ST. PETERSBURG — All four candidates in the District 4 City Council race said they would vote yes in a referendum to kill the Lens project that is designed to replace the city's iconic Pier.
The candidates also professed a love of food trucks. But aside from a few brief moments of unity, they offered many differing views at a forum this week sponsored by the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association.
Neurosurgeon David McKalip said he's the only candidate who will take on the "political class" that is ruling the city and dreaming up grandiose projects such as the Lens. But community organizer Darden Rice said she's the one with the longest and best track record of local service on many projects designed to keep "St. Pete Strong."
Carolyn Fries said she not only has been active as a community volunteer, but also as a technology entrepreneur with an engineering background. And Richard Eldridge, a taxi driver with a biology degree, staked out some specific positions such as his opposition to red-light cameras.
With the League of Women Voters moderating, candidates addressed many issues including:
Taxes and spending
Fries said she'd like to find a way to phase out subsidies for programs such as Sunken Gardens and the Coliseum and possibly make them profit centers. Eldridge said he'd like the Pier "to be given to a private company, let them manage it."
Rice said she opposes red-light cameras, and would advocate against "hidden fees passed onto us by utilities" and rapidly increasing bills from Citizens Insurance. McKalip pledged, "I'm going to work to cut your taxes, I'm going to work to cut your utility bills."
Eldridge offered possibly the most succinct answer of the evening, saying: "I'm for it, it doesn't cost that much, we should do it."
Which led Rice to ask, "Can I have some of his time?" Rice, who previously worked for the Sierra Club, said she supports "universal curbside recycling" — not "mandated recycling," as McKalip has previously called it. She said it doesn't make sense that such a large city doesn't offer this service, yet also has high garbage fees. (Currently, people can pay for curbside recycling if they choose, but it isn't required.)
McKalip opposes the idea, saying "I'm not going to force you to have a higher garbage bill to meet some sort of grand vision of people who just want to force you to do what they want."
Fries said she basically supports the current system but that it should be better promoted, she said.
Rice said the best thing the city can do is continue its partnership with the Pinellas Hope program, especially focusing on the number of children in need. She said she also supports "cleaning up Williams Park by moving the buses and stepping up law enforcement."
McKalip said an "endless amount of government programs" hasn't helped much. He'd like to see neighbors helping neighbors, and get rewards such as tax breaks or free Tampa Bay Rays tickets.
Fries said a number of nonprofits assist those who "are just one paycheck away from being homeless," and they deserve the help. Eldridge said education is a key to "help them get back on their feet."
Fries has had four children in public schools and has been active in such programs as PTSA and helping them sell cookie dough. "When you give children a goal . . . it's amazing what they can accomplish," she said.
Rice favors more enrichment, mentoring, college prep and trade programs. McKalip said any empty city buildings should be opened up for charter schools. Eldridge said leaders should work to inspire children.