ST. PETERSBURG — Hours after the St. Pete Pride Parade announced a new downtown waterfront route, Mayor Rick Kriseman said he would pull city financial support for the annual event. That has angered some gay activists.
The mayor announced the move Wednesday on his Facebook page. His spokesman said the mayor wanted to keep the parade in its original location, along Central Avenue in the Grand Central and Kenwood neighborhoods.
"The mayor told us he just really wanted sun to shine everywhere," mayor's spokesman Ben Kirby said. "He wants exciting events all over the city and not just downtown."
However, the money the city would withhold is the $45,000 that would help pay for security for Florida's largest LGBT pride parade — and it would be withheld a year after the terrorist attack on the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando that killed 49 people and wounded 53 more.
The parade started in 2003 and now draws more than 200,000 people. In the past, St. Petersburg has helped pay for police overtime, barricades and other security costs.
The mayor's reasoning baffled Pride executive director Eric Skains. He said it was the mass shooting in Orlando and recent terrorist attacks in France and Germany that drove organizers' to relocate the parade downtown.
The group's board voted unanimously with one abstention Tuesday night to move the parade to a mile-long waterfront route along Bayshore Drive between Albert Whitted Park and Vinoy Park. The parade will take place on June 24 and is sandwiched by a weekend of events.
Pride organizers met with Kriseman in October, Skains said, and the mayor agreed to the new route. Kirby said the mayor had been told construction made the old route difficult, but later learned it could still work. But Skains said organizers will not bend to mayoral pressure.
Kriseman's decision also threatens to divide the city's large LGBT community, which has strongly supported a mayor who has returned that embrace, making the parade a high point of his mayoral calendar. Last year, the mayor greeted parade spectators while wearing a rainbow-colored cape.
Has the relationship soured?
"The event existed for a number of years under Rick Baker and Bill Foster, supporters in name-only," Skains said. "It looks like we're reverting back to that. To me, that's a shame."
Baker and Foster, both Republicans, are also potential opponents to run against Kriseman, a Democrat, who is running for re-election this year.
It's not just the mayor who opposes moving the parade. Jeff Danner, a former City Council member and neighborhood activist, said Kenwood and Grand Central residents feel betrayed that the parade would move away from the residents who helped nurture it during less-accepting times.
"We did it at a time when maybe it wouldn't have been so welcome in other parts of the city," he said.
Kirby said parade organizers should not be concerned about security. He noted there were no arrests last year and vowed police will continue to "make this event safe for everyone." But Skains pointed out that the bomb-sniffing drones and surveillance cameras that were deployed last year weren't put out there to catch drunken people..