5 things that stuck out at Monday's raucous mayoral and council debate in St. Pete

In which summer intern Mady Dudley processes her first-ever candidate forum, which happened to be a bit of a doozy.

The calm before the ruckus. - Mady Dudley
Mady Dudley
The calm before the ruckus.

Tensions were higher than the noise level at the mayoral and City Council Disctrict 6 forum put on by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area on Monday night at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. The forum began with the city council candidates for District 6, and all of the candidates had one major thing in common: they want to improve life in St. Pete for all.

Almost every candidate had a glimmer in his or her eye when talking about the future of the city. Later in the evening, the mayoral candidates took the platform to discuss the future of the fifth largest city in Florida.

And before the night was through, things got crazy.

Here are five takeaways from this reporter's first-ever candidate forum:

1. Safety in St. Pete — it's still a big deal.

City Council candidates focused on important issues like the “Park, Walk, and Talk” program (in which every one of the 550 officers at SPPD has to visit a neighborhood, park their car and talk to local residents to get a better idea of how to help with crime in communities). The candidates also recognized that car thefts are abundant. Gina Driscoll and James Jackson mentioned the importance of dash cams for police and said they hoped the department eventually start using body cameras for police officers as well.

2. There's always more than meets the eye.

The debate was comparable to a blind date, most candidates look great in person and present themselves well, but once you go home after having a good night and look a little deeper into their backgrounds, you find there's often more to the story — and not in a good way. City Council candidate Corey Givens Jr., for example, is a likable candidate who seems like he'd be a good fit for the district until you Google him and find out he was busted for exaggerating his education credentials during his race for Pinellas County School Board in 2012 and was accused by a former supporter of having (at best) questionable accounting practices. And mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel has never even cast a ballot in a City of St. Petersburg election after nine years of being a resident, just to name a couple.

3. The irony that gets lost in all the shouting.

How are you supposed to complain about the Uhuru supporters chanting and loudly screaming when they are expressing their constitutional right? Easy: they're drowning out candidates’ answers, thus defeating the purpose of a candidate forum. Kind of ironic that the crowd (many of them associated with the Uhuru movement) chanted “let them speak” — in reference to the perceived snubbing of Nevel and other minor candidates at the upcoming Bay News 9 debate July 25 — but you won’t let the candidates (all of whom were invited to take part on Monday night) take the current opportunity to voice their positions.

4. Oh, sewage.

“We’re the Sunshine City for god sakes, we can’t have feces in the water” said District 6 candidate James Jackson. You don't say. Most candidates agreed the infrastructure of the sewage system needs to be revamped and Albert Whitted sewage plant was mentioned several times (Baker believes it should be reopened). But the Uhuru candidates, District 6 hopeful Eritha Akilé Cainion and Nevel said they believe someone has to pay. “I would make Rick Kriseman pay for it all. I would arrest the gang of crooks and open a criminal investigation on the Kriseman administration,” Nevel said. Cainion agreed, “You can’t blame the people, someone needs to go to jail.” It all sounds scarily familiar and reminiscent of a certain recent election.

The ruckus. - Mady Dudley
Mady Dudley
The ruckus.

5. Team "revolution" shuts it down.

There was an overwhelming amount of applause and noise (even though neither were permitted by forum regulations) for Cainion and Nevel, who, at 20 and 27 respectively are the youngest candidates in their races. Nevel's a powerful and photogenic speaker, but in a forum filled with people that seemed to want pragmatic approaches to solving the city's problems, his radical message didn't go over well among the non-converted. Meanwhile, Cainion made some audience members tense up when she shouted her answers to questions into the microphone.

The outburst of supporters brought out the personalities of some of the candidates. Baker took the bait of the borderline-protesters and spoke into the microphone saying they need to stop to hear him speak. Kriseman and fellow mayoral candidate Anthony Cates snickered at the loudness. Givens said respectfully “We will not always agree, but we need to respect each other,” not that anyone heeded his words.

Overall, it was an uncharacteristically exciting forum, but unfortunately there was no “getting to know” any of the candidates. The forum ended with several police officers arriving onsite and a swarm of people around Jesse Nevel shouting in the faces of others. There was also reportedly a shoving match brewing.

About The Author

Mady Dudley

Mady Dudley is a born-and-raised "St. Petersburger." She received her bachelors degree in Editing, Writing and Media from Florida State University in May, 2018. Mady enjoys concerts, movies, rollerblading, theater, traveling, food, the company of dogs and spending time with family and friends. 

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