ST. PETERSBURG — Mayors from the Tampa Bay area’s three largest cities met Thursday to discuss issues facing their communities and the region, including climate change, preemption, transportation and the 2020 presidential election.
What never came up, at least in a serious manner?
The fate of the area’s Major League Baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays.
The anticipation of a Rays question weighed heavily on members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, which hosted its annual State of the Bay discussion with the three mayors: Tampa’s Jane Castor, St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman and Clearwater’s George Cretekos. Moderator and political consultant Adam Smith made several references to the baseball question that wasn’t.
Instead, club members who asked the questions Thursday steered clear — which may have signaled fatigue with an issue that has had near-tabloid appeal recently and has sucked the oxygen out of rooms like the one at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club for a decade.
Castor stressed during her opening statement the importance of a regional identity, particularly with regard to transportation.
“I often joke that we’re so far behind on transportation that we think we’re first," she said. "We really do have to come up with viable solutions for the entire region.”
Kriseman focused his opening statement on touting St. Petersburg’s accomplishments. Noting the relatively young average age of St. Petersburg residents — 41 — Kriseman said he was proud his city has “gone from God’s waiting room to God’s craft beer tap room.”
Cretekos, who is leaving office soon due to term limits, issued a full-throated defense of Clearwater, which he said has been portrayed as “in the pits” by mayoral and city council candidates — some of whom were in the room.
“No, we’re not Tampa or St. Pete with the construction that’s going on," he said. But “Clearwater is not broken.”
The most direct question, which drew quiet cheers, came from a woman who asked the mayors to convince her why she shouldn’t move from Florida because of climate change.
Kriseman, who is entering his seventh year in city hall, and Castor, who was elected last year, both listed things their cities have done to mitigate the effects: replacing sea walls, changing zoning requirements and hardening infrastructure, as well as efforts to reduce their cites’ carbon footprints.
All three mayors stressed there was no need to pack up and leave immediately.
“You don’t have to worry about leaving now, but maybe your great great great grandchildren will, if each one of us does not take more responsibility now for our environment," Cretekos said.
Smith, formerly the Tampa Bay Times political editor, asked the mayors about the two presidential candidates who were once mayors — former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Mayors, Kriseman said, "have to get things done. We can’t let politics get in the way, we can’t let money get in the way. Because our citizens deserve action.”
Kriseman has known both former mayor candidates — Bloomberg visited St. Petersburg last year to announce the city had won an award to up its sustainability effort. Kriseman hinted that one of them may get his support. A mayor’s perspective, he said, "will be refreshing in Washington.”
Cretekos, a Republican, dodged whether he would support President Donald Trump for reelection. But he did make the only comment that drew boos from the audience: Trump, he said “says a lot of things that people agree with, even in this room, that people are embarrassed to admit. Because otherwise, he wouldn’t have carried Pinellas County.”
The three leaders were most in sync when criticizing the Florida Legislature for its efforts to preempt municipalities from implementing local rules.
“Stop usurping home rule,” Castor said.
“Let us do our jobs,” said Kriseman, noting that the needs of a rural county are different from an urban one.
“I find it difficult as a Republican to have a Republican Legislature that tells us that they know what’s best for our communities,” Cretekos said.
Another question addressed the economic development council in Tampa making the controversial decision to rename itself the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, which some in Pinellas felt was unfair and disingenuous.
“It’s pretty much a lesson in how not to roll out something," Castor said. "And they’re very aware of that.”
Kriseman likened that announcement to the roll-out of the University of South Florida’s controversial consolidation plan, while Cretekos said it “hurt all of us on this side of the bay when the people in Tampa did what they did.”
Cretekos joked that the obvious solution was to rename the bay Clearwater Bay.
Other questions included whether the mayors collaborate well (they said they do) and whether the veteran mayors, Kriseman and Cretekos, regret any decisions (not many).
While nobody directly asked about the Rays, the topic was fodder for jokes among the three mayors. Castor suggested she and Kriseman should just let Clearwater have the team since that city has people “who have enough money." Clearly a reference to the wealth of the Church of Scientology, it drew laughs.
That the team should land in Clearwater was an ongoing gag. Smith came up with a good stadium name.