Thank you to the people of St. Petersburg for giving me the honor to serve as your mayor for almost nine years. It has been a special time in my life and a unique moment for our city.
In 2001, together we set out to improve our quality of life by focusing on our neighborhoods, public safety, schools and economic development citywide, with an added emphasis downtown and in the area we now call Midtown. We also worked to improve government operations by lowering property tax rates, increasing emergency reserve balances, improving response times and raising service levels.
I am grateful to the committed employees of the city, and the many in our community who have joined together to create a renaissance that is unmatched in St. Petersburg's history. Leaders from our neighborhood, business, arts, faith and civic communities have joined with public officials at every level of government with a goal to make St. Petersburg the best city in America. Our progress has resulted from the efforts of these leaders, as well as those who came before us. They are the reasons for the "25-year overnight success of St. Petersburg." Despite the difficult impacts of the current challenging national and local economies, our residents are proud of their city and confident in its direction.
I am especially thankful for the kindness shown to my family throughout our community. When Joyce and I stood at my first swearing-in, our children, Jacob and Julann, were 4 and 5 years old. They are now teenagers who have been raised at neighborhood picnics, church services, ribbon cuttings, cleanup events, pancake fundraisers and prayer breakfasts. They have played at every playground, swimming pool, recreation center, skate park and dog park in St. Petersburg. While I was focused on events, Julann and Jacob were entertained and checked after by people in every corner of town. My family feels a part of each of our city's neighborhoods and a gratitude for the many acts of love shown to us.
My greatest pleasure has been meeting so many of you. I've gotten to shake hands with thousands of students while visiting each of our schools. The excitement and hope in their eyes is contagious. It was wonderful to be greeted by folks at parades, picnics, festivals and other gatherings. I am thankful for the countless new friends who have written kind letters, honked when they drove by, or stopped me at a store, sidewalk or diner to offer words of support and encouragement. I felt the prayers for the city given at Wednesday night church gatherings, and the warmth of our very special community.
I am optimistic about St. Petersburg's present and future. Our residents volunteer as coaches, crime watch coordinators, art supporters, civic leaders and student mentors. Business leaders give of their time and finances and provide jobs for those who live here. And we have a terrific new mayor, Bill Foster, along with a dedicated city staff and a talented City Council who will work to ensure that our tomorrows will be even better than our yesterdays.
Thanks to each of you for making every day … another great day in St. Petersburg!
Rick Baker was mayor of St. Petersburg from 2001 until Saturday.