Karl Nurse: Nationwide racial justice conversation makes school board race tougher

Both candidates say race shouldn’t be the premier issue.
Karl Nurse and Caprice Edmond will compete for the Pinellas School Board District 7 seat in the November 2020 general election.
Karl Nurse and Caprice Edmond will compete for the Pinellas School Board District 7 seat in the November 2020 general election. [ Courtesy of the candidates ]
Published Oct. 16, 2020

Pinellas County School Board candidate Karl Nurse acknowledged this week that the nationwide racial justice conversation will make his race tougher, although he said in the past he’s done well as a white City Council candidate seeking Black voter support.

Nurse is running against Caprice Edmond, a Black teacher, in District 7, the district with the largest concentration of Black voters, about 20 percent. Both candidates say race shouldn’t be the premier issue, but many Edmond supporters note that if Nurse is elected, the board will be all white.

Nurse said his former City Council district had more than 60 percent Black residents when he was appointed to the seat in 2008. He then won election in 2009 and 2011 with 70 percent of the votes.

But, he said, “In this electric moment, (the racial justice conversation) causes a considerable amount of angst in some quarters. I have a higher bar to get over.”

Retired USF-St. Petersburg political scientist Darryl Paulson, a voting rights expert, said Nurse has been able to get Black votes because he has concentrated on issues that are important in the Black community, including economic opportunity and housing.

“The argument he has to make is that there are no seats assigned to any particular race — and it can cut both ways,” with Black candidates now often representing majority white constituencies.

But comments by veteran St. Petersburg political organizer Matt Byrd show the problem Nurse faces.

“I question the motive or the agenda,” Byrd said. “He said he’s getting involved because he likes to solve problems. But the lack of representation of Black folks has historically been the problem. … How are you fixing the problem when you’re talking the only Black seat on the school board?”

Edmond has concentrated on her experience and her education, not race, as credentials in the race, but also emphasizes her “lived experience.” Supporters on social media have emphasized the need for a Black board member.

Nurse, meanwhile, campaigns heavily on the need for better pre-school education to prevent students “from getting so far behind they give up,” and on the need for education alternatives for non-college bound students — a need he says will intensify if the $15 minimum wage passes, as he believes it will.

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