ST. PETERSBURG — Pete Boland believes the hospitality industry is an important cog in the machinery of St. Petersburg, and that he, as an unofficial spokesman for the local industry, has something worthwhile to say about how city government should run.
That helped spark his decision at age 37 to make his first foray into electoral politics by running for mayor.
Boland, a St. Petersburg native, is co-founder of The Galley, a popular restaurant and tavern in the downtown arts district, and the nearby Mary Margaret’s Olde Irish Tavern.
Boland advocates a conservative, “small business approach” to city government — cost-cutting, more financial support for the police, increased prosecution for minor crimes including bicycle theft, and ending pandemic restrictions, which he says weren’t realistic to begin with.
Instead of choosing a single master developer to redevelop the Tropicana Field site, he says it should be split among several developers specializing in different areas including housing and offices.
He also says the city should move quickly to build a new stadium to accommodate the Tampa Bay Rays.
His website promises to “Build a new stadium and make Tampa pay for it,” though it doesn’t say how. In an interview, he clarified — “We need to come together as a region for this regional asset,” create a regional sports authority and use tourist or rental taxes.
Boland filed to run June 2 and therefore hasn’t yet filed a campaign finance report.
A registered Republican who calls himself a moderate, he’s a comparatively conservative candidate in the Democrat-dominated candidate field for the nonpartisan race. But he also says partisan politics have hindered progress in St. Petersburg.
“We need to be mindful of the money we spend, have an efficient government, and hold people accountable,” Boland said in an interview. “My experience as an executive sets me apart,” with some 60 employees in his businesses and other dependent suppliers, he said.
On his website, he promises to “end the cycle of career politicians with a small business approach,” and says he’ll never run for another political office if he wins.
Boland was born and grew up in Shore Acres. His parents operated a small store, B&N Market, where he worked as a boy.
After Boland’s parents split and his grandmother died when he was 16, he said he became “a troubled teen” and went through a period of brushes with the law, including marijuana busts.
Nonetheless, he graduated from St. Petersburg High School. He attended the College of Central Florida in Ocala and St. Petersburg College without getting a degree.
Along the way, he “fell in love with the hospitality industry,” he said. He worked his way up, starting as a bartender at age 19, and attended culinary school at the Art Institute of Tampa, a branch of the private, for-profit Miami International University of Art and Design. He founded his businesses starting in 2016 with The Galley.
He lives in Shore Acres with his girlfriend and her three children.
Boland says he’s always been around politics and civic affairs, though he’s a first-time candidate.
His parents were heavily involved in Little League baseball, and he was co-chair of the Build the Pier campaign in 2013, which focused on the “Lens” design, he said.
Of the pandemic restrictions, he said mask requirements in restaurants and bars were unenforceable, and that the city would have been better off simply banning indoor dining service.
He argued last year against Mayor Rick Kriseman’s mask mandate, and both his businesses received citations for failure to enforce mask-wearing.
“We were forced to be the mask police,” he said.
“People should be left to their own accord as best we can — individual responsibility should rule the day.”
He said the mayor’s office staff and the city “subsidy” for the Pier are places he would look to cut costs.
He suggested the businesses on the Pier could bear more of the maintenance costs and said the city budget shows 21 employees in the mayor’s office, which he thinks is too many. He suggested eliminating the mayor’s communications director.
On law enforcement, Boland said, “I don’t want to defund the police, but I recognize we have problems” with police-Black community relations. “I understand both ends of it.”
The solution, he said, is to “make sure we have the best police force humanly possible — I want it to be a coveted job, even more than it is now.”
Besides Boland, other candidates for mayor include City Council members Robert Blackmon and Darden Rice, former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and former City Council member and state representative Wengay Newton.
Others in the field include former political operative and marketer Marcile Powers, University of South Florida political science student Michael Ingram, and former congressional write-in candidate Michael Levinson.
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.
The Tampa Bay Times and Spectrum Bay News 9 are hosting a mayoral debate Tuesday, June 22 at noon. Watch it live at tampabay.com/politics and at baynews9.com/watch. It will replay on Bay News 9 at 7 p.m. This is the fourth 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