ST. PETERSBURG — For years, west side residents have watched City Hall pump millions of dollars into new endeavors in other parts of St. Petersburg and thought, "What about us?"
A parade of mayoral and City Council candidates pledged during a forum hosted by the Jungle Terrace Civic Association to pay more attention to the sometimes neglected neighborhoods of west St. Petersburg if elected.
Candidates were not asked the same questions, eliminating much comparison between their responses. The event largely focused on the mayor's race.
A snapshot of the event
Crime crackdown: Business owner Larry Williams, 64, promised to assign more police officers to Tyrone Square Mall. Public safety also will be part of his economic development strategy. "People will ask, 'If I bring my business here, will it be safe?' " Williams said. Business owner Scott Wagman, 56, said he would gradually add 100 more police officers to the department, a proposal that would eventually cost the city $10 million a year. Lawyer Bill Foster, 46, and corporate executive Deveron Gibbons, 36, pledged to bring back community policing, a popular program eliminated by police Chief Chuck Harmon. Gibbons said his police officers would be more visible in the community, roaming the city on electric vehicles such as Segways or by participating in youth activities.
Baseball chatter: Foster said he would allow for a binding voter referendum on the Tampa Bay Rays' proposed new stadium. Williams said his administration would help pay for a new stadium because baseball is an important part of St. Petersburg's economy, creating jobs and generating business for area hotels. "Do I want to spend the money for taxpayers to build a new stadium? No. The question you have to ask yourself is 'are we going to have to build a stadium to keep the team?' " Williams said.
District 2 City Council candidate Stephen Corsetti, 65, said he doesn't support using tax dollars to pay for a new stadium.
Annexation angst: Restaurateur John Warren, 60, denounced the city's recent annexation of a sliver of Tierra Verde's business district despite widespread opposition. "There is more intimidation and bullying going on than really serving or meeting some of the financial needs of St. Petersburg. I think annexation, there is a place for it, but you've got to consider the wishes of the community."
Policy promise: Gibbons vowed that his administration would crack down on panhandling. He said he would ask the City Council to pass an ordinance that would ban panhandling near interstate exits. "We can't have at every entryway into our community somebody standing there holding a sign," he said. Gibbons also promised to keep city recreation centers open late for children looking for something to do.
New catchphrase: Moderator Tom Killian asked Wagman whether he would have a slogan akin to Mayor Rick Baker's, "It's another great day in St. Petersburg." Maybe, Wagman said. "Something to the effect of St. Petersburg, your worldwide destination, or St. Petersburg, come on down," he said.
Sobering moment: "You are choosing a CEO, not a popularity contest," Williams reminded voters.
Green growth: Lawyer Kathleen Ford, 52, said she would look at adding solar panels to the Pier. City Council member Jamie Bennett, 56, pledged to introduce curbside recycling.
District 2 City Council member Jim Kennedy and his challenger Corsetti said they support expanded reclaimed water access.
District 5 council candidate Steve Kornell, a Pinellas social worker, said he would advocate using Penny for Pinellas dollars to add solar panels to city buildings.
District 8 City Council candidate Leonard Schmiege, a 40-year-old engineering consultant, said he also would look at adding solar panels to the Pier.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.