ST. PETERSBURG — The five candidates running for the District 5 City Council seat laid out different priorities for the city at a forum this week, where they were asked questions about their judgment and leadership styles.
The forum, held Tuesday night at the Lake Vista Recreation Center, was the second in the race. It went in a different direction than the first forum, where the candidates answered questions about policy and issues. They are all vying to replace departing council member Steve Kornell, who is term limited. The primary is Aug. 27 and the top two candidates will face each other in the Nov. 5 city-wide election.
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All the candidates agreed that certain sections of the city are thriving. They also all agreed that St. Petersburg’s southernmost district, which includes Lakewood Estates and Pinellas Point, is missing out on a lot of that prosperity.
Each candidates talked about bringing economic development opportunities to the district and addressing the crisis of housing affordability.
But the similarities ended there as each explained how they would make the city more equitable.
Deborah Figgs-Sanders, a member of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area Citizen Advisory Committee and former executive director of the Childs Park YMCA, said relying on accurate information and building relationships on City Council are the keys to a successful term in office.
She said managing peers in an organization like City Council can be like having a husband: “You give him the idea and make him think it’s his.”
Environmental activist Beth Connor, a 34-year member of the Sierra Club, said she already attends and watches council meetings and, like Figgs-Sanders, knows “it takes a village” to make policy.
Former public servant Trenia Cox, who served 20 years working for the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, said the city markets itself as a “jewel of the south” but has "forgotten about the basics.”
Cox said St. Petersburg has had a problem with governance lately, pointing at the city’s 2015-16 sewage crisis, in which the aging sewage system purged hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay, and the recent travails of the CareerSource Pinellas jobs placement agency and the St. Petersburg Housing Authority (those last two, however, are not city agencies).
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Cox said her work on the Pinellas Homeless Leadership Board, alongside current City Council member Amy Foster, means she is already working to build consensus in government.
Phil Garrett, a former employee of the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office, and teacher-turned midwife Anne Hirsch, said they would be less conciliatory.
Garrett said he doesn’t want to “get stuck in the muck.”
“I’m not going to be there to partner," he said. "I’m going to be there to represent us.”
Garrett’s priority is getting development going in the Sunshine Skyway Plaza at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street S and 62nd Avenue S, which once had a Sweetbay supermarket and now sits mostly empty.
Hirsch, who is affiliated with the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, said she wants to build “a social movement” to win reparations for the African American community. If she wins, Hirsch said she will fight alongside Eritha “Akile” Cainion, a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement who is running for the District 7 seat, to get reparations through the council.
The final question, which drew chuckles from the audience, asked candidates what they’d do if they were handed a million dollars for the city.
Hirsch dismissed that as a “silly question,” calling it a pittance compared to what would be needed to restore the black community.
Cox said she would expand social services and provide work assistance for young offenders.
“I’ll take that million dollars,” she said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of the story misidentified Anne Hirsch’s profession.
Contact Josh Solomon at [email protected] or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.