Twenty-year-old St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Michael Ingram knows what you’re thinking, and he thinks you’re wrong. He’s ready for this.
Sure, experience has its advantages, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg junior acknowledges. Someone who’s been involved in city government might have a good sense of how to move policy forward. But being a rookie has its perks, too, he says.
“An inexperienced but well-informed person can lead more with what they think is right, rather than what they think will pass,” the political science student said.
The mayoral race’s youngest candidate said he wants “to get young people to actually come and show up” to vote in city elections. He noted that a large proportion of the voters in the 2017 mayoral election were over 65.
But he’s running to win, too. The self-described progressive Democrat has a bold agenda. He wants to keep his hometown local as it grows, build out affordable housing and intensify efforts to protect the environment. But earning the City Hall seat won’t be easy.
“It’s going to be a process. Darden Rice has already fundraised over $500,000,” Ingram said. Ingram’s campaign has put together $1,611 — most of which came from his own pocket, although family and friends have pitched in.
“It comes down to who is the better candidate, not who can spend more money. And I feel age isn’t a determining factor in how good a candidate someone can be,” he said.
The mayoral bid marks Ingram’s first crack at an elected office. He’s never even run for student council, though he notes that he’s held leadership positions in band, where he plays trumpet, trombone, tuba, baritone, euphonium and a little percussion.
He also says he did volunteer canvassing for U.S. Rep Charlie Crist’s 2020 campaign. (Ingram says he doesn’t mind that Crist has endorsed competitor Ken Welch in this year’s mayoral race.)
Ingram originally filed in February 2020 to run for City Council, but friends and family egged him on further. In October, he instead filed to run for mayor.
Ingram said he loves St. Petersburg’s inclusivity, but fears rapid development could push long-term residents out and rob the city of its soul.
“We need to make sure that, as we grow, we don’t lose sight of who we are,” Ingram said.
He’d like to see the city build more affordable housing, especially at the 86-acre Tropicana Field site. He also wants the city to limit the cost of affordable housing to 25 percent of a minimum wage earner’s full-time income.
Ingram, whose coursework focuses on environmental causes, said he has a unique stake in sustainability due to his age. “I’m planning on being here 20, 30, 50 years in the future,” he said. “I want to be able to look back and see what I did helping 50 years from now.”
He wants to stop controversial deep well injections and reduce the high levels of nitrogen in the area’s reclaimed water, which he said contributes to red tide algae blooms.
Perhaps Ingram’s most unique proposal is his “Youth City Council,” in which a body of 18-and-under officials elected by anyone of school age would implement policies that affect young people. Ingram said the (adult) City Council would check the group’s decisions, and he’d commit half of his salary to the program.
Ingram, who turns 21 in late October, plans to use social media and a website to spread his message. He’s also squeezing in door-to-door canvassing in between work shifts at Sheltair Aviation, where he moves and fuels planes. If elected, he said, he’d take time off school to run the city.
Environmental science professor Brandon Shuler at USF St. Petersburg said he’s taught Ingram in two courses and considers him among his brightest and most mature students. But that doesn’t translate to a vote for Ingram; Shuler said he wants someone with more policy experience and said he’s volunteering for former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch’s mayoral campaign.
Ingram “would be a formidable mayor in the next ten years,” Shuler said.
Ingram concedes that a win would be surprising. “Initially there will be disbelief among City Council,” he said. But then they’ll see he’s not just “some kid playing mayor,” he added.
Other candidates Ingram will face in the mayoral race include former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and former City Council member and state representative Wengay Newton, as well as current City Council members Robert Blackmon and Darden Rice, restaurateur Pete Boland, small business owner Marcile Powers, Torry Nelson 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 seventh 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