Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Politics

Rice, Foster and two incumbents elected to St. Petersburg City Council

ST. PETERSBURG

Two members will be new. Three will be under 50. And three will be openly gay, the most in the council's history.

This year's city elections may not have remade the City Council — it is still mostly male, mostly white, mostly Democratic — but there's no doubt it is a different body.

For an open seat in District 4, voters chose Darden Rice, 43, a communications consultant and well-known figure in city politics, who won with 55 percent of the vote. In District 8, political newcomer Amy Foster, 36, who works for a Seattle-based nonprofit, easily defeated opponent Steve Galvin with 67 percent of the vote.

Incumbents Karl Nurse (District 6) and Jim Kennedy (District 2) were re-elected by wide margins.

With the new additions, the council appears poised to aggressively question policies adopted by its predecessors and re-examine others that have been cast aside.

Red-light cameras, curbside recycling, and the fate of the city's Pier are likely to receive renewed consideration by the council.

The council's new members, Rice and Foster, campaigned on opposition to the city's contract for the cameras, which take snapshots of motorists as they run red lights and issue $158 fines. Both candidates have said the cameras are more of a revenue-generating program than safety program.

Until now, the cameras have enjoyed just enough support on the council — and from Mayor Bill Foster — to continue. And the cameras will still have proponents, including Kennedy and Nurse and mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman, who was elected Tuesday.

With the election, the red-light camera program may have lost the one vote it needed to survive. Amy Foster is replacing outgoing council member Jeff Danner, who backed red-light cameras. Without him, the council appears to be evenly split, putting its future in doubt.

On curbside recycling, which the city has debated since the early 2000s, the council may finally have the votes to move away from a subscription-based service to a citywide program.

Anticipating this, Nurse said he met with city staffers last week and asked them to begin drawing up plans. He's confident there will be at least six votes on the council in support.

Nurse also said the election gave him hope that the council and Mayor-elect Kriseman will pay more attention to Midtown, which includes the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"I think they will make it a higher priority," he said.

The council also will be forced to reconsider the city's Pier, a structure that is at the end of its physical life but is somewhere in the middle of its political one.

In August, 63 percent of voters said "no" when asked whether the city should keep its contract for a pier redesign with the firm Michael Maltzan Architecture. The project, known as the Lens, would have cost $50 million; the city had already spent $4 million on planning and design work.

Rejected by the public, the Lens is out of contention, but neither the current council nor its newest members have spelled out their plans for how to move forward. Most have only gone as far as saying the council needs to seek more public feedback.

A recent poll found that most city residents want the structure torn down and replaced, while about a third said the city should renovate the existing Pier.

Policy issues aside, the biggest difference between the current council and the future one is likely to be its relationship with the mayor.

Over the course of the election, six of the eight council members endorsed Kriseman, a move that was interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the mayor.

It was also a gamble — a calculation that even if Kriseman lost the election, the council's relationship with Foster couldn't get much worse. In Kriseman, many council members are hoping for a more conciliatory, less combative mayor.

"I'm very hopeful that the new council is going to be able to collaborate and build consensus," Amy Foster said. "I'm hoping that we're going to be able to get a lot done."

Rice and Foster won election in districts where term limits forced out veteran council members Leslie Curran and Danner. Both women are openly gay, as is council member Steve Kornell.

Long before she announced her candidacy, Rice was a familiar face in city politics. She'd run for the council once before in 2005 and made a failed bid for the County Commission. This time around, she campaigned like a veteran.

Rice hired a full-time campaign manager and racked up key endorsements with city police and firefighter unions as well as the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. The state Democratic Party jumped into the race, contributing a few thousand dollars.

That's not to say that it all went smoothly. She faced questions early in the race because a redistricting plan put her house outside the boundaries of District 4. She eventually purchased a house in the district and moved there.

On Tuesday night, she delivered a victory speech from beneath a display of lucha libre masks at Red Mesa Cantina in downtown St. Petersburg. Echoing Nurse, Rice said she expected the new council to place a greater emphasis on encouraging development in Midtown and she looked forward to discussing plans for the city's waterfront.

Fries said she was pleased with her campaign's performance on Tuesday.

"Considering where I came from, being unknown, and the amount of money I raised compared to Darden, I'm just thrilled with the results," Fries said.

Out of a four-way primary in August, Foster and Galvin emerged as the top candidates in District 8, but no one expected a close race. Throughout the election, Foster maintained a lead both in the polls and in fundraising, taking in $44,428 to Galvin's $18,895, most of which was his own money. On Tuesday, she celebrated her win at Ricky P's on Central Avenue, where Democratic congressional candidate Alex Sink stopped by to offer congratulations.

Neither Foster nor Galvin, 55, had much political experience, yet Foster's road to victory was relatively painless while Galvin's was full of stumbles.

In July, his campaign manager quit after the Tampa Bay Times revealed that Galvin had lied to a reporter, claiming he didn't have any children and had never been sued, neither of which was true. Not long after, emails were found showing that his wife, a former assistant city attorney, was using her professional email account to work on his campaign. She left her job.

In District 2, a seat that Jim Kennedy, 56, has held since his appointment in 2007, he easily won re-election against environmental activist Lorraine Margeson, 56, with 62 percent of the vote. Underfunded and a late entrant, Margeson ran a spirited campaign that included a Saturday morning motorcade and a bullhorn, an accessory the candidate hardly needed.

And in District 6, Karl Nurse said he was satisfied with the results. "I think people appreciate what I've done in the six years that I've been on council," he said.

Seventy-percent of voters chose to give him another term, a figure that no other candidate could top on Tuesday.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

     
     
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