WASHINGTON — St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman was among a group of newly elected mayors who met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday to discuss ways to help cities thrive.
Kriseman, who will take office Jan. 2, said Obama and Vice President Joe Biden listened as each of the 16 mayors talked about issues his or her city is facing.
"This meeting builds on the unprecedented effort of the Administration to partner with mayors working to implement policies that lead to high-paying, high-skill jobs in their communities," a White House statement said.
Kriseman was the only mayor-elect from Florida at the meeting, which also included leaders from New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Jersey City, N.J., Rochester, N.Y., Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C., Toledo, Ohio, Harrisburg, Penn., and Chattanooga, Tenn.
"There's definitely a focus by this administration on inequality and on poverty, so that's really important to us back at home," Kriseman said late Friday afternoon.
Kriseman said he talked about the city's Midtown area, where 20 percent of residents are unemployed and don't have the same access to housing and education. Jobs are a problem, he said, because there aren't enough of them or people can't get them because of felony convictions.
Kriseman, along with the Jersey City mayor, also mentioned the Biggert-Waters act, which was passed to stabilize the debt-plagued national flood insurance program by eliminating subsidies but has led to rates that are financially crippling homeowners.
"We're just starting to come out of this housing crisis, and the market was starting to finally pick up, and then this legislation kicks in and it's killing us," Kriseman said he told the president. "It could devastate our city."
Transportation also was mentioned. Pinellas County is having to address its needs on a local level, Kriseman said, because "we turn money away at the state level" — referring to federal stimulus money rejected for high-speed rail.
Obama didn't respond to individual concerns, Kriseman said, but staffers in the room took notes. Kriseman, who paid for his trip, said he thinks Obama was reaching out to mayors because there's a lot of "gridlock between the state and federal level."
"The actual meeting was in a conference room, but when the meeting ended, he said, 'Why don't we all go into the Oval Office?' And we went, 'OK.'
"I touched the desk!"
Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.