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Editorial: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman rides anti-Trump wave to second term

Jay Nolan | Special to the Times St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's challenge will be to heal the divisions that festered in the campaign and bring more focus to the city's key needs.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman won a second term Tuesday by waging a partisan campaign and convincing enough voters he can continue to move the city forward. Now his challenge will be to heal the divisions that festered during the election and bring more focus to several key issues facing the city. St. Petersburg is headed in the right direction, and it will take a steady hand from the mayor to maintain the momentum.

This was not an election that turned on local issues. Kriseman wrapped President Donald Trump around former Mayor Rick Baker’s neck, and he had plenty of help from national and state Democrats eager to send an anti-Trump message. That proved to be an effective strategy for the incumbent Democrat in a city that has 30,000 more Democrats than Republicans and has become more progressive in recent years. To Kriseman’s credit, he has connected with younger voters who have moved into downtown’s new apartments and with the LGBT community that has helped rejuvenate neighborhoods and businesses on downtown’s western edge.

When he did touch on local issues, Kriseman promoted himself as the candidate with the best forward-looking vision. Over the next four years, here are five key areas that will require his attention to keep St. Petersburg moving:

• Redeveloping 85 acres at Tropicana Field. Kriseman had the region’s best interests at heart when he pushed through the agreement to let the Tampa Bay Rays look in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties for a site for a new stadium. The Rays appear most interested in moving to Tampa, and Kriseman has to ensure that any move by the team goes smoothly while smartly planning to redevelop the Trop site in ways that benefit everyone.

• Fixing the sewers. The Kriseman administration’s poor handling of 200 million gallons in sewage spills over two years was the major stain on his first term. The mayor will have to see to it that a long-term repair plan is carried out, finally determine whether to reopen the closed Albert Whitted sewage plant and be candid with residents about the costs. It’s not going to be cheap.

• Improving Midtown. Black voters in some of the poorest neighborhoods south of downtown backed Baker, and Kriseman needs to make more connections in these communities. Now that the campaign is over, he should redouble his efforts to bring more jobs and businesses to this area, including a grocery store. Too many Midtown residents feel their community is being left behind as downtown flourishes.

• Supporting public schools. There have been modest improvements in some of the elementary schools in St. Petersburg’s poorest neighborhoods that were the subject of the Tampa Bay Times’ "Failure Factories" series. But a vibrant city needs highly regarded public schools to attract new jobs and residents, and much more needs to be done. Kriseman has some ongoing efforts to help schools with mentors and private grants, and he should put more emphasis on those in his second term.

• Completing the new Pier. Work on the pilings has started, and Kriseman has to keep the entire project moving without further increasing costs that are expected to approach $80 million. He will have to choose wisely between at least two intriguing bids for a new restaurant along the Pier approach, and the uses of the new building at the Pier head will have to be better defined. This should be a signature destination that will serve St. Petersburg residents for generations.

Kriseman rode the anti-Trump wave into a second term, and he capitalized on St. Petersburg’s upbeat vibe with a hot downtown and more projects on the horizon. Now he should unite the city and refocus on the local issues that will determine whether those positive trends continue.