ST. PETERSBURG — Rick Kriseman has been before the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club crowd many times.
Never as mayor — until Wednesday.
“The odds of me being carved up today have greatly increased,” Kriseman joked after stepping up to the podium at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.
Kriseman’s fears were for naught. The questions lobbed at him at were familiar — as were his answers.
When more pointed inquiries — about the Rays, red light cameras, take-home cars for police officers and a potential deficit in the city budget — popped up, the new mayor managed to neatly sidestep any controversy.
The opening question was reflective of the luncheon’s setting.
A woman, who no doubt like other guests had to navigate large concrete barriers to get to the yacht club, asked Kriseman which had a greater economic impact on the city: cultural offerings or the Firestone Grand Prix, which result in the aforementioned obstacles throughout downtown every March?
Kriseman said the city has to find a way to have both.
“I love the Grand Prix,” he responded. “Having said that, I believe the renaissance that’s occurred in the city of St. Pete is because of our cultural amenities. I think it’s what’s put us on the map and what will continue to put us on the map.”
Regarding the Rays, Kriseman said he and Stu Sternberg have met but want to keep their talks private.
He defended the city’s decision earlier this month to get rid of red light cameras, saying the program had done its job and that if accidents increase, he would bring them back.
When a man asked about a projected $2.3 million deficit in this year’s budget, Kriseman said he expects officials to be able to close that gap in the coming months.
When a woman demanded to know if Kriseman would follow the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s lead and require officers to pay for part of the costs associated with take-home vehicles, the mayor did not commit to a specific action but said he’d look into it.
“To me it’s not fair to single the police department out,” Kriseman said. “There are other take home cars. Nothing is off the table.”
Another woman asked what plans the mayor had for the newly formed Skyway Marina District, which runs along 34th Street S.
Kriseman said there’s exciting potential in that area. Later, in response to a question about the viability of bringing cruise ships to Pinellas County shores, Kriseman said such a move would boon for the district.
The mayor said he hopes more service learning and apprenticeship opportunities will help address poverty and education gaps in some of the poorest neighborhoods. He also said he’d like to see low-interest loans for people who want to make “green” home improvements.
No one asked about more recent controversies Kriseman has had to weather, including division within the police department regarding promotions or the salaries of some top aides. Most people complimented the new mayor and told him he was off to a good start.
Kriseman said residents’ excitement about the community is what’s fueling him these days.
“You can’t do what I do if you’re not feeling that love,” Kriseman said, “and I’m feeling it.”