St. Petersburg City Council candidates tout connections to community
ST. PETERSBURG – The eight candidates for the District 6 City Council seat tried to outdo each other Thursday night during a well-attended forum at one of St. Petersburg's prominent African-American churches.
It would have been a civil gathering but for the supporters of Eritha "Akile" Cainion, 20. Their whooping and cheering at times even drowned out their candidate's aggressive deliveries.
"I'm mad as hell," shouted Cainion, a candidate fielded by the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, as she advocated for economic development and reparations for black residents.
At one point, moderator Trevor Pettiford of Bay News 9, pleaded unsuccessfully with Cainion's cheering section, who sometimes pumped their fists, to be respectful. The Rev. Clarence Williams, at whose Greater Mount Zion AME Church the forum was held, had better, but limited success in quieting the passionate group.
Cainion and the seven other candidates, Justin Bean, Corey Givens Jr., Robert Blackmon, Gina Driscoll, Maria L. Scruggs, James Jackson and James Scott, are vying to replace council member Karl Nurse, who must leave his seat due to term limits.
The district covers parts of Midtown, downtown and the Old Northeast, but Thursday night the topics discussed were of particular concern to the predominantly African-American and poor Midtown area. The candidates addressed such issues as the inequality of educational and economic opportunities and the lack of affordable housing and grocery stores.
Scruggs, 59, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, and Givens, 45, touted their longtime ties to the neighborhood. Blackmon, 28, a more recent Midtown resident who lives across from the troubled Melrose Elementary School, also spoke about his connections to the area.
Justin Bean, 30, talked about growing his family's business and increasing jobs and his involvement in city issues such as the pier project. Gina Driscoll, 46, president of the influential Downtown Neighborhood Association, also spoke of her commitment to civic matters and mentioned raising funds for the Daystar Life Center, a downtown agency that helps the poor. Jackson, 72, who once ran for the Pinellas School Board, mentioned his Midtown affiliations and his efforts to restore the rights of felons. James Scott, a 29-year-old graduate student and community organizer, spoke about his commitment to sustainability and health care.
The top two candidates from the August 29 primary will advance to the Nov. 7 general election.