ST. PETERSBURG — Days after launching a longshot bid to be St. Petersburg’s next mayor, Torry Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times that despite a troubled past and lack of political experience, he’s the best person to lead the city for the next four years.
Nelson filed to run the day before last week’s qualifying deadline, and he’s campaigning on fighting gun violence and planting trees to beautify the city. The 43-year-old St. Petersburg native says his run-ins with the law help him understand the problems people in the community are facing.
“I made some mistakes, but the mistakes I made have suited me to relate, be relatable to people. I can relate to people of all walks of life,” Nelson said in a phone interview Monday.
Nelson graduated from Lakewood High School, playing fullback and defensive back on the Spartans football team. He went on to play at Henderson State University in Arkansas, where he graduated with a degree in recreation and sports management. He played briefly in the United Indoor Football League and in 2018, Nelson snuck into a Pittsburgh Steelers practice. Videos of the incident went viral.
If elected, he would be St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor.
Nelson operates a business called Department of Advisors, a limited liability company, that he said helps people file for unemployment and get out of student loan default. Before that, Nelson said he started a homeless shelter in the Childs Park neighborhood, Stepping Stone Housing, funding it by taking out a student loan. He ran it for about 10 years, he said.
“I was without government funding. I was paying out of my own pocket,” he said. “I was taking people in for free, taking families in for free.”
According to state records, in 2003, Nelson was convicted of battery in a domestic-violence case. In 2008, he was sentenced to state prison for 15 months after being convicted of cocaine trafficking. And in 2011, he was arrested for cocaine possession by St. Petersburg police and later served jail time.
Nelson said he was framed by St. Petersburg police in 2011.
“The officer planted a minute substance on me,” he said. According to his arrest report, Nelson alleged the same thing when he was taken into custody.
St. Petersburg police department spokesperson Sandra Bentil declined to comment on the case. The arrest report says Nelson had a small plastic bag of powder cocaine in the driver’s side door of his car.
In January 2020, Nelson was arrested and charged with felony domestic battery. The criminal charges were later dropped, but the mother of two of his children asked for and received a court order barring Nelson from having contact with her for a year.
She alleged in court filings that Nelson hit her, threatened to fight her, took their child without consent, came to her house without permission and harassed her via text messages and email.
Nelson denied those allegations, arguing that courts favor women in injunction cases and saying he wasn’t allowed to present evidence in the case.
“I would have been convicted if it was actually true,” Nelson said.
Nelson told the Times that one of his top priorities as mayor would be fighting gun violence through early intervention programs for young people.
“My background, I see it, I can go in those hard, tough places. And I see the youth, I see the youth carrying firearms like they carry wallets,” he said.
In Tuesday’s mayoral debate, Nelson attributed gun violence to “rap music and illicit drug sales” and said creating jobs would help address the problem.
He also wants to plant trees to preserve St. Petersburg’s natural beauty, and focus on affordable housing and water quality. He thinks the city could do more to entice the Tampa Bay Rays to stay.
Nelson doesn’t have past experience as an elected official, though he has volunteered in the community.
Other mayoral candidates include City Council members Darden Rice and Robert Blackmon, former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and former City Council member and state representative Wengay Newton.
Also running are former political operative and marketer Marcile Powers, restaurateur Pete Boland and University of South Florida political science student Michael Ingram. Michael Levinson is running as a write-in candidate.
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.
Watch the debate
A recording of the mayoral debate hosted by the Times and Spectrum Bay News 9 is available here. This is the last 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
Michael S. Levinson: Brings unorthodox ideas to mayoral race