ST. PETERSBURG — Robert Blackmon likes to say he is the youngest person ever to serve on City Council in St. Petersburg’s history.
He was 30 when he was elected in 2019 to represent the Tyrone area on the council. Now 32 and running for mayor, he dismissed a question about his youth and relative inexperience compared to his most prominent challengers.
“Leadership knows no age,” he said.
On council, Blackmon is an outside-the-box thinker, his real estate acumen and technical knowledge of property values often informing novel ideas and direct questions of officials from Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration.
And he hasn’t faded into the background as one of the two newest members. His elbows-out nature and prosecutorial inquiries have sometimes put him at odds with administration officials, and he and the mayor have publicly traded barbs. Last month, Council Chair Ed Montanari twice gaveled down Blackmon during an exchange in which Blackmon and senior administration officials traded accusations of unprofessionalism.
Blackmon has downplayed any rift and said the campaign is not “about personalities, it’s a campaign of ideas.”
A real estate investor, Blackmon has had a quick political rise. A Pinellas County native and St. Petersburg High School graduate, Blackmon earned a degree in political science at Florida State University. He ran and lost in District 6 for City Council in 2017 before claiming the District 1 seat in a campaign where he enjoyed bipartisan support.
Blackmon said he was compelled to run for mayor because people told him they wanted “more options and more voices.” He called his opponents “all good people,” but said he is “the most well-rounded in terms of inclusiveness.”
Blackmon said he has fought on City Council for everything he campaigned for, including trying to address affordable housing and bringing the Pinellas County Science Center back to life.
“Following the science” is one of Blackmon’s mantras. He said he has supported mask wearing during the pandemic and now backs some kind of vaccine incentives to get St. Petersburg beyond the threshold of herd immunity.
“Science is more important now than ever,” he said.
He said he believes no progress can be made with the Tampa Bay Rays until the new mayor is in office. After the Tampa Bay Times reported that minority owners of the team sued principal owner Stu Sternberg over allegations of financial misconduct, Kriseman said Sternberg should “consider relinquishing control” of the team.
But, Blackmon said, if a deal isn’t struck within the first year of his term, “it may be time to move on” from the Rays.
He doesn’t believe the city should contract with a development company to undertake renovations at the downtown marina and would rather the city issue bonds to pay for them. He also doesn’t agree with a proposal to construct a new municipal services center near City Hall, which could cost more than $40 million. He said he’d rather move the municipal building to Tangerine Plaza at the corner of 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street, which would bring jobs to the struggling shopping center and use proceeds from the sale of the existing services center building to fund a grant program within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.
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Blackmon said he plans to lead by restoring a sense of partnership at City Hall between the mayor’s office and Council.
“I think a lot of the problems we’ve seen during my tenure in office have stemmed from lack of collaboration,” he said, saying he hasn’t been invited to meet with Kriseman since the Council returned to City Hall last fall after being remote for much of the year. “And it’s really tough when everything’s adversarial.”
Blackmon resigned from his City Council seat effective Jan. 5, 11:59 p.m., the minute before the new mayor’s term will begin. Under Florida’s “resign-to-run” laws, candidates who are already elected officials must resign if they wish to pursue an office that overlaps with their existing term. His resignation opened up the District 1 Council. That winner will serve the remainder of Blackmon’s term, until 2023, before they can seek reelection.
Blackmon was the second active City Council member to enter the race, behind Democrat Darden Rice. Other candidates include former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and former City Council member and state representative Wengay Newton.
Others in the field include restaurateur Pete Boland, former political operative and marketer Marcile Powers, University of South Florida political science student Michael Ingram, and former congressional write-in candidate Michael Levinson.
The primary election is Aug. 24. If no candidate earns more than 50 percent of the votes, the top two candidates will face off in the Nov. 2 general election.
The new mayor will be sworn in Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, and will serve a four-year term.
The Tampa Bay Times and Spectrum Bay News 9 are hosting a mayoral debate Tuesday, June 22 at noon. Watch it live at tampabay.com/politics and at baynews9.com/watch. It will replay on Bay News 9 at 7 p.m. This is the first in a series of profiles on the candidates.
Robert Blackmon: St. Petersburg mayoral run about ideas, not personalities
Michael Ingram: Could this 20-year-old be St. Petersburg’s next mayor?
Wengay Newton: Newton is passionate, persistent, combative
Marcile Powers: With an open heart, Powers runs for St. Petersburg mayor