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St. Petersburg city leaders take oaths, promising a 'progressive' era

By Divya Kumar | Pinellas County Community Reporter
Published: January 2, 2018 Updated: January 2, 2018 at 07:41 PM
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, left, is sworn in for a second term by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mark Shames, right, as Kriseman's wife, Kerry, holds a Torah and his son, Samuel, looks on Tuesday at City Hall. Not shown is the Krisemans' daughter, Jordan. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — On a chilly morning facing a crowd bundled in winter coats, Mayor Rick Kriseman and new members of a historic City Council were sworn in Tuesday, pledging progressive leadership.

"We are proud of our progress and progressivism, especially right now," Kriseman said after a ceremony that capped a contentious chapter in the city’s political history. The second-term mayor won re-election in November, defeating former mayor Rick Baker in an often-bitter campaign waged along partisan lines.

Bob Buckhorn and George Cretekos, the mayors of Tampa and Clearwater, helped mark the occasion, joining more than a hundred St. Petersburg residents at the front of City Hall.

"He’s been a great partner for the last four years, and I really wanted to see him continue," Buckhorn said of Kriseman. "We all recognize, and it’s not always been the case, that all of us — Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater — are stronger together."

Kriseman did not hedge when outlining his vision for the next four years, even taking a swipe at the U.S. president who became a factor in his reelection bid.

"Today we are a St. Pete that pursues a Cuban consulate, Amazon’s second world headquarters and the World Pride Celebration," he said. "We are a St. Pete that is brash enough to take on federal campaign finance laws. We are a St. Pete that has enough confidence to tell our Major League Baseball team to go look around. … A St. Pete where 20,000 strong marched along our waterfront for women’s rights and for every other right Donald Trump wishes to deny us of."

Kriseman also said he hopes to continue the work he began in his first term.

"African-American poverty is at an all-time low," he said. "But we’re not declaring victory. We have a long road ahead to ensure sustainable progress that can’t be undone."

He said plans for the new pier were underway, and that construction of the new police station was on budget. Transportation solutions, including bringing back the Cross Bay Ferry, will continue to be a priority, he said.

"We can have debates over the merit of rail or other alternative types of transportation, and we can have debates about how to pay for it," he said. "But there is no debating that the status quo is simply not acceptable."

The city will also continue its work on "cleaner and greener" initiatives, he said, adding the city will soon announce an agreement with Duke Energy to replace incandescent street lamps with more efficient LED ones.

The topic of progressivism carried into other parts of Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremonies as two new members, Brandi Gabbard and Gina Driscoll, officially joined the City Council, making it a majority female governing body for the first time. The council also unanimously chose Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, an African-American woman, to serve as chair.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said Wheeler-Bowman’s leadership was "important and historic."

"It’s huge," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "My great great grandmother called this city home. She wouldn’t be able to believe it."

Former council chair Darden Rice, who was re-elected for a second term, said she was excited to work with the new council, which now counts five women among its members.

Rice said having the perspective of Gabbard, the mother of a young child, will be valuable. Driscoll, she said, is well known in her district.

"You never want to sound like a reverse sexist, but it can be said that women bring a different negotiating style and just a different perspective," Rice said.

Council member Steve Kornell, who was elected vice chair of the council, called it the "Year of the Woman" and said he was thrilled to be in the minority.

"It shows our city is ready," he said. "We’re not the old St. Petersburg. We respect our history, but are ready to move forward."

Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.