Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Mayor must do what it takes to heal city

The talk doesn't matter anymore, as of today. For the next four years, it is action more than word that will determine the measure of the man St. Petersburg residents sent to the mayor's office.

When David Fischer returns to his familiar office, he should know better than anyone else in the city that business as usual is now a dirty expression in this town.

He should walk into his office knowing that he has a sick patient on his hands and that radical, hands-on treatment is prescribed.

He should know that he is walking into a tough job and he will get the credit for things that go right and the blame when things blow up in his face. He also should know that he will deserve both.

On the campaign trail _ coming as it did on the heels of two nights of racial unrest _ both candidates spoke of the need to heal the racial divisions in the city. The divisions did not die on election day, just as surely as they were not born the day of the first disturbance. The mayor needs to remember that, and address it.

Both men were right with their observations before the election: Fischer, when he noted that any city is vulnerable to the kinds of problems St. Petersburg experienced, and Bill Klein when he said such disturbances don't happen if you've addressed the root causes of them. The mayor needs to make root causes his cause.

Achieving economic stability is high on the list. A man who is secure chooses some way other than rock throwing to show his discontent. The mayor must keep a guiding (if not pushing) hand on programs under way to help businesses develop in economically depressed areas. Young and adult residents of those same areas should be provided training or the means to acquire the training necessary for them to run and staff those businesses and the opportunity to compete realistically for jobs citywide.

The mayor must take questions of police misconduct more seriously than they have been treated by past administrations. He must create an atmosphere that scrutinizes officers' behavior more closely than the department's own internal affairs investigations, which are perceived to be tainted by the police brotherhood's adage, "We take care of our own." He must impanel a civilian review board that is representative of all in the city and give it weapons stronger than a rubber stamp.

He must surround himself with advisers and administrators who are as diverse as the city, so that no prevailing viewpoint from any segment of the city gets ignored. He needs to know that is not just good politics, it is also good business and ethically correct.

He should be prepared for the criticism that will come his way from those who will think that he is pandering to special interests or giving preferential treatment to one segment. He needs to be prepared to say to critics that he is committed to his actions because they are right and long overdue.

He needs to talk about that commitment wherever in his city he speaks, because the tensions that erupted to the surface are not one-sided and can be eased only with a determination to do so from all sides.

The mayor has to set and enforce the standard. He must not just speak of his commitment to making his city a haven of equal opportunity and treatment (for that is what it must become to relieve the tension), he must exact that same attitude of his department heads and their subordinates. Violators should be punished _ if not replaced.

He must also use his "strong mayor" pulpit to encourage the cooperation of private employers in the city, and search for incentives to reward and sanctions to punish.

The new mayor must know that root causes are old, tenacious and deep, and if he is to chip away at them, he must use every weapon he can scrounge.

The time for talking is over.