St. Petersburg Council member Robert Blackmon files to run for mayor

Blackmon is the second Council member to enter the race.
First-term St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon filed to run for mayor on Tuesday.
First-term St. Petersburg City Council member Robert Blackmon filed to run for mayor on Tuesday. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published May 25, 2021|Updated May 26, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — First-term City Council member and real estate investor Robert Blackmon filed to run for mayor on Tuesday.

His entrance makes him the second Council member to enter the race. He may also be the first registered Republican with enough name recognition to vault to front-runner status, challenging the likes of Democrats Darden Rice, Blackmon’s colleague on City Council; former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch; and former City Council member and state representative Wengay Newton.

Blackmon, 32, likes to say he is the youngest person ever to serve on City Council in St. Petersburg’s history — he was 30 when he was elected in 2019. He dismissed a question about his youth and relative inexperience compared to those of his most prominent challengers.

“Leadership knows no age,” he said.

On Council, Blackmon is an outside-the-box thinker, his real estate acumen and technical knowledge of property values often informing novel ideas and direct questions of officials from Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration.

And he hasn’t faded into the background as one of the two newest members. His elbows out nature and prosecutorial inquiries have sometimes put him at odds with administration officials, and he and the mayor have publicly traded barbs. Last week, Council Chair Ed Montanari twice gaveled down Blackmon during an exchange in which Blackmon and senior administration officials lobbed accusations of unprofessionalism.

This week, Blackmon downplayed any rift and said the campaign is not “about personalities, it’s a campaign of ideas.”

Blackmon has had a quick political rise. A Pinellas County native, he ran and lost in District 6 for City Council in 2017 before claiming the District 1 seat in a campaign where he enjoyed bipartisan support.

Blackmon said he was compelled to run because people told him they wanted “more options and more voices.”

He called his opponents “all good people,” but said he is “the most well-rounded in terms of inclusiveness.” He said he has fought on Council for everything he campaigned for, including trying to address affordable housing and bringing the Pinellas County Science Center back to life, of which he said, “Science is more important now than ever.”

Blackmon said he believes no progress can be made with the Tampa Bay Rays until the new mayor is in office. On Monday, after the Tampa Bay Times reported that minority owners of the team sued principal owner Stu Sternberg over allegations of financial misconduct, Kriseman said Sternberg should “consider relinquishing control” of the team.

But, Blackmon said, if a deal isn’t struck within the first year of his term, “it may be time to move on” from the Rays.

He doesn’t believe the city should contract with a development company to undertake renovations at the downtown marina and would rather the city issue bonds to pay for them itself. He also doesn’t agree with a proposal to construct a new municipal services center near City Hall, which could cost more than $40 million. He said he’d rather move the municipal building to Tangerine Plaza at the corner of 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street, which would bring jobs to the struggling shopping center and use proceeds from the sale of the existing services center building to fund a grant program within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

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Blackmon submitted his resignation Monday, effective as of Jan. 5, 11:59 p.m., the minute before the new mayor’s term will begin. Under Florida’s “resign-to-run” laws, Monday was the last day Blackmon could resign and still serve the remainder of his term; had he done so any later, his resignation would have been effective immediately.

Now that he has resigned, the District 1 Council seat will be on the ballot. That winner will serve the remainder of Blackmon’s term, until 2023, before they can seek reelection.

Others running for mayor are real estate agent Vincent Nowicki, former political operative and marketer Marcile Powers, University of South Florida political science student Michael Ingram, and former congressional write-in candidate Michael Levinson.

Candidate qualifying begins June 3. 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.