Clifford Hobbs III, a 40-year old bartender and chef who works along Beach Drive, has officially launched his 2021 campaign for the St. Petersburg City Council District 4 race.
Hobbs told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay he felt fearless when he made the decision to run for the city council in July—even amidst a tumultuous summer of Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice, a global pandemic, and a buzzing 2020 election cycle.
Using the slogan “3 for 4,” Hobbs launched his campaign with a vision for how he hopes to uplift the city’s economic development and unify the city’s diverse communities.
From his campaign website, the core issues of his platform include: improving the city’s public infrastructure and roads; expanding affordable housing options for all; advancing economic revitalization in the service and tourism industries; economic recovery for the hospitality, tourism, and gig industries post-COVID; decreasing the city’s poverty rate; and bridging the social and cultural divides between St. Pete’s diverse communities.
“In a place as diverse as St. Pete, it’s imperative that our leaders unite our communities and ensure that everyone in our city is able to be involved in the growth of our economy,” Hobbs said in his campaign’s first press release.
Unlike his sole opponent in the District 4 race, small business owner Wendy Wesley, Hobbs did not grow up in St. Petersburg. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Hobbs moved across the South for school and work, moving from Texas to Atlanta, Georgia before moving to the Sunshine City six years ago.
Hobbs described this final move from Atlanta—a city that was on the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement—as something of a culture shock. “During my time in Atlanta, as a young Black-gay man, I saw my true potential because of the numerous examples of successful Black men I saw every day,” said Hobbs. “I witnessed so many thriving Black men of various complexions, backgrounds, gifts and potentials and they were all valued,” he says.
But when he began his job as a chef in St. Pete, Hobbs noticed that he was usually the only Black male in a leadership position. “Most of my brothers were working the back-breaking positions with no hope or opportunity for advancement.” He added, “Yet, I knew they were capable of so much more and deserved better.”
Hobbs told CL that the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd by police officers—and the resulting protests—contributed to his decision to run for city council earlier this year, in addition to the 2020 election cycle and the coronavirus pandemic.
Hobbs said he would see local Black Lives Matter protesters march down Beach Drive, where he worked, and was able to witness for himself the dichotomy between the message of those who marched for racial justice and the reactions of his establishment’s patrons.
As an onlooker to these sometimes heated interactions, Hobbs said, “I felt as If I could be a bridge between the two tribes [and] bring understanding where there was none.” Video footage from the Tampa By Times of one such interaction between diners and demonstrators on Beach Drive’s restaurant row in September ended up going viral.
Hobbs is running to represent a district in St. Petersburg that is majority white, but he doesn’t see this as a challenge to his campaign. Bridging divides within the city’s diverse communities—whether they be racial, ideological, or economic—is a center stone of his decision to run. And he believes his two decades of experience in the service industry will support that mission. “You deal with a multitude of personalities, backgrounds, beliefs and demands,” he says, of his profession. “And it’s imperative that you give each person the same level of service. Listening, delivering, and the anticipation of needs are tools necessary for success in both the service industry and on the council.”
Hobbs says he’s proud of who he his—the identities he occupies as a Black, gay man with a service background—and believes the city council should reflect the city’s diverse communities. But equally as important, Hobbs brings to his campaign a vision for what he wants to do to improve the social and economic conditions of his district, in part by fulfilling “empty promises” of past city leadership.
One key example of this, he says, is providing economic development and support for the neighborhoods and businesses that used to inhabit the site of the city’s Tropicana Field, built in 1982. Prior to its construction, Hobbs laments, it “was the home of many thriving Black businesses, theatres, churches, restaurants, and families.”
In 1979, the city proposed a plan to build an industrial park to bring jobs and dollars into the community, as well as affordable housing. However, this did not come to fruition, and instead the city got the sprawling Tropicana Field development, which displaced prior inhabitants. And since 1998, it’s been the home of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team.
“While we can’t bring back the history that was lost,” Hobbs said, “We do have an opportunity to make good on the promise for economic development and affordable housing for the descendants of that neighborhood.”
Plans to redevelop the Tropicana Field site are currently underway, with the Tampa Bay Rays’ lease expiring in 2027 and no final say yet on whether they plan to stay. City residents have voiced priorities for the project that range from supporting job creation, developing a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays, to honoring the legacy of the city’s Black community.
Hobbs’ opponent, Wesley, filed to run for the city council back in August, and is running on a platform of boosting small businesses and addressing disparities in health, housing, education, and access to food among the city’s residents.
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