Eight candidates are running for St. Petersburg City Council in District 6, a diverse collection of neighborhoods that includes portions of the Old Northeast, downtown, the Old Southeast and Midtown. Any of them will have a tough time becoming as effective as Karl Nurse, who is term-limited and has a strong record on the environment, affordable housing and constituent service. The candidate with the best potential for growing into the job is Justin Bean, an up-and-coming young business leader who has been active on civic issues.
Bean, 30, was born in Tampa and spent his early years in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties before graduating from high school and earning an associate's degree in Polk County. He is a partner in his family's Web-based packaging company in downtown St. Petersburg, and he has chaired the St. Pete Young Professionals. He has been involved in studying plans to build the new Pier and redevelop Tropicana Field's 85 acres, and he started a nonprofit partnership aimed at attracting more activities to downtown's Williams Park.
As a council member, Bean says he would encourage redevelopment led by local business and community leaders. The first-time candidate says he would invest more in early childhood education, focus on improving Midtown and support community policing. He opposes spending public money on a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays but says the city could help with infrastructure and redevelopment around the site.
Several other candidates in this crowded race also have the potential to be effective on City Council. Robert Blackmon, 28, is a successful owner and developer of rental properties in St. Petersburg. The first-time candidate lived in Midtown and talks passionately about improving public safety and schools in those neighborhoods. He has been active in the Council of Neighborhood Associations and knows firsthand about the need to attract more businesses there and the difficulties dealing with city permitting.
Gina Driscoll, 46, is the sales manager for a downtown hotel and another first-time candidate. She president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and has Nurse's endorsement. She wants to add affordable housing options and more programs for youths. She favors spending an additional $10 million for Pier enhancements and wants the Rays to remain in St. Petersburg, although she is not prepared to commit public money toward a new stadium.
Maria Scruggs, 59, is the president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP and has previously run for mayor, City Council and the Pinellas County Commission. Scruggs, a supervisor with Orange County Corrections, is a Midtown resident and has the best knowledge of the history of need in those neighborhoods. She advocates for better early childhood education and more help for locally owned businesses, and she is critical of previous plans for improving Midtown.
Only voters residing in District 6 will cast ballots in the Aug. 29 primary, and the top two finishers will advance to the citywide general election in November. In this crowded race, it won't take many votes to advance and every vote matters. In the St. Petersburg City Council District 6 primary, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Justin Bean.