ST. PETERSBURG — Now that Mayor Rick Kriseman has prevailed after a bruising election, City Council members say they hope for the same thing in his second term: a clean slate.
Council chair Darden Rice said it. So did Charlie Gerdes. Both are stalwart Kriseman allies, but each acknowledged that Kriseman’s relationship with other council members hasn’t always been a smooth one.
During the recent mayoral election, tensions often spiked between the mayor’s office and members, especially those who supported Kriseman’s opponent, former Mayor Rick Baker.
Those bumps, however, came before the mayor’s victory Tuesday night, winning 51.6 percent of the vote to earn another four-year term.
"There’s an opportunity to (reset) the relationship," Rice said.
The mayor wasn’t available for comment Wednesday. His spokesman, Ben Kirby, said Kriseman looks forward to working with City Council, which saw two new members elected Tuesday. Gina Driscoll and Brandi Gabbard will take the oath of office in January.
"We have two new council members," Rice said, "and that’s a blank slate opportunity to build effective allies."
The personal styles of Driscoll and Gabbard should mesh well with their colleagues and the mayor’s office, said council member Karl Nurse, who is leaving office in January due to term limits. Driscoll will replace him.
Driscoll supported Kriseman’s re-election bid so they should get off on the right foot, Nurse said. Gabbard didn’t endorse anyone for mayor, but Nurse thinks that won’t hamper her dealings with the mayor.
"She’s got very strong people skills," Nurse said. "I would expect she would be good at finding common ground with the mayor."
Neither Driscoll nor Gabbard returned requests for comment. Kriseman knows both new council members, Kirby said, and has a positive impression of them.
Gabbard will replace Jim Kennedy, who is also leaving because of term limits. Kennedy has frequently clashed with Kriseman and endorsed Baker. Kennedy’s experience is also a cautionary tale for council members: He bucked Kriseman’s plan to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to look outside the city for a new ballpark. Kennedy ended up losing a committee seat and had his access to city staff curtailed.
Council members Steve Kornell and Ed Montanari have also been frequent thorns in Kriseman’s side. But Nurse believes bad blood only exists between Kornell and the mayor.
Kriseman didn’t endorse Kornell, a fellow Democrat, for reelection in 2015. Kornell stayed neutral in the mayor’s race but publicly questioned the administration’s failure to fully inform the public about 15.5 million gallons of sewage that was injected into the aquifer after Hurricane Irma. Kornell took to Facebook to complain about it on Oct. 19, roiling the mayor’s race just weeks before the election.
Montanari, the council’s only Republican, has philosophical differences with Kriseman. But Nurse said their relationship appears to be cordial. Neither Kornell or Montanari returned requests for comment.
Does Kennedy see the mayor’s strained relationships improving in a second term?
"I guess there’s always opportunity," he said. "I don’t see any indication of a change."
Nurse has also been critical of the way the mayor has treated council members in the past, but credits Kriseman with stepping up his diplomacy in recent years.
"Kriseman will continue to get better at the process," Nurse said. "It’s really about making sure it’s more of a team sport and that people get to be involved in things early on and feel that their voice is heard."
The strain between Kriseman and council members started showing after the mayor’s first attempt to broker a Rays deal failed in 2014. Then came more speed bumps: curbside recycling and fallout over the first sewage spills in 2015.
Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said things improved by the time she joined the council in 2016. That year, the council blessed the mayor’s deal with the Rays.
"It’s with some council members that the relationship is strained, but I’ve never had an issue," said Wheeler-Bowman, another strong Kriseman ally. "If I call with an issue they jump right on it."
Said Gerdes: "A fresh start is a good opportunity for everyone."