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In first 100 days, lot of praise for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman

ST. PETERSBURG — Propelled into office by a decisive win last fall, Mayor Rick Kriseman has managed to carry over much of that goodwill into the first few months of his tenure at City Hall.

City Council members and community leaders alike give him high marks. Groups clamor to get him to speak at events.

Even some early hiccups — his pivot on red-light cameras, the high salaries of his new staff and the ongoing issues at the Police Department — have yet to show themselves as lasting marks on the new administration.

Today marks the 100th day in office for Kriseman. Expectations for the next few months couldn't be higher.

"I can't think of anyone right now who's blasting the mayor," said Rick Smith, chief of staff for the union that represents about 1,200 blue- and white-collar city workers.

"The first 100 days have been symbolism. The next have to be reality."

• • •

The teen girls giggled as Kriseman approached their table.

What school did they go to? What did they like to do? What did they want for their future?

"Study hard," he told them. "That's the key."

The conversation dissolved a few minutes later as he moved on to chat with others gathered at the Coliseum for a recent ice cream social to honor volunteers.

Before it was over, the teens beckoned. Could they take a selfie?

That has been happening a lot lately. For the most part, St. Petersburg's new mayor has settled into a groove, selfies and all.

Kriseman said he's sleeping, but not as much as he would like. He wakes at 5 a.m. and is at the office by 7:30 — well before the doors open to the public. His appointments are scheduled in 30- to 60-minute blocks and often last beyond 6 p.m. He's still trying to find a way to fit in gym time.

"It's been that way every day since I started," he said this week during a short break between meeting with citizens and a council meeting.

Before Kriseman could continue, his assistant walked into his corner office on City Hall's second floor and placed a stack of blue folders in his hand — the proclamations he was to read at the meeting in 12 minutes.

One was for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, whose soccer season starts today.

"Do I have to sing the song?" Kriseman joked, as his chief of staff raised an eyebrow. "The Rowdies run here, the Rowdies run there … "

• • •

No two mayors have the same "To Do" list when they come into office.

Kriseman's predecessor, Bill Foster, was dealing with a crushing recession. He tackled the homeless problem that had been plaguing downtown in his first few months. The mayor before that, Rick Baker, was focused on healing divisions and improving the quality of life for the city's poorest residents, embarking on a plan to revitalize Midtown.

In his first 100 days, Kriseman had the police chase policy tightened, ordered officials to move forward with curbside recycling, and promised a renewed focus on neighborhoods.

He also appears to have turned an oft-heard complaint about the city's lackluster marketing efforts on its head.

Kriseman's bulked-up Mayor's Office now includes a chief of staff, communications director and deputy mayor savvy on public relations.

This week, his office debuted a new page on the city's website titled "100 days, 100 ways." It includes a list of things — such as buying new police cars, switching to LED light bulbs at eight city facilities and CPR training for 465 residents — that have occurred in the city since early January under Kriseman's watch — even if he didn't have a direct hand in them.

Days before that, Kriseman unveiled his vision for managing the city to more than 800 city workers in a high-energy rally at the Mahaffey Theater that featured beads, confetti and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon.

"He needed to have the optics," Smith said. "People like it and appreciate it. … (But) there really haven't been a lot of tangibles."

That doesn't seem to be concerning anyone — yet.

"I don't think he's in this to try to make everybody happy, but no doubt about it he's going to have to make some tough decisions," said council member Darden Rice. "Slowly these other big issues are really going to come to us."

People are still waiting to hear Kriseman's plan for the Pier and the Rays. The divided Police Department is perhaps his most pressing issue, and not just because Kriseman is expected to pick a new chief soon.

Council member Wengay Newton said he'd still like to know what Kriseman plans to do with reports generated by his 50-person transition team.

Council member Charlie Gerdes said he wants to see faster progress with the Rays.

Yet even with those lingering and looming issues, Kriseman has won over some skeptics with efforts to form collaborations with staff, the administration and the council.

"At this juncture, I think the honeymoon is kind of at the end, and we're working on the marriage," said council chairman Bill Dudley.

A few weeks ago, Kenwood neighborhood leader Paul Dickens fired off a critical email about race relations at the Police Department.

But for now, Dickens said he's withholding judgment.

"I don't want to form an opinion yet," he said. "I think it's too early to tell yet, to give him a thumbs up or down."

• • •

At the Coliseum this week, Millie and Oscar Steckman were content to just have a few minutes with the new mayor.

Kriseman refused to believe Mr. Steckman was 90 and his bride 88. The trio talked about the city — and whether the mayor could dance. Later, after Kriseman left to chat up another table, Mrs. Steckman glanced around the dispersing crowd.

"That mayor sure played his part tonight, huh?"

Times researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.

In first 100 days, lot of praise for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman 04/12/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2014 11:56pm]
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