Eight candidates for mayor of St. Petersburg debate their vision for the city

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Eight candidates vying to become the next mayor of St. Petersburg presented their arguments and their vision for the city’s future on Tuesday during the first televised debate of the closely watched race.

Participants – City Council members Darden Rice and Robert Blackmon; former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch; former member of city council and state representative Wengay Newton; restaurateur Pete Boland; small business owner Marcile Powers; Torry Nelson, who applied to participate in the race just days ago; and Michael Ingram, a political science student at the University of South Florida, weighed in on the long-standing debate about what to do with the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, their thoughts on the city’s marina and the gun violence in the city, among others.

The debate, animated by the Tampa Bay Times and Spectrum Bay News 9, was limited to qualified candidates for the ballot. Mayor Michael Levinson’s hopeful is a written candidate, so his name will not appear on the ballot.

The debate took place virtually, with candidates videotaped from their homes, offices or other locations. Towards the end of the debate, Welch’s Internet connection failed; he was then allowed to record a small clip answering questions he had missed, with the intention of adding it for future broadcasts of the debate.

Even though the candidates pointed out ideas for differentiating themselves on the crowded field, there were times when the candidates seemed to generally agree, including their belief that the next mayor should not feel bound by the efforts of redevelopment of current Mayor Rick Kriseman for Tropicana Field.

The contestants mainly focused on their own records and experiences, although there were some sharp spikes against opponents.

The primary election is August 24. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will face each other in the general election on November 2.

You can watch a recording of the debate here or at tampabay.com/politics. The debate will be rebroadcast on Bay News 9 at 7 p.m.

Here are some of the highlights of the hour-long debate:

The Tampa Bay Rays and the redevelopment of Tropicana Field

As for the redevelopment of Tropicana Field, almost all of the mayoral candidates shared the same sentiment – it would be great if the Rays stayed in St. Petersburg, but it must work for the community. And negotiations and redevelopment plans shouldn’t be done by a lame mayor.

“We need to make sure this development is community driven and keep the ‘citizens first’ mindset about it,” said Blackmon, who said the redevelopment process should start over and give city council , the Rays and the community more seats at the table.

Rice also discussed the public’s involvement in the process, especially regarding comments about the potential for a split Rays season with Montreal.

Welch highlighted his personal connection to the redevelopment – both in his role as county commissioner for bed tax promotion for the project and because of his generational connection to the black community at the gas plant. which was moved for the initial development of the stadium.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we need to ensure that the redevelopment reflects our values,” Welch said. “The Rays are part of that, but they’re not all of it. “

Newton has said he will support a mid-season team if St. Petersburg makes full use of the stadium when the Rays are out.

Racism, police and violence

While none of the candidates categorically stated that the St. Petersburg police had a problem with systemic racism, some pointed out that the policies which they believe have a disproportionate impact on some residents of the city.

“We continue to lock up blacks and browns for things like marijuana,” Boland said. “If we are serious about moving forward on this issue, we must end the failed war on drugs. “

Newton gave a somewhat cryptic speech to Welch, saying racism was not as big an issue with the police department as it was with Welch, saying “hate and racism have no place in the city and it pains me to know that this is his real heart. ” Newton did not specify what he meant.

Welch ignored Newton’s attack and instead pointed out that his own experience was profiled in Largo 30 years ago. He said he attended the NAACP community conversations after the recent spate of shootings and pointed out that other members of the debate did not attend.

“You can’t lead if you’re not with the people,” Welch said.

At times throughout the debate, Nelson said he needed more time to research before giving definitive answers. But he said he knows both sides of the law and his arrest history would make him a good candidate to better connect the police service to the community.

Several candidates also stressed the need for economic and educational opportunities for young people to help reduce shootings in the city.

Quick questions

In a series of quick-answer questions, the candidates all agreed that the city’s marina should not be privatized.

Candidates were also asked if they would have done anything different if they had been mayor during the pandemic – a question that prompted Boland, who sharply criticized Kriseman’s mask mandates and had his two companies cited for violations, rubbing their hands in preparation.

“Individual responsibility reigns supreme,” Boland said.

Ingram and Welch both said they believe the region’s leadership under the pandemic is strong. Rice said she would have been more proactive in communication, Powers would have liked to see more mental health services taken over by the city and Blackmon said he would not have “crippled” the small business community like he thought so Kriseman.

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