ST. PETERSBURG — One week after winning the election, Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman announced his first hire: a high-ranking hospital official who will be his only deputy mayor.
At a 10 a.m. news conference, Kriseman said Kanika Tomalin will focus on citywide issues, but one emphasis of her job will be to help reduce poverty and boost economic development in the struggling Midtown area.
For months on the campaign trail, Kriseman said his first hire would be an administrator devoted solely to Midtown. On Thursday evening, Kriseman said that Tomalin is not that person, but that he is still committed to having such a role.
"I have not backed away from the intent," Kriseman said, noting that Tomalin's deep ties in the city could help fill the position. "This hire was a very important step for that."
Currently, Tomalin is a regional vice president for Health Management Associates, the owner of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. She has held four administrative positions at the hospital since January 2005. The ongoing hospital merger did not factor into her decision to join Kriseman's team, she said, noting that one of her goals is to help elevate the city to its highest potential.
"It's an opportunity to make a difference," said Tomalin, 38, who spent six years as a journalist in St. Petersburg, Tallahassee and Palm Beach. "It's an opportunity to give back."
Tomalin is no stranger around City Hall.
With Bayfront sitting on city-owned land, Tomalin was one of the main players when HMA and Bayfront sought the city's approval for the merger.
Tomalin, who donated $250 to Kriseman's campaign, acknowledged she needs to learn the pressing issues facing the city, but said she will bring years of experience on policy, planning and governmental relations to City Hall.
"I consider myself a strategist who specializes in translating intent into action," said Tomalin, whose husband, Terry, is the outdoor/fitness editor at the Tampa Bay Times.
She earned a journalism degree from Florida A&M University in 1997; an MBA from the University of Miami in 2001; and a doctorate in law and policy from Northeastern University in 2011.
St. Petersburg hasn't had a deputy mayor since Mayor Bill Foster eliminated the position in favor of senior administrators in 2010.
It's unclear how much Tomalin will earn, as Kriseman doesn't take office until Jan. 2.
Kriseman said he envisions Tomalin as "a new kind of deputy mayor" who is accessible, visible and has broad responsibilities. The roles under former Mayor Rick Baker had each official focused on certain functions or geographies.
No high-ranking administrator has overseen Midtown since March 2011 when Foster fired Goliath Davis, former police chief and city administrator, who is Tomalin's cousin.
The plight of Midtown was a focal point during the fierce mayoral election. The black neighborhoods south of Central Avenue became the city's biggest battleground for votes in the campaign's final weeks.
Many residents accused Foster of not doing enough to help revitalize the struggling neighborhoods. Two weeks before Election Day, Foster opened a campaign office in Midtown and vowed to hire a high-ranking administrator to focus on developing Midtown.
Community activist Jeff Copeland, who escorted Kriseman and Tomalin into City Hall, lauded Kriseman's hire, saying: "He made the right pick for the team."
Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @markpuente.