ST. PETERSBURG — Each of the eight candidates for the District 6 City Council seat laid claim to having the strongest ties to St. Petersburg at a candidate forum held Monday in City Hall.
In a break from two previous forums and debates which were punctuated by jeering, shoving and screaming, Thursday's forum went off without interruption.
Reined in by short speaking slots, a loud buzzer and an eager active moderator, candidates mostly stuck to scripted responses to questions as they shared personal achievements, gripes about the cost of the new Pier District and solutions for affordable housing.
One of the more testy moments of the night came during the closing statements when a few candidates lashed out at competitors sitting next to them.
After candidate James "Jim" Jackson claimed he could "bridge the gap between downtown and Midtown" in the district and said he didn't want the seat to go to a downtown person, neighboring candidate Robert Blackmon hit back at him.
"I agree completely with Jim Jackson," said Blackmon, who lives on Coquina Key. "I do not want to see the seat being given to a downtown person. And he lives in a highrise downtown."
Blackmon later mocked Jackson for mispronouncing the often-mispronounced "Lake Maggiore" and cited Jackson's mistake as evidence of an out-of-touch "downtown" candidate.
Candidate Maria Scruggs, 59, jabbed at Blackmon in turn, remarking that she had a history in Midtown before Blackmon, 28, had been born.
Jackson, Blackmon, Scruggs and five other candidates are running to replace term-limited council member Karl Nurse in St. Petersburg's only City Council primary election this year. The other candidates are Justin Bean, Corey Givens Jr., Gina Driscoll, Eritha "Akile" Cainion and James Scott. District 6 covers parts of Midtown, downtown and the Old Northeast.
Most candidates struggled to stay within 30-second and one-minute time limits as they answered moderator questions and tried to connect themselves to the local community.
Jackson, 72, touted "raising two sons" and educating 25,000 students at Miami-Dade College and St. Petersburg College as his proudest achievements. He called the Pier a "boondoggle" and said that the city ought to stop risking its bond rating with further spending.
Scott, 29, also focused on fiscal issues and said that the city should balance environmental concerns with economic development and job creation. He said he would focus on health care efforts if elected to the council.
Scruggs, President of the St. Petersurg Branch of the NAACP said she was concentrated on improving Midtown. She charged city leaders with failing to improve living conditions in the area and said 30 years of work in public service had readied her to do so.
Cainion, 20, also faulted city leaders for problems in the area. She called for reparations for St. Petersburg's African-American community and accused Mayor Rick Kriseman of being hypocritical for supporting campaign finance reform despite accepting so-called super-PAC donations.
Blackmon, a real estate developer, said his business history showed dedication to his commitment to providing affordable housing in St. Petersburg. He said some of St. Petersburg's problems could be addressed by improving basic services: job training, education and food availability.
Bean, 30, said his work growing a family business was his proudest achievement. He said he strongly supported community-led economic development.
Givens, 29, said he would focus on mentorship and communication with the community. He identified consensus building as a future goal for the city.
Driscoll, 46, who has been endorsed by Karl Nurse, said she would focus on affordable housing. She stressed the importance of unity and said that the city could not progress divided.
Contact Asa Royal at [email protected]