Darden Rice won St. Petersburg's District 4 City Council race Tuesday with key endorsements and record-setting campaign coffers. • Proving the third time to be a charm, Rice captured 55 percent of the vote over opponent Carolyn Fries. Rice, 43, had lost previous bids for City Council and County Commission. • After her victory, she talked with the Times about the race and her coming four-year term. She takes office Jan. 2.
What's the first thing you want to get done on the council?
It's a collaborative process, but I do think there's a number of short-term projects that we could work on right away. Right off the bat we could address finally implementing universal curbside recycling. That's something that could be done with the stroke of the mayor's pen or a majority vote of the City Council.
It seems like red-light cameras are going to go, but even if we can't get rid of them completely, I would support having the fines collected go directly into a public safety account and not go into general revenue. The whole point is, ostensibly, to keep people from running red lights. Let's put the money into fixing the problems that exist.
What do you think of Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman's statement that he might not attend the council meetings?
I like his analogy of the mayor being the CEO and the City Council being the board of directors. I would like to see Mayor Kriseman have a good enough relationship with the City Council that we can get a lot done and don't necessarily need the mayor in the room at all times. That would be a characteristic of a productive and well-functioning City Council.
The Times poll found that most residents want the Pier torn down, but those who want to keep it say it'd be cheaper to refurbish. Where do you fall?
Based on what I have read from reliable sources, it's pretty clear to me that the Pier needs to come down. I'm a process person. I think City Hall needs a completely new framework for public engagement. It would be a culture change, but it would be overdue. The saying goes, you build your credibility in spoonfuls and you lose it in bucketfuls and we did lose it in bucketfuls. If I had my druthers, I'd have a director of public engagement who works with the public and with City Hall and staff and elected officials to guide us through a culture change.
You raised nearly $119,000, more than any other council candidate in St. Petersburg ever. Was that really necessary?
It enabled us to control the message and to define the race on the issues I was working on. And it enabled us to not have to go negative. I think that gay candidates in particular have to raise more money, especially in the beginning, because what every opponent tries to do is define you before you define yourself, and it enabled us to always keep the upper hand. I was running against an opponent who spent much of her time describing her marriage and her kids, and that's great, of course, but that's also kind of the No. 1 rule out of the playbook.
You just bought a house in your district, which you had to do because the city redrew the lines and excluded the house you were living in. How rushed was that process and have you moved in?
All three of the houses I own got drawn out. Just my bad luck, but it was a curiously subjective process, and I was a little bit suspicious of it. I did find a place and we were set to close on the house in April and then unfortunately the seller passed away and it pushed the closing to August. So I had to figure out another plan, and so I am living in the district now in a rental just half a mile away from the house I bought. I've been using this time with (the house) being vacant to work on it, and I imagine I'll be in there in another few weeks.
Keeping your day job?
I work as a communications consultant on issues like health care and conservation issues, so yes, I will be continuing to work on those.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.