ST. PETERSBURG — In her first public statement since she was seriously injured in a cycling accident four months ago, council member Leslie Curran said Wednesday she will be returning soon to City Hall.
"I'm doing much better building up my strength," Curran told the St. Petersburg Times during a brief phone interview. "I can't wait to get back."
Curran, 54, said she's not certain exactly when that will be, but left open the possibility it could be on Jan. 6, in time for the council's first meeting of the year.
"I want to make sure I'm ready," said Curran, who aside from a scratchy voice sounded like herself.
Curran suffered severe head injuries on Aug. 30 after she fell off her bike, which had reached a speed of about 19 mph, as she cycled through the Lakewood Estates neighborhood with a friend.
"It was an accident, I don't want to go into any detail," Curran said. "I just feel lucky to be alive."
Curran, who was wearing a helmet, suffered a severe concussion and was placed in an induced coma for several days. She breathed with the help of a ventilator for about a week. In mid September, her daughter, Stacey, was granted guardianship of Curran so she could take care of her mother's finances and personal issues.
Friends and colleagues say Curran has been putting in long hours in physical therapy.
"She wants to be back the first of the year," said council member Jeff Danner. "That's been her goal all along. She's as sharp as usual. There doesn't seem to be memory loss. No damage. That's not the issue. Energy is the big factor now. It's getting into the rhythm of a daily routine. It's wanting to come back at 100 percent and be ready to go."
Council members earn nearly $40,000 and meet each week to vote on issues ranging from the budget to major public works projects like the Pier to ordinances like the ban on street solicitation. Curran won't have as many duties when she returns because her one-year-term as council chairwoman expired this month when board members elected Jim Kennedy as the new leader.
"I'm hoping to get her back in the first week of January," said Mayor Bill Foster. "We did okay without her, but we'll be a better city when she comes back."
Curran's prolonged absence exposed fissures in the city charter's order of succession, which had previously named only the vice chairman as the next in line. In October, the council added the former chairman and the next senior members.
Her injury also proved to be an awkward one for City Hall officials to handle, testing the balance between privacy concerns of elected officials and the public's need to know about their representatives. Information about her condition has been closely guarded by family members. Public officials, meanwhile, were vague about the progress of Curran's recovery, with everyone from Foster to council members declining to provide details in deference to Curran's family's wishes for privacy.
Even with her imminent return widely acknowledged, the informal gag order continued this week.
On Wednesday, council member Steve Kornell told the Times that Curran's district didn't suffer from a lack of representation during her absence because he and her other colleagues picked up the slack.
But when asked how he and others pitched in to help, Kornell declined to answer. "The Curran family has asked for privacy, and I respect that," he said.
Danner said Curran, a council veteran, is returning knowing the demands of the public spotlight.
"She knows what the job is," Danner said. "She may be thinking that she's not ready yet for an interview where someone is firing questions at her to test her."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]