The St. Petersburg City Council faces a number of significant issues in coming years, including replacing the Pier, considering a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays and stretching city services in an era of declining property tax revenue. Other challenges include wrestling with the future of the countywide emergency medical system, building a new police station and continuing the progress made on the homeless issue. It is imperative for the council to think regionally and embrace consensus building. • Four of the eight council seats are on the ballot this year. Three incumbents each face just one opponent, so those contests will be decided in a citywide election in November. On Aug. 30, voters in District 1 in the western part of the city will choose among three candidates to replace Herb Polson, who did not seek re-election. The top two finishers will advance to the citywide election on Nov. 8.
Charlie Gerdes, District 1
Voters in District 1 have a variety of choices to succeed Polson, a former city official who has been an able, level-headed council member. The best is Charlie Gerdes, a 54-year-old lawyer with deep roots in St. Petersburg.
Gerdes, who unsuccessfully ran for a state House seat in 2006, has served as a board member and president of a Brighter Day of Pinellas County, which works with homeless families, and on the ABC Coalition that studied options for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. Both of those experiences prepare him well to lend a thoughtful voice to those issues, and he advocates a more regional approach to the stadium issue that would still protect St. Petersburg's interests.
As a longtime resident, Gerdes blends an appreciation for the city's history and a willingness to move forward. He supports the contest to choose a design for a new Pier that would complement rather than compete with Beach Drive, and he is an advocate for pursuing mass transit, green energy companies and more support for the arts.
Joshua Shulman, a 35-year-old financial planner, is a first-time candidate who moved to St. Petersburg in 2004. He could be a voice for younger residents and families, and his financial background could be helpful. He says the council should be more involved in the stadium discussion, and he has a good grasp of the issues. Shulman is an attractive candidate, but he lacks Gerdes' experience and connection with the city.
Robert Kersteen, a 74-year-old retired telephone company executive, served on the City Council from 1995 to 2000 and lost to Polson in 2007. His previous tenure was marked by conflicts of interest involving his then and former employer, and he was overshadowed by his more outspoken colleagues. This time, Kersteen is too narrowly focused on budget issues and too quick to call for voter referendums on big construction projects such as the Pier and new police station. There is no compelling reason to return him to the council.
In the race for St. Petersburg City Council District 1, the St. Petersburg Times recommends Charlie Gerdes.