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St. Petersburg natives go head-to-head for District 1 council seat

Meet city council hopefuls Copley Gerdes and Bobbie Shay Lee.
Bobbie Shay Lee (left) and Copley Gerdes will face-off in an election to represent District 1 on St. Petersburg City Council on Nov. 2.
Bobbie Shay Lee (left) and Copley Gerdes will face-off in an election to represent District 1 on St. Petersburg City Council on Nov. 2. [ Photos provided ]
Published Sep. 24
Updated Sep. 24

Replacing the city’s aging stormwater and sewage pipes. Increasing affordable housing. Keeping baseball in St. Petersburg and supporting the development of a multi-purpose center at the site of Tropicana Field.

Those are the shared priorities of Bobbie Shay Lee and Copley Gerdes, who will face-off in a citywide race for St. Petersburg City Council’s District 1 seat on Nov. 2.

For the two candidates — both first-time political contenders — the decision to run for public office was about a desire to preserve and advance the city where they both grew up. Still, each candidate has their own vision of how best to invest in St. Petersburg.

Bobbie Shay Lee

Bobbie Shay Lee’s top priority for the City of St. Petersburg is public safety.

The 48-year-old breast cancer advocate, consultant and former nonprofit executive wants to see the city implement programs to combat violence and reduce the number of homicides.

“Lawlessness is excused, and I’m uncomfortable with that,” Lee said.

Her approach to combating crime is two-fold. She’d like to see the city bring back its Violent Crimes Task Force and continue to put dollars toward policing. But the single-mom with a background in clinical social work said of equal importance is investing in programs that foster a healthy community.

Housing insecurity — for example — is something she’d like the city to address. But Lee said the emphasis can’t stop at getting a roof over somebody’s head.

“I know firsthand that building a brick structure and putting people in it doesn’t stop generational poverty,” said Lee, who spent three years directing HomeAid Tampa Bay. “Affordable housing needs to include wrap-around support services or we’re not doing people any favors.”

Lee also said the focus should extend beyond low income residents.

“I think ‘workforce housing’ is the word we need to adopt, because it’s our teachers, our first responders, our artists who can’t afford to live in St. Petersburg and have to travel in,” Lee said.

Beyond housing, Lee said she wants council to invest in community spaces around the city.

Restoring and reopening the St. Petersburg Science Center building, which has been at the center of city debate, is a step she wants taken to increase educational opportunities for kids and to create a multi-purpose community center in her neighborhood.

“Saving the Science Center is how I got engaged [in the race] and is one of the most immediate issues in my community,” Lee said. “There’s a huge opportunity to use the building to create a STEAM hub for our kids. In addition, the space would have a garden and a banquet space for weddings, so there’d be economic impact, too.”

Lee has a master’s degree in policy and administration from Florida State University and has been a lobbyist for Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas. She previously directed the Center for Transparency, a nonprofit organization focused on cause-marketing.

Lee has been endorsed by state Rep. Chris Latvala, Rep. Linda Cheney and Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters. Her campaign had raised $43,565 as of Sept. 13.

Copley Gerdes

Copley Gerdes said creating a sustainable future for St. Petersburg is all about finding balance between promoting economic development, and maintaining the “small-town feel” that keeps locals in the city.

“Our town is a little-big town, and people want to be here because of that,” Gerdes said. “We have to be intentional about keeping it that way.”

The 38-year old financial advisor for Northwestern Mutual said he sees his top priority is supporting the development of sustainable infrastructure.

Gerdes said part of that is investing in programs like the city’s Complete Streets initiative, which was adopted in 2015 and places emphasis on having roadways that support multiple modes of transportation.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got walkable and bikeable areas connecting us to our city, rather than just packing the streets with cars,” Gerdes said. “I grew up on the streets of St. Petersburg playing concrete football and tag. I want my kids to do the same thing.”

Gerdes said he sees growth opportunities for local businesses in his district that he wants the city to support through partnerships with local developers.

“The west side of St. Pete is growing and is blossoming,” Gerdes said. “I think we could really have a bustling Central Avenue. You’ve got a bunch of traffic that goes from the beaches and back and I would just love to see that be this unique area of shops and food and entertainment.”

In addition to development and sustainability, Gerdes