1. News

A decade later, Nurse and Kennedy depart St. Pete City Council

St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy, left, is seen along with council member Karl Nurse in this combination of two images. After serving a decade together, both will be leaving office on Tuesday. [Times files]
Published Dec. 30, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Karl Nurse and Jim Kennedy first met when they roomed together at a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce leadership retreat. That was back in 1991.

Now, Kennedy, 60, and Nurse, 63, are leaving the City Council after serving a decade together.

They have been linked together from the start: Nurse lobbied Kennedy to accept an appointment to the council in October 2007 to take over for John Bryan, who committed suicide after allegations of child abuse surfaced.

Kennedy returned the favor months later in April 2008, advocating for Nurse to be appointed to what was traditionally a seat held by black politicians. That caused Kennedy some political angina with black voters as he headed into his first election in November 2008. He won, of course.

Since then, the two Democrats have occasionally found themselves on different sides of certain issues. But they rarely, if ever, clashed.

All that comes to an end Tuesday. Both have reached their term limits.

For the first time in 10 years, there won't be a Kennedy or Nurse on the council.

• • •

Nurse is leaving with a long list of accolades, most recently the local Sierra Club chapter's Black Bear Award for his environmental work. That includes pressuring Duke Energy to share cost savings with the city when it replaces traditional street lights with LED lighting (a victory to be formally announced in January); pushing for solar panels and other energy-efficient measures in city facilities; and bolstering the city's electric vehicle fleet.

It was one of many tearful tributes to a progressive icon in the Sunshine City in recent weeks.

"If I had known people were going to be so kind, I would have quit long ago," quipped Nurse.

He is most proud of his accomplishments on housing. He pushed for a foreclosure registry during the height of the housing bust so banks would be held responsible for distressed properties' upkeep.

Nurse also championed the "rebates for rehab" program, which helped jump-start an effort to reduce the number of dilapidated properties. The longtime chairman of the council's housing committee, Nurse keeps close tabs on the number of boarded-up properties citywide, reciting the steadily declining number every chance he gets. From a high of 910 in July 2013, there are now only 238 boarded-up properties.

"He walks the walk, he doesn't just talk the talk," said Mike Dove, the city's neighborhood affairs director. "He's not the kind of council member who says go fix this and bring it back to me. He sits down with us and says 'let's see what we can do.'?"

A lot more needs to be done, Nurse said.

"There's no natural path forward for what most people call 'the missing middle,'?" he said. "You want a place where the teacher, firefighter or cop can move to and the market is not building those."

• • •

Kennedy made his mark on the council by diving deeply into fiscal and budgetary issues.

He has chaired the influential budget, finance and taxation committee since 2009 and pushed to rewrite the city's fiscal policy, moving more of the city's roughly $500 million investment portfolio into higher-performing assets.

He also led the effort to bolster the city's reserves, establishing a benchmark ratio of the reserves equaling 25 percent of the city's general fund.

It's part of his "deep-dive" philosophy of local government, Kennedy said.

"If you want to understand something," he said, "understand where the money comes from and where it goes to and then you can usually figure everything else out."

The city's finance director said Kennedy has been a valuable partner. On a scale of 1 to 10, Anne Fritz said his fiscal acumen was outstanding.

"He's probably as close as you get to a 10," Fritz said, "taking something complex and being able to bring it down to something that constituents can understand."

Kennedy also focused on transportation and planning. He has been a long-serving member of Forward Pinellas — the county's recently renamed transportation planning agency — and its earlier iterations.

Kennedy is proudest of another accomplishment that hasn't been as closely associated with his legacy: the creation of a seagrass mitigation bank. Growing seagrass and selling mitigation credits for about $500,000 each to developers who destroy the delicate marine plant elsewhere.

Approved last year by the council, the project is still in its infancy but could eventually earn the city millions, Kennedy said.

• • •

When Kennedy and Nurse clashed, it was because their highest priorities were in conflict. Kennedy's concerns about spending discipline put him at odds with Nurse's desire to improve conditions for the city's poorest residents.

"Probably, Karl found me frustrating on some of his ideas," Kennedy said. "In any of our places where we voted differently, we always were able to advocate politely with full respect."

Kennedy is contemplating a run for the Pinellas County Commission District 6 seat currently held by Republican John Morroni, who is leaving office in 2018. State Reps. Kathleen Peters and Larry Ahern and No Tax for Tracks activist Barb Haselden have also announced their plans to run in the Republican primary. No Democrat has sought the seat since 2006.

Kennedy, who supported Republican Rick Baker in the mayor's race, said he'll make a decision soon.

Nurse has no definite plans for politics. He wants to travel and get his tennis game back in shape.

He'll also stay active in affordable housing issues, including a consortium of non-profit home builders who are working with the city to build on vacant or demolished lots.

But for right now, Nurse said, "I don't have a plan."

Nurse and Kennedy's council careers will officially end at Tuesday's ceremonial final meeting, when their successors are set to be sworn in at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.


  1. A sign seen on the front door of Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria in March, after owner Tom Woodard stopped serving drinks with plastic straws. The St. Petersburg City Council voted 5-2 on Thursday night to ban single-use plastic straws. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
    The City Council tweaked its own ordinance banning single-use plastic straws, which is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
  2. Student activists with the March For Our Lives group, founded after the Feb. 2018 Parkland shooting, hold a banner that promotes their new "peace plan" to prevent gun violence, while demonstrating in the rotunda of the state capitol building in Tallahassee. Emily L. Mahoney | Times
    The 18-year-old student director of March for Our Lives Florida said school shootings are so common they are “not shocking” anymore.
  3. Steven Currall prepares to deliver an address during his investiture as the University of South Florida's seventh president Thursday at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Though he started the job in July, Steve Currall is officially installed as president on his 137th day in office.
  4. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  5. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  6. Gov. Ron DeSantis greets local officials at Dunedin High School on Oct. 7, 2019, part of a swing around the state to announce his plan to boost starting teacher pay in Florida to $47,500. He revealed a related teacher bonus plan on Nov. 14 in Vero Beach. MEGAN REEVES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The new plan would replace the controversial Best and Brightest model that DeSantis had called confusing.
  7. The "#9pmroutine" is a core social media feature for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Now, the agency has a copyright on it. Facebook
    Copyrighting a key part of the agency’s social media presence isn’t meant to limit its reach, the office said, but rather to stop bad actors.
  8. USF student Gabriela Young is the owner of Earth and Ivory, an online jewelry business with items made out of clay.  [Special to the Times | Sarah Foster] SARAH FOSTER  |  Special to the Times | @sarahtheartiste
    Gabriela Young went from selling bracelets to friends to making clay wares for customers with her business, Earth and Ivory.
  9. Chief Veterinarian Mallory Offner examines a female rescue puppy at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Tampa. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    With 250 of the pooches ready for adoption, each potential puppy parent has a 1-in-4 shot at getting picked in today’s drawing.
  10. Eight vehicles were involved in a fiery and fatal crash late Wednesday that left two people dead and shut down northbound Interstate 75 bridging Hillsborough and Pasco counties, authorities said. The driver of the white van pictured above, George Pagan of Tampa, said he saw the semi-trailer truck, left, sliding sideways toward him in his rearview mirror before impact. Pasco Fire Rescue
    The chain-reaction crash that closed the northbound lanes near the Pasco-Hillsborough line started when a semi-trailer truck driver didn’t stop for traffic, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.