman knocks on. But at two of those, he connects with homeowners worried about those very concerns.

In the hour we're together, Kriseman, who is an attorney, talks about making service-learning (linking in-school lessons with relevant community service) mandatory in high school, criticizes the FCAT and asserts the need for government to communicate better with citizens. Toward the end of our walk, Kriseman introduces himself to a smiling elderly woman who has just opened her door.

"Are you Christian?" she asks.

"No, I'm Jewish."

"Are you Orthodox?"

"No, I'm Reformed Jew." Kriseman then explains that his wife is Catholic. The woman quickly thanks Kriseman, and he is on his way to the next house. He looks over his shoulder and smiles. "That's the first time I've been asked that."

I meet with Thomas Piccolo, an earnest young candidate, the following week at the Panera Bread in the Tyrone area. I know Piccolo from his time as the student government president at USF St. Petersburg. Dressed in dark slacks and a light blue polo adorned with a "Piccolo '06" sticker over the left breast, Piccolo, 23, talks about the desire to improve his community that was instilled in him by his parents.

"I want to dedicate myself to helping people out here," Piccolo says, leaning forward, maintaining eye contact.

Piccolo says he supports doubling the homestead exemption to $50,000 and making the Save Our Homes cap portable for homeowners and implementing it for small business owners and rental properties.

On insurance, Piccolo would do away with Citizens Insurance, proposing instead a national catastrophe fund that he believes would bring insurance companies (and competition) back to Florida.

Piccolo also expresses concerns over education, touching on the limited usefulness of the FCAT, low teacher pay and the lackluster performance of schools.

To his credit, Piccolo talks about wanting to bridge the partisanship in the House.

"One party doesn't have a monopoly on good ideas," Piccolo says, and I believe him. I get the sense that he is open to collaboration and recognizes his own solutions would need the fine-tuning that comes from working with others.

My choice: Kriseman and Piccolo, in my estimation, are in this race for the right reasons, and I have no reason to doubt either's desire to improve their community's quality of life. My guess is that both would be able to work well together. But I'm going to give the nod to Rick Kriseman. Because I like his take on the issues, and particularly because of his years of experience as a member of City Council and in the business community, I think he has a gravitas required to succeed in the House.

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Elections 2006

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