As a child growing up in St. Petersburg, my mother, family and community taught me to stand for what's right and to advocate for the same. I learned early that many before me, black and white, made significant sacrifices for me, my community and the city — and that it was my duty to give back. I make no apologies for working to support my family and to serve the city I love. I am here by choice, and I haven't regretted any of the causes for which I've fought.
In 1997, when Mayor David Fischer asked me to lead the Police Department and help heal the city following racial disturbances, I responded and implemented the tenets of respect, accountability and integrity, and served faithfully until my retirement in October 2001. I did so at great personal risk, and my family was subjected to horrific media stories which fortunately ended with an accurate accounting of my record when the St. Petersburg Times reported in 2001 that crime declined; the homicide rate hit a 30-year low; citizen complaints against police officers decreased; and arrests for crimes for which I was criticized (drugs and prostitution) increased.
Upon winning the mayoral race in 2001, Rick Baker met with me at the Police Department to discuss his law enforcement agenda and I informed him I intended to retire. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to change my mind, he asked me to consider directing his Midtown initiative. I initially declined but eventually answered the call to serve.
The Midtown strategic plan was established as a result of numerous community forums where citizen input was solicited and followed. I am extremely proud of our accomplishments, but work still remains. The Midtown brand is the first positive description of the 5.5-square-mile area since desegregation. It has been embraced by residents, business and educational institutions throughout Midtown and the greater community. The benefits for all of St. Petersburg are undeniable.
Some time ago, a St. Petersburg Times poll revealed Midtown as one of the voters' top three priorities. A Times' report on Sunday indicated 59 percent of the voters believe Baker has done an excellent or good job as mayor and that the city is moving in the right direction. Given the positive work that has been done, I am concerned about recent reports regarding the use of the term HNIC by mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford.
For the record, HNIC is not a term of endearment. It stands for "Head Negro In Charge" and, as noted by state Rep. Darryl Rouson, the term is derogatory. Individuals I've encountered since Ford's remark was reported by the Times on Saturday find it inconceivable that the local St. Petersburg NAACP president or anyone else could logically conclude that Ford was not referring to me as an HNIC given the immediate juxtaposition of her response to the preceding comments by the radio host describing his opinion of me. Since Ford says she is the "detail" candidate and made specific references to Princeton University professor Cornel West and his theory, her assertion that she did not know the meaning or connotation of the term is also suspect.
Whether I stay or leave my employment with the city as a result of the current election is not the significant issue for me. My concern, regardless of who wins the race for mayor, is maintaining and improving the positive momentum we now enjoy. It is not acceptable to retreat back to a time of divisiveness and strife. We do not need the division being created by interjecting partisan politics into a nonpartisan race. We must ensure that whether she wins or loses, Ford's pattern of behavior does not derail the progress 59 percent of the voters have recognized in the Times' poll.
Despite attempts by many to get me to do so, I have refused to label Ford a racist. Instead, I have chosen to focus on her judgment, decisionmaking and prudence. As noted by Bobby Doctor, formerly of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and dispatched to St. Petersburg during the disturbances in the '90s, we must avoid language and behaviors that can "bring back that divide that characterized the city some years ago.''
Goliath Davis III is a St. Petersburg deputy mayor and former police chief.