If there's anything we've learned in the last year or two, it's that in modern politics there's never been a better time to be an outspoken anti-establishment candidate.
Come August, we'll find out whether that applies to the two Uhuru-affiliated candidates in this year's St. Pete municipal races.
Jesse Nevel, 27, and Eritha "Akilé" Cainion, 20, are in crowded races for mayor and City Council District 6, respectively. On Tuesday, they both announced they've met the criteria to qualify for the August ballot — Nevel by getting 1,000 petition signatures and Cainion by paying a $150 qualifying fee.
Both candidates are involved with the Uhuru movement (the African People's Socialist Party), a controversial group that calls for dramatic measures to help compensate for the violence and injustices whites have imposed on people of African descent since the outset of slavery. Locally, the group focuses largely on south St. Pete's predominantly African-American areas, where public schools languish and where poverty remains a constant stressor for some residents. Nevel is part of a white group that acts in solidarity with the Uhurus, and has conducted outreach on the group's behalf.
"For once, the interests and struggles and aspirations of the black community will be on the agenda and on the a ballot. And for the first time in a St Pete election, there will be a candidate who speaks for every white person who is ready to stand up and unite in solidarity with the black community so that all of us can fight together to build a better future. And that candidate is me," read Nevel's prepared remarks.
The mayor's race has seven candidates, including two who have already been mayor: current Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was elected in 2013, and former Mayor Rick Baker, who served from 2001 through 2009, when he termed out.
Both tout their administrations' economic development efforts on the south side, which include encouraging businesses along 22nd Street South; setting up a south-side community redevelopment area; and implementing new policing policies in an effort to ease tensions between police and African-Americans in southern St. Pete.
Of course, economic discrepancies still very much exist between north-side and south-side residents, and Nevel and Cainion say they want to be more aggressive in tackling those.
In his prepared remarks, Nevel chastised the local news media for focusing on the contest between Baker and Kriseman.
"Here’s what you need to do. Its not Rick Vs Rick. It’s the People Versus the Ricks," Nevel's statement read. "The only difference between Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker is a moustache. And one of them marched in a [St. Pete Pride] parade and the other didn’t."
While it's true the media does tend to focus on the two Ricks more than the other five candidates in the race, it's also true that Baker and Kriseman are more than likely to be the top two vote-getters — it's simply a reality that, in politics, name recognition and fundraising capacity are still the biggest determining factors of a candidate's success. Nevel may seek to break that pattern on a local level, but that will be tough to do given the polarized political climate, and given that some voters might not be ready for his message.
Cainion is in a race against nine opponents, none of whom has particularly high name recognition, for the seat now occupied by Councilman Karl Nurse, who is terming out. District 6 comprises downtown and parts of Midtown and southeast St. Pete, which she said developers have relentlessly gentrified without considering the effects on the community that was there first.
"Today we took a step towards a genuine future of prosperity for the entire city, no one living at the expense of anybody else. Today we took a step to right the historic wrongs made by this city government. Today we took a step to truly becoming a progressive city," she said in her statement.
The ballot qualification period begins June 8.