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For a better St. Petersburg City Council

The St. Petersburg City Council faces a number of challenges, including establishing spending priorities as tax revenues decline, dealing with the homeless and deciding the fate of the Pier. Council members also will have to work with a new mayor. Seats in five council districts are on the Nov. 3 ballot, and voters citywide will vote for each seat.

James R. "Jim" Kennedy Jr., District 2

In two brief years on the City Council, Jim Kennedy has emerged as one of the council's most thoughtful members, particularly on financial issues. He does not make headlines, but Kennedy has quietly left his mark and deserves to be elected to a full term.

Kennedy, a 52-year-old lawyer, was appointed to his seat in October 2007 after the death of council member John Bryan. He previously directed his civic energies to Community Action Stops Abuse, where he served three times as president. He rarely speaks during council meetings, but he pays closer attention than most.

Kennedy diligently prepares before each council session and works beforehand to change proposals to address concerns. He quickly became the council's expert on the city budget, and that will be important as the council works with a new mayor.

Earlier this month, Kennedy read all of the case law before supporting Mayor Rick Baker's plan for revitalizing BayWalk and vacating a public sidewalk. He recognized the importance of reviving the retail complex to the overall success of downtown. But Kennedy is not always aligned with the mayor. He wisely objected when Baker sought to rescind raises called for in the city's union contracts.

In District 2, the city's northernmost, Kennedy has worked to expand reclaimed water hookups, secured dredging projects and opened parks. He hopes to pursue further expansion of the reclaimed water network, consider offering curbside recycling and create a unified downtown waterfront plan.

Steve Corsetti, 65, is particularly well-prepared for a first-time candidate. The retired New England police chief and small businessman is a regular fixture at council meetings and a leader in his neighborhood. He talks knowledgeably about the need to promote mass transit and create a unified waterfront plan. But Corsetti could be tempted to micromanage as a public official in a New Hampshire hamlet can.

There is nothing flashy about Kennedy, but his evenhandedness and strong work ethic make him a good custodian of the public's trust.

For District 2, the Times recommends James R. "Jim" Kennedy.

Leslie Curran, District 4

No one running for City Council has more experience than incumbent Leslie Curran, who is seeking a second term and previously served for eight years in the 1990s. During her most recent stint, which began in 2005, the small business owner has made a strong imprint on the city's artistic life through projects that have supported and encouraged local artists. And she's been a vocal advocate for increasing the public's access to council proceedings.

Curran, 53, most recently helped negotiate the plan to turn the derelict Crislip Arcade in the 600 block of Central Avenue into an artists' community, potentially turning an eyesore into a vital arts offering downtown. And two years ago, she launched the seasonal Art in the Park in downtown's Williams Park on Saturdays.

While a solid council member, Curran can be far less vocal on many issues and less willing to lead on broader issues beyond arts and the downtown. Her recent explanation for opposing the proposal to vacate the sidewalk outside BayWalk was more defensive than well-reasoned as she complained nothing had been done to help other businesses that had failed in downtown. But that ignores the significant public investment in BayWalk and the negative impact on other businesses if the complex fails.

Pamella Settlegoode, 60, says it's time for new blood on the council but has failed to make a compelling case. The St. Petersburg native returned here in 2006 after decades teaching in Oregon and volunteering in Portland's neighborhood organizations. She offers big ideas — such as lowering all city staff salaries below $100,000 to save money and promising to oppose any budget cuts to parks and recreation programs. But she does not have the grasp of city issues or the historical perspective that Curran has through her years of service.

Curran has offered solutions to practical issues regarding the arts and her district. In her next term, she should step up and help build consensus on broader issues.

For District 4, the Times recommends Leslie Curran.

Steve Kornell, District 5

This open race to represent the city's southern district has been the most interesting of this election. Two likeable St. Petersburg natives seeking to replace outgoing incumbent Jamie Bennett advanced after the primary. Steve Kornell, a social worker and former city parks recreation staffer, has demonstrated the greatest command of the issues and conducted the most vigorous campaign.

Kornell, 43, pledges to bring both a progressive agenda and fiscal realism to the job. He has worked with children from across the city, first in roles managing Shore Acres and Childs Park recreation centers and now as a social worker in Pinellas County schools. And he is convinced the city can do more to coordinate with the school district to intervene in at-risk children's lives, ultimately saving the city money in the long run. He also advocates curbside recycling, consolidating of services with the county to save money, investment in public transportation and more efforts to prevent homelessness.

