Friday, February 23, 2018
Politics

St. Pete District 6 council race: Justin Bean vs. Gina Driscoll

ST. PETERSBURG — Now that they've come out on top in an eight-candidate primary, Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll are taking their battle for the City Council District 6 seat citywide.

Each touts their service to the city:

Bean, 30, a business development sales manager for his family's downtown firm, Resuable Transport Packaging, touts his role in helping to make Williams Park safer and more welcoming, his past leadership of St. Pete Young Professionals and his service on a pier committee that helped set the plans for its $20 million approach. He also was appointed to the Mayor's Complete Streets Committee and worked as a consultant on a proposal to redevelop the Tropicana Field site.

Driscoll, 46, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, points to her experience on the board of the Downtown Business Association, the organizing committee for the Central Avenue Council and her work with the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

But winning the race could depend on more than experience and leadership. It could also come down to partisanship.

This November's mayoral election has become fiercely partisan as incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, has sought to tie former Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican, to national GOP politics and especially to the Republican in the White House, President Donald Trump.

Bean is a Republican who has been endorsed by local GOP figures such as former City Council member Bill Dudley and Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni. But Bean has tried to distance himself from Trump, telling the Tampa Bay Times that he did not vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Bean, however, did attend Trump's inauguration.

"I went because I was invited," he said. "At the time I was considering running for City Council and I wanted to meet people and network there. I wasn't there to support Trump. I was there to see the transition of power and see other people that would help me down the road."

Bean said both mayoral candidates have their positives and negatives. However, he said he is not aligning himself with either Kriseman or Baker.

Driscoll, a Democrat, supports Kriseman, but says she can work with either mayor.

She said residents are concerned about affordable housing and "good paying jobs," concerns felt even in affluent areas such as Snell Isle and Old Northeast.

"They understand the bigger picture, because in order for our city to be successful, we need to have an environment that nurtures jobs, that pays good wages and homes that people with average incomes can afford," said Driscoll, a sales manager for the Hampton Inn and Suites in downtown.

She said residents also are concerned about infrastructure issues such as upgrading the sewer system and repairing roads and sidewalks.

District 6 includes downtown and parts of the Old Northeast, Midtown, Historic Uptown and the Old Southeast. The primary was close and the Nov. 7 general election could be as well. That's when the entire city will vote for the seat. Bean led the pack of eight candidates in the Aug. 29 primary by about three percentage points, or 226 votes. Driscoll edged out Robert Blackmon by just two votes to advance to the runoff.

Bean said he's been knocking on doors throughout St. Petersburg, listening to people speak about their top concerns, including crime and public safety, along with education, affordable housing and jobs. He said residents are also concerned about the city's leaky and outdated sewer system.

If he wins, Bean could be the youngest member on the City Council.

"I think what the city needs is people who will work hard and focus on what matters," he said. "I think that what I bring to the table is a different perspective on how we can get things done and a willingness to work with everyone.

"Generationally, we do need someone who is going to represent my generation, because we are going to be the ones who are going to live with the decisions we make now for the next 30 to 40 years."

But Driscoll said it's important to have a City Council member "who can understand and work hard for all generations."

She has been endorsed by local Democrats such as City Council members Charlie Gerdes and Darden Rice, the council chair. Driscoll has also won the endorsement of outgoing Council member Karl Nurse, who represents District 6 and is term-limited. Critics say she could be a clone of Nurse on the council.

"We share many of the same values," she said, "but there is no mistake that I am my own person and the work I do and the decisions I make and the votes that I cast will reflect what my values are and what my constituents want."

Likewise, Bean also asserted his political independence.

"In this climate, it's hard to do, because people want to divide us and label us this or that," he said. "It doesn't have to be that way. I want people to know that you can stand up for what you believe in and you shouldn't be bullied for not toeing the party line."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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