St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he'd run for a third term if he could

As he rolls out, Rick tells us how he's feeling.

click to enlarge Mayor Rick Kriseman toasting to St. Pete on Jan. 3, 2022. - KRISEMAN/TWITTER
Mayor Rick Kriseman toasting to St. Pete on Jan. 3, 2022.
On Oct. 14, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman kicked off his long goodbye by unveiling a plaque marking the anniversary of a Sister City relationship with Takamatsu, Japan. A whole heck of a lot has changed in the 60 years since the diplomatic agreement between that community 7,516 miles away, but Kriseman—who, outside of a respectable gray beard, doesn’t come off much older than he did at inauguration—was there to start reflecting on changes he’s overseen during the last eight years leading the Sunshine City.

On Monday, 81 days after he kicked off the farewell, the 59-year-old mayor—whose childhood ambition was to actually be on the radio—again found himself at the pier and behind a microphone (attached to a podium, not a radio control board) to wrap up the “Faring Well Tour.”

Outside Doc Ford’s, Kriseman fittingly drank straight rum.

"I'd like to have been able to see some of these projects to the end… if I could have done one more, I would have done one more."

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When the former state rep took office in a 2014 ceremony at city hall just a 12-minute walk away, there was probably somebody with an open container near a fenced-off, aging pier. To kick off his term, Kriseman ordered fences around the soon-to-be-demolished pier and its retro inverted pyramid to be taken down. Kriseman wanted St. Petersburg to start walking, running and fishing near the landmark again. City officials were also told to get moving.

"Simply put, our city hall has not kept up with the city," Kriseman said at the time, adding that without adjustments, St. Pete would not keep up with other fast-rising localities.

If you looked around Monday as a Floridian winter wind blew the sound of steel drums and trop-rock into the air, you’d have seen that eight years later, the Sunshine City has more than caught up, and in many ways is leading the race.

It looked like everyone—from the city staffers, friends and family surrounding Kriseman to the passers by with plastic cups in hand—was drinking rum. The new $92 million pier is Kriseman’s big, tangible achievement, and feels like a party on most days. It was the right place to look back on what’s happened under his watch.
Six years ago, and six miles away, at Clam Bayou, Kriseman was first made aware of sewage discharge moving into the tidal estuary when a Creative Loafing Tampa Bay contributor-turned-editor (and now publisher of Gulfport publication the Gabber) called to ask him what the hell was going on. A year into his term, this was Kriseman’s “apoopcalypse,” an actual 30-year problem made worse in 2011 when city council voted to close Albert Whitted sewage plant. Kriseman’s office did the will of council four years later, then 2015 storms left him to choose between raw sewage coming up in people's toilets and flowing down the street or discharging partially treated wastewater into the bay. Kriseman owned that L and ultimately refused to peg the blame on others. Now, a city that never had a wastewater master plan has one. “We are in the best condition we have been in possibly the last three decades at least,” he told Bay News 9.

Opponents tried to bury Kriseman over that shit during his 2017 re-election campaign, but like in 2013—when he resoundingly defeated Bill Foster who famously did not attend St. Pete Pride—Kriseman was running against another figure not-so-well-liked in the LGBTQ community. Rick Baker once famously refused to sign a proclamation, acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of St. Pete’s queer community; despite a desperate rebrand, he lost to Kriseman by 2,191 votes.

In exit interviews and again to CL before his farewell remarks, Kriseman reiterated how proud he was of how far St. Pete has come since being led by former mayors Foster and Baker. The city has inarguably become a national hub for the LGBTQ community and is more inclusive than ever. Last month, city council even voted 5-3 to adopt the findings of a study acknowledging St. Pete’s structurally racist history.
In his speech on Monday, Kriseman cited record-low poverty rates for St. Pete as a marker for how much better off the city is, but he knows there’s still a lot of work to do in a community where rising rents are pushing people out of their apartments and homes (in October, a renter being evicted as part of a hotel expansion collapsed while moving out and later died).

The entire country is wrangling with a housing crisis, but especially so in St. Pete and Tampa where residents are more rent burdened than anywhere else in the U.S. Kriseman told CL that he feels like his administration has set a good foundation with the “Housing For All, From All” plan.

“It'd be nice to have more resources and hopefully Sadowski funds flow,” Kriseman said, calling for pragmatic and thoughtful changes instead of trying to solve the problem overnight.

“Everybody thinks they have the quick fix, but there's always ramifications for everything that you do. You make sure that there aren't unintended consequences, because you may fix one problem and create another one. And so that's been the thing we've always tried to do is take our time, not that we want to move slowly, but we want to do it right,” he said.
Another thing Kriseman seems to have done right is pick a police chief. Asked why police response to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests was markedly different in St. Pete and Tampa (where officers pepper sprayed and tried to get charges on protesters), Kriseman gave credit to Chief Anthony Holloway, who Kriseman tapped to lead SPPD in 2014, and said that a lot of the change folks called for had already been implemented in St. Pete.

“He's taking community-oriented policing and expanded it into what I call relationship-oriented policing,” Kriseman said of Holloway, a St. Petersburg College grad who previously served as Clearwater’s first Black police captain. “The community gets respect from the officers, and then the officers get it from the community. He's built this relationship, and the officers have built the relationship up. I think that's why it was different.”

Just half a mile away from the brand new St. Pete Police headquarters, critics of Kriseman had hoped negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays might’ve gone differently, but Kriseman’s made strides there, too, by selecting Midtown Group to redevelop the Tropicana Field site and hoping to restore some form of justice to the Black residents of the Gas Plant and surrounding communities demolished in the ‘70s and ‘80s to make way for big promises, interstate and a baseball team that didn’t yet exist.

City Council and incoming Mayor Ken Welch—who’ll be inaugurated virtually on Jan. 6—will have to take the reins on the development, but Kriseman deserves credit for keeping the Rays in St. Pete over the course of eight years and not folding under the weight of the stingy ownership’s threats to leave or split the season if they didn’t get taxpayer handouts to build a new stadium. (Tampa politicians, by contrast, are eager to sign on the dotted line.)

Despite the debacle the Rays have created, Kriseman counts the outstanding issues with the team and the continued development of the Trop site along with the marina among the things he wishes he could have seen through—a mark of an elected official who truly felt like he had the best job in the world.

Kriseman has been mum on future plans, only saying he’s looking forward to spending time with his wife with whom he’s raised two college-aged kids. And while he’s explicitly said that he will not run for any office in 2022, Kriseman told CL that he would make an exception for one race and one race only. “I think I would like to have one more turn if I could have,” he told CL. “I'd like to have been able to see some of these projects to the end… if I could have done one more, I would have done one more.”
click to enlarge The cover of the Jan. 6, 2022 issue of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. - PHOTO VIA CITYOFSTPETE/FLICKR. DESIGN BY JACK SPATAFORA.
Photo via cityofstpete/Flickr. Design by Jack Spatafora.
The cover of the Jan. 6, 2022 issue of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
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