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Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman plans to raise St. Petersburg's profile

ST. PETERSBURG — Five days ago, Rick Kriseman won what was one of the most partisan mayoral races in city history.

But when he takes the reins in 53 days, he plans to check labels at the door.

The morning after his decisive victory, Kriseman sat in front of a gaggle of reporters and introduced the people who will co-chair his transition team: One is a Democrat, the other a Republican. He talked of consensus and unity and called Mayor Bill Foster his friend.

But he also said he has no plans to keep things the way they've been for the past four years.

St. Petersburg is the fourth-largest city in Florida, but it doesn't act that way, Kriseman said.

The city needs to be more aggressive about jobs, more creative when it comes to problem-solving and more efficient at tackling issues that have dogged it for years, he said.

"It's not going to be easy," Kriseman said. "Change isn't easy."

St. Petersburg's next mayor said he won't wait for companies to discover the city. He plans to go out and drag them back here himself like his counterpart across the bay, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Lately all the big news about jobs has come out of Hillsborough County, Kriseman said, including a future Amazon distribution center and financial services giant USAA.

St. Petersburg should be creating headlines, too. The reason it hasn't is because the city doesn't sell itself, he said, adding that the city's approach to economic development needs an overhaul.

"I'm not giving it all up to Tampa," Kriseman said. "When it comes to quality of life, we're the better city. I don't say that as a slam to Tampa. I think Bob would acknowledge that. … I just don't think we've been going out there."

Kriseman said he will go to Baltimore soon after taking office to meet with officials from Johns Hopkins, the prestigious health system that joined forces with All Children's Hospital a year ago, and talk about their needs and the potential here.

He also thinks there's an opportunity for growth with ShandsHealth, which is now affiliated with Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

City Council Chairman Karl Nurse said he's looking forward to Kriseman's approach.

"Nobody is better than the mayor as a representative of your city," he said. "That can be very powerful."

Nurse, one of Kriseman's early supporters, said he expects economic development and neighborhood revitalization to be "more robust" under Kriseman.

Kriseman said he sees himself as the city's chief executive officer and chief cheerleader. He plans to run the city the way he stumped: with a highly organized force behind him.

"Campaigns are kind of a microcosm of how you're going to do things. I want to bring that same level to the city government," Kriseman said. "You can't go anywhere in this city without running into someone you know. It doesn't mean city government has to be run like it's a small town."

On the trail, Kriseman surrounded himself with a team of professional campaigners. He thrived on the "inner circle" concept. He sought counsel from those around him — something he said has been missing under Foster.

"Communication has been a downfall for him," Kriseman said. "I just think it's really exciting and important when you have smart people around you."

It's no secret that is likely to mean changes in the ranks at City Hall, which is filled with people who have worked for the city for decades.

He said he respects and values the work of long-term staffers. But he thinks they've been stifled and need to be freed to step up their game. Too often, many longtime staffers begin to suffer from a "can't do" attitude.

"We're going to look at the whole org chart. And it may look different than what you see now," Kriseman said. "There is that potential, whether I want it or not, that there will be a high level of turnover. I don't want to come in to shake things up just to shake them up."

Kriseman has said he wants to have a better relationship with the City Council and plans to meet with members individually on a regular basis.

That's not a surprise to council member Charlie Gerdes, who said Kriseman is known as someone who is big on dialogue and sharing ideas.

"He likes to vet ideas. He likes to brainstorm and get other opinions," Gerdes said. "That's how he operates, which I think is one of his strengths."

Bill Dudley, the only council member who endorsed Foster, said he was "encouraged" by Kriseman's stated approach.

Dudley said he liked what Kriseman said about raising the standard in the city, but said that's what every mayor strives to do.

"I expect he will hit the ground running," he said. "I think this political party stuff in city government is ridiculous. We both want the same thing for the city. We'll be fine."

Kriseman said he has no illusions that everyone will go along with his ideas or like what he does. He's fine with that.

"I'm going to make mistakes," he said. "Mistakes are good if you learn from them. Mistakes mean you tried."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at or (727) 893-8643. Follow her on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.

Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman plans to raise St. Petersburg's profile 11/09/13 [Last modified: Saturday, November 9, 2013 8:59pm]
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