ST. PETERSBURG — Public safety is the driving issue this city election, candidates said at a recent Suncoast Tiger Bay forum.
The solution? That's not as easy to pinpoint.
In the District 5 primary race, former police Officer Joe Smith said officers need to foster stronger relationships with residents. Increased technology could also help the department, he said.
Social worker Steve Kornell said the city should add more police officers to the force, if necessary. Angela Rouson, a Pinellas County housing authority commissioner, also said the department needs to improve its relationship with the community. A department reorganization could help curb crime, she said.
In the District 6 race, City Council member Karl Nurse said he has been working to broaden the city's nuisance abatement policy to allow police to more easily crack down on troubled properties.
Rival Vel Thompson, a former city manager, said the city has not followed through on its promise to clean up the 16th Street S business district.
"We want our city to be seamless, then we should do what we say we are going to do and make our city seamless," she said.
Here's a snapshot of Wednesday's Suncoast Tiger Bay forum, which focused on the Districts 5 and 6 City Council races and was held at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.
One-liner: Kornell, on his promise to rally for continued education, "We will never have the kind of economic development that we want in St. Petersburg until we educate our children and our citizens."
Neighborhood improvements: Kornell said he would help neighborhood groups find new money, such as through grants. Rouson said residents need access to information and resources. Smith said he will be inclusive. Nurse said he would help residents form organized groups to gain influence. Thompson said neighborhood leaders throughout Pinellas County should help one another.
Campaign promises: Kornell said the city would have curbside recycling within 60 days of his election to City Council. After the forum, he said he meant he would introduce a recycling plan within two months. Rouson said she would push for universal WiFi access. Nurse pledged to work toward a less volatile relationship between St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Smith said he would support an expanded transit system. Thompson said she would help revive the 16th Street S business district.
Parking meters: Thompson said the city should consider making parking more affordable for cash-strapped families. Nurse said the city needs to balance encouraging turnover and fair enforcement times. Kornell said parking enforcement is inconsistent and the community should be tapped to help brainstorm a solution. Rouson said the city cannot afford to eliminate parking meters but the system should be retooled so people can enjoy a movie and meal without worrying about being ticketed. Smith also said the parking policy needs to be changed and called on the city to include the business community in its plans.
Sobering moment: Asked who had it toughest, a white man running in a majority black district (Nurse), a black woman running in a majority white district (Rouson) or a gay man (Kornell), the candidates all replied voters should evaluate them based on their resumes and ideas. "We live in the toughest economic times since the great depression. I think the color that is most important is green," Nurse said.