Municipal Government Candidates Appear on Campus – The Crow’s Nest at USF St. Petersburg
Pictured Above: (Left to Right) Robert Blackmon. Veronica Jimenez, Tara Rosenbaum, Sean Schrader, Ken Welch and Dr McLauchlan after the end of the Mayors’ Forum.
Courtesy of Audrey Ward | Crow’s nest
By Audrey Ward
A two-night live forum for the upcoming St. Petersburg City Council General Elections and St. Petersburg Mayor Election was held at USF St. Petersburg on September 28-29.
The event was broadcast live from The Reef of the University Student Center (USC) via Zoom for students ahead of the November 2 general election.
Both forums were moderated by Associate Professor Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan and a panel of three leaders from the St. Petersburg student government: Veronica Jimenez, Tara Rosenbaum and Sean Schrader.
The event was co-sponsored by USF St. Petersburg Center for Civic Engagement, Student Government, St. Petersburg City Center Partnership, LocalShops1 and League of Voters of St. Petersburg Region .
On September 28, the City Council Forum hosted candidates Jeff Danner, Gina Driscoll, Richie Floyd, Copley Gerdes, Lisset Hanewicz, Tom Mullins and Mhariel Summers.
District 1 candidate Gerdes and District 4 candidate Hanewicz focused on jobs, infrastructure, the Tropicana Field site, affordable housing and the housing crisis, public transportation, city growth and support for small enterprises.
Driscoll, from District 6, said she was running for her second term on St. Petersburg city council and planned to focus on enacting the city-wide plastic straw ban. She expressed her wish to eliminate single-use plastics in neighborhoods and professional associations and to maintain an “open door” policy.
Also in District 6, Summers presented his slogan “Let’s make a cohesive city where the sun shines on all” and spoke about his five years of experience serving the city in various roles and his involvement in community programs. When asked about her policy points, she kept it simple, saying “continue St. Pete’s growth, visible equity, sustainability and resilience”.
Danner and Floyd from District 8 focused on the Community Housing Trust Fund, community policing, development without losing the character of the city, public wages, job creation, access to resources and investment in the city as a whole, not just in the streets of the city center .
The Mayor’s Forum with nominees Robert Blackmon and Ken Welch on September 29 was televised live from the USF Student Center Ballroom and was viewed during a student watch party in the Reef of the ‘USC.
Welch shared three priorities he would focus on if chosen as mayor.
“The top three priorities are based on what I’ve heard from the community in a number of forums, as well as thousands of trips as an Uber driver, listening directly to people in our community,” Welch said. .
“People care about the same things: affordability. You can’t afford apartments in our community, ”Welch said.
Ensuring that St. Petersburg neighborhoods are safe and healthy is Welch’s second priority. Third, it encourages residents to defend the city’s infrastructure and natural environment.
Blackmon replied, “I also share affordability, infrastructure, and Rays as part of my platform.”
Blackmon said he had partnered with the state to introduce a bill to allow the affordable housing permit fees to be waived. It also plans to put in place initiatives that help the affordable housing program maintain funds.
Education is another priority for Blackmon.
“We need to be a better educated city and I’ve worked to that end on several projects like the St. Pete Science Center,” Blackmon said.
When it comes to K-12 education, Blackmon discussed reducing the educational gap for students aged six to 18. “We have to keep the kids focused on the right track,” Blackmon said.
Welch’s opinion on education differed, stating that he focused on early childhood education programs.
“You don’t lose kids in high school,” Welch said. “You are losing children before they even go to kindergarten.”
There was a clear disagreement between the two candidates over gun violence and law enforcement.
“First and foremost, we need everyone in every neighborhood to feel safe. We talk about falling crime rates all the time, but murders are exploding, ”Blackmon said. “We have to give our officers the resources they deserve and they have to protect our citizens.”
Welch said gun violence results in deaths in the St. Petersburg community. He said he supported law enforcement, but “you can’t stop to get out of this problem.”
The candidates’ final statements echoed the same sentiment: to unify and advance the communities of St. Petersburg.
“It’s about bringing people together. Welch said. “It’s time to move on. Now is the time for inclusive progress. This is what I am focusing on.
“In many ways, we need innovative thinking and thinking outside the box,” Blackmon said.
Avery Jennings contributed to this report.
Audrey Ward and Avery Jennings are junior majors in Mass Communication at USF St. Petersburg.