But Kornell is practical in his approach to the city's tight budget. He is not ready to push to spend more money for more police officers, and he wants to find a plan for the Pier that will eliminate the city's $1.5 million operating subsidy. He is not opposed to a building a new baseball stadium, but he does not want to increase the city's annual debt payments. He also is not keen to dip into the city's reserves to use one-time money to pay for recurring expenses, a major difference with his opponent, Angela Rouson. Kornell is right that those reserves should be held back for emergencies such as hurricane recovery.

Rouson, 42, is a Pinellas County Housing Authority member who is married to state Rep. Darryl Rouson. Before becoming a stay-at-home mother for their five sons four years ago, Rouson had worked for St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, Ceridian and Bayfront Medical Center. Her performance in the campaign has improved from the primary, and she could be a promising candidate in the future. But Kornell remains better informed on the issues and has more specific proposals.

For District 5, the Times recommends Steve Kornell.

Karl Nurse, District 6

Karl Nurse has become the City Council's most creative, innovative and energetic member in the 18 months since he was appointed to fill an unexpired term. The longtime neighborhood leader's initiatives have benefited both his district and the entire city. Voters should return him to the council for a full term.

Nurse, 55, owns a successful printing business. Before joining the council, he was president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, chaired the city Planning Commission and founded the Living Green Expo.

As the recession took hold and threatened low-income residents of his district, Nurse initiated a city effort to educate residents on how to avoid foreclosure. With no banks conveniently located in his district and residents victimized by predatory lending, Nurse worked with other officials to recruit a credit union that will be Midtown's first financial institution.

An advocate for green initiatives, Nurse recently suggested a way to use utility tax revenue to help residents pay for energy efficiency upgrades of their homes. He also has worked to make city government more transparent and accessible. For example, he pushed and cajoled until other council members agreed to allow their council committee meetings to be televised. He also got more documents posted to the city Web site.

Looking ahead, Nurse will continue to focus on the revitalization of Midtown, expansion of a loan program to make homes more energy efficient and better relationships with county government. He supported the sidewalk vacation at BayWalk, and he supports redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site as part of any plans for a new stadium.

Vel Thompson, 51, a cosmetology student and former city employee who was fired for misconduct last year, is well-known in the district. But she is not well-prepared to handle the challenges that confront local governments. Nurse has demonstrated he can serve the needs of the city as a whole and District 6 in particular with energy and vision.

For District 6, the Times recommends Karl Nurse.

Jeff Danner, District 8

With years of volunteer community service, Jeff Danner was prepared for public office when he was first elected to the City Council in 2005. Now he has four years of experience gained during some of the toughest times local governments have seen, and that should be invaluable in the next four years.

Danner, 49, has worked as a carpenter and contractor. As a council member, he has advocated a balance between development and preservation, promoted strong neighborhoods and supported the arts.

Danner unfortunately voted against vacating the public sidewalk for the failing BayWalk complex, but he did come back a week later with a pitch to study other options. He also fails to properly appreciate transparency in government. He remains unenthusiastic about televising the City Council's subcommittee meetings, and he participated in the surreptitious approval of millions in city tax incentives for Jabil Circuit.

But Danner has been right on other issues. He opposed the city's manhandling of unincorporated Tierra Verde when it annexed a sliver of the island over the vigorous objections of residents. He serves on the boards of the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The city needs a leader on transit, and Danner has the knowledge to fill that role.

While he wants a better business model for the Pier, Danner acknowledges it probably always will require a public subsidy. He understands the need to avoid spending reserve money on recurring expenses and the need to discuss options for a new baseball stadium before the Tampa Bay Rays' lease expires.

Leonard Schmiege, 40, calls himself a citizen journalist, a voting integrity activist and a videographer with clips posted on YouTube. He has a home-based business building mechanical and computer equipment. Schmiege is passionate but on the wrong side of a number of important issues — including his opposition to any public money toward a new stadium. Danner's stability and experience make him the better choice.

For District 8, the Times recommends Jeff Danner.

Opportunity to reply

The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for St. Petersburg City Council may submit a response of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Wednesday to editor of editorials Tim Nickens, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, e-mail: nickens@sptimes.com, fax: (727) 893-8675 or online at www.tampabay.com/letters.

For a better St. Petersburg City Council 10/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 5:57pm]
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