ST. PETERSBURG — With the primary election less than two months away, four candidates are vying for the District 1 seat on St. Petersburg City Council.
District 1 covers the far west part of St. Petersburg, including the Azalea, Eagle Crest, Holiday Park, Jungle Terrace and Lake Pasadena neighborhoods, among others. The candidates running to represent the area are retired dentist Ed Carlson, financial advisor Copley Gerdes, consultant and breast-cancer advocate Bobbie Shay Lee and attorney John Hornbeck.
In their home district, the candidates see public safety, redevelopment and stewardship of the area’s natural resources as key issues. The district’s next council member will also confront citywide issues like affordable housing and the future of the Tropicana Field site.
The District 1 election is happening two years ahead of schedule, after current council member Robert Blackmon announced he would step down to run for mayor. The district-level primary is Aug. 24, and the top two candidates will face off in a citywide general election on Nov. 2.
More than anything else, Ed Carlson wants to get city residents more involved in government.
“I need the citizens to tell me what’s necessary,” Carlson said.
A retired dentist and Air Force veteran, Carlson, 80, has a degree in dental surgery from Emory University.
He’s been president of the Jungle Terrace Civic Association for 16 years, a role he said showed him how to work with city government.
Carlson lists managing parks and lakes, improving safety and strengthening neighborhood associations as his goals for his home district. His priorities on public safety include investing in programs like Midtown Miracles, building wide sidewalks, improving lighting and engaging citizens with law enforcement.
He wants to support both large and small businesses in St. Petersburg and promote youth sports. In addition to the city’s current plans to make housing more affordable, he wants to implement an assist-to-own program to help people buy homes.
He said the new mayor should oversee the decision on what happens to Tropicana Field, and he wants to engage citizens in the redevelopment process, even if that means holding multiple referendums.
Carlson had raised $15,825 as of July 2, the last time period for which he released a financial disclosure form. He said he has also raised $10,000 through a political action committee, Florida Speaks.
He has been endorsed by state Rep. Linda Chaney and has collected more than 110 “citizen endorsements.”
“My first person to endorse me was my sanitation truck driver. One of my other people is a brush site operator,” Carlson said.
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Copley Gerdes wants to bring St. Petersburg together while making sure the city both continues to grow and keeps its unique culture.
“My top priority would be to focus on making sure that St. Pete is acting as a community as a whole, rather than being divisive,” he said.
Gerdes is a 38-year-old financial advisor for Northwestern Mutual and has a degree in religion from Saint Leo University. His father, Charlie Gerdes, served two terms representing District 1.
If elected, Gerdes wants to make sure there’s a short-term and a long-term plan for redevelopment in his home district. He also wants to deal with vacant and overgrown “nuisance homes” in the district and keep crime down.
In addition to his focus on community and growth, his citywide plans include using rezoning and public-private partnerships to get more affordable housing built.
Gerdes, who played and coached college baseball, said his first priority on Tropicana Field redevelopment is keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in town. But he wants to make sure it’s done in a way that benefits the city, including the communities that were harmed when the city razed the Gas Plant neighborhood to make way for the stadium.
“Those people sacrificed so we could have baseball,” Gerdes said, suggesting that the city expand the South Side Community Redevelopment Area to include Tropicana Field.
Mayor Rick Kriseman has endorsed Gerdes, and Gerdes’ campaign had raised $22,790 as of July 2.
He said his District 1 roots, including his father’s time representing it on City Council, motivate him to serve the area.
“I’ve got two kids that I want to see grow up [in] that district. I don’t want them to ever move from St. Pete,” Gerdes said.
Attorney John Hornbeck’s top priorities are youth development, affordable homes, and environmental accountability and sustainability.
The 36-year-old Stetson Law School graduate wants to subsidize social and fitness programs for children. He supports a linkage fee to build more affordable homes — a term that he prefers to “affordable housing,” which he says has the connotation of something temporary.
“Our residents that want to have luxury apartments, they still get that,” under his linkage-fee plan, Hornbeck said. “We’re able to afford helping lower-income families get affordable homes. And the luxury developers are still going to make money, they just might make a tiny bit less.”
Hornbeck hopes to incentivize residents to replace cast-iron and clay sewage lines with stronger PVC pipe to make the city’s sewage system sturdier, by offering no-interest loans that residents could pay off after they sell their homes. In District 1, he wants to focus on preserving water quality.
He doesn’t think a new baseball park is feasible on the site of Tropicana Field, and he favors building a new mixed-use stadium at the site of Al Lang, where the Tampa Bay Rowdies play. He said the Trop site could be used to build housing, restaurants, hotels, shops and a “world-class” convention center.
But he emphasized that his views on the Trop aren’t set in stone.
“I am not firm in this. I’m really going to listen to the citizens. I have no vested interest in this whatsoever,” he said.
Hornbeck had raised $6,928 by July 2, and he said he hasn’t yet received any endorsements. He’s a member of St. Pete’s Nuisance Abatement Board and the board of the Jungle Terrace Neighborhood Association, and he was co-chair of his law school’s alumni relations committee, Go Green Committee and Christian Legal Society.
He said his legal experience sets him apart from the other candidates.
“I think that as an attorney, you’re uniquely qualified to analyze complex problems and communicate effective solutions,” he said.
Bobbie Shay Lee
Bobbie Shay Lee’s top priority is public safety, from fighting car theft in District 1 to “fully funding” law enforcement across the city.
The 48-year-old consultant and breast-cancer advocate, who has a master’s degree in policy and administration from Florida State University, wants to fight car theft in her district and address an underground plume of contaminated water at the site of the long-vacant Raytheon facility.
Her citywide priorities include giving law enforcement more funding to fight human trafficking and supporting children.
“I’m concerned about the kids that we lost from the system as a result of COVID, and getting them back in school, not the streets,” she said.
Lee wants to enforce the parents’ bill of rights, which went into effect this month. And she wants to “start with a blank sheet of paper” on the Tropicana Field redevelopment once a new mayor is elected. On affordable housing, she wants the city to pause new development while giving developers infill permits to help them make better use of existing space; she also supports a rent reduction program for groups like first responders, teachers and nonprofit workers.
Lee had raised $12,800 as of July 2. She’s been endorsed by by former Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger and his wife Kay, now local philanthropists; Seminole mayor and former state Rep. Leslie Waters; and former Pinellas County Commission candidate Tammy Vasquez.
Lee emphasized her experience with all levels of government. Although she has not held elected office, she’s been a lobbyist for Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas and has directed HomeAid Tampa Bay and the Center for Transparency, both nonprofit organizations.
“I have experience both at the local, state and federal level,” she said.