The first televised mayoral debate in St. Petersburg took place this past Tuesday night and caused a lot of local hype, understandably. But in my opinion, the more entertaining campaign forum took place at City Hall on Wednesday, as the candidates running for City Council in Districts 4, 6 and 8 answered questions about what they'd do if elected in November.
The most interesting contest is in District 4, where progressive stalwart Darden Rice is taking on Tea Party activist Dr. David McKalip and Crescent Lake neighborhood leader Carolyn Fries. All three candidates had some sharp things to say to each other.
Nobody has a sharper edge than McKalip, who comes loaded to every debate with plenty of ammunition to attempt to tear down Rice. For rhetorical flourish, nothing could top when he said, "When she was working with the Sierra Club to take out cheap, incandescent light bulbs and replace them with toxic CFL’s (Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs), I was working after 9/11 with dozens of committees to prepare this city for domestic terrorism. I was working with police and fire and county. That’s leadership."
Because she's considered the favorite in the race (and has scooped up nearly every major endorsement in the contest, including the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce), Rice seems to be wearing a large target on her chest at each forum, poised for verbal slings and arrows from both McKalip and Fries.
Fries said no matter where the Rays end up, it's crucial that there is accessible public transit funneling fans to the games. She followed her comment with a knock on Darden.
"I also find it amusing that Darden somehow manages to bring rapid transit into everything she talks about. I’m not on the same page with her. I think there’s a lot of expenses associated with that," Fries said, referring to the light-rail proposal that will go before Pinellas County voters in 2014. Rice, a member of the PSTA board, is an enthusiastic supporter of the plan, which puts her to the left of both her opponents on that issue.
McKalip and Rice are on the same page with their disdain for spending any public funds on building a new stadium for the Rays, if that situation ever presents itself. Rice said, "I don’t support spending another dime for a stadium." The extremely fiscally conservative McKalip oozed contempt for the idea, calling the Major League Baseball franchise nothing more than a wealthy New York corporation that hijacks police hours to maintain traffic during their home games.
"If they leave, God bless them," he declared with absolutely no sorrow.
McKalip added that he's the kind of leader who "stands up when it's inconvenient," unlike Rice or Fries, who he said look at polls to determine their stances.
There was also a lot of sharp-edged dialogue coming from the two black candidates running in District 6 against incumbent Karl Nurse. Small businessman Trevor Mallory and activist Sharon Russ both said neither the Rays nor the Lens were big deals to the voters in District 6, which encompasses Midtown.
When asked about the issues in that part of town, Mallory said it's not complex; the most important thing needed in his district is a new grocery store to replace Sweetbay. He wasn't interested in other companies doing business in the area, however, adding that "you're just gonna suck all the money out of Midtown, and ... it's not going to come back into that community."
Russ said all of the money that has been invested to improve Midtown since the riots in 1996 hasn't done much.
"Nothing has changed," she declared.
Russ also challenged Nurse in terms of his interest in the Lens. She said a lot of people in the district have far more pressing problems than what might end up happening along the waterfront.
"I'm sure Mr. Nurse is very involved with that," she pointedly said.
But Nurse countered that he voted four times to allow the public to have a say on the controversial issue, and segued into talking about the fact that the City Council has recently passed an ordinance to provide incentives for contractors to hire local citizens.