Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman announces transition team, priorities

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ST. PETERSBURG — Fifteen hours after stopping Mayor Bill Foster's re-election bid, Rick Kriseman walked into City Hall for the first time with his new title: mayor-elect.

The former City Council member and state lawmaker unveiled his transition plan amid a room full of nervous, high-ranking staffers at City Hall.

He announced the beginnings of a transition team that will frame the groundwork for his first 100 days in office. Big issues await, such as the search for a new police chief, the future of the Pier and the stalled negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Kriseman appointed Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, 80, and Andrew M. Hayes, 53, to chair the team, and said other members will soon be announced.

"I want to hit the ground running on Day One," said Kriseman, who takes control on Jan. 2.

He vowed not to get in Foster's way during his final months in office, but said the two planned to meet so the mayor could bring him up to speed on major issues.

Scruggs-Leftwich is a policy analyst and professor at National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md. She also is a former leader of the national Black Leadership Forum and worked in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter.

Hayes is the managing principal for St. Petersburg-based Hayes Cumming Architects. He has taught at several colleges and universities, including the University of South Florida.

Residents will notice immediate changes in a Kriseman administration.

Kriseman, 51, said he might not attend the lengthy City Council meetings since he cannot vote. A deputy mayor or a top staffer would attend to answer questions, he said.

Foster, who has a contentious relationship with the council, usually spends hours at the meetings. Kriseman said he'd rather use that time to recruit employers or work on other initiatives to move the city forward.

Unlike Foster, Kriseman said he will hire a chief of staff and spokesperson who would be empowered to give honest opinions on ideas. He said his first hire would be someone to coordinate economic development in Midtown.

While Kriseman took questions for 15 minutes after his announcement, top staffers gathered in the back to hear whether Kriseman would make immediate personnel changes.

He said he would meet with them during the transition to see how many planned to retire. Later, he said it wouldn't be bad to get some fresh ideas in City Hall, but stopped short of saying he planned a shakeup at 175 Fifth St. N.

Kriseman dispelled critics' fears about hiring new staffers based on political connections, adding: "I want the best people who are committed to this community."

On the Pier, Kriseman said he will consider opening up the area around the inverted pyramid for bicyclists and fishermen. But he has no plans to open the building that Foster closed in May.

"I hate seeing that fence," he said. "I don't like what it represents."

Kriseman, a lawyer with Lucas, Green & Magazine, said he would seek guidance from City Attorney John Wolfe about keeping a non-practicing relationship with the Clearwater firm after he takes office. The mayor-elect acknowledged that leading the city is a full-time job, but said he wants to keep his options open for the day he leaves office.

Wolfe said he will examine Florida's ethics laws once Kriseman makes the request. Foster, also a lawyer, did not practice law while in office.

On Wednesday, talk around City Hall also centered on Kriseman's decisive victory over the incumbent mayor. Kriseman won 29,687 votes, or 56 percent, compared with Foster's 23,412 votes, or 44 percent, according to unofficial election results.

Most people attributed the big win to how the two operated their campaigns.

Kriseman went professional, hiring a 24-year-old South Florida political operative named Cesar Fernandez whose salary was covered by the state Democratic Party.

Foster turned to longtime friend and Realtor Niel Allen, who ran his campaign for free.

Fernandez and staffers analyzed voter data provided daily by the Pinellas supervisor of elections to target people who had mail ballots but had yet to return them.

Foster likely alienated key black voters by opening a Midtown campaign office only two weeks before Election Day and announcing he would hire a Midtown liaison, a position that he had left vacant for two years.

Kriseman won three times as many precincts as Foster, including precincts that Foster won in the primary such as the Old Northeast and parts of the Euclid Heights and Edgemoor neighborhoods.

Kriseman overwhelmingly won the predominantly black precincts in Midtown, where voter turnout ranged from 20 to 40 percent.

Overall turnout was 34 percent, with a majority of voters opting for a mail ballot.

According to election officials, 33,325 people cast their vote early; compared with 19,774 people who voted Tuesday.

That's a huge difference from the 2009 mayoral race, when the number of early and Election Day voters was more evenly split.

"That was the last real grass roots St. Pete election," Foster said of the 2009 race after his loss Tuesday. "This will forever change mayor's races in St. Petersburg. From here on out, it's forever partisan."

Gregory Wilson, principal at the political consulting firm Parsons-Wilson in St. Petersburg, said Foster didn't embrace the partisan nature of the race soon enough.

"It's nothing new," he said. "He got swept away by it."

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @ markpuente. Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

   
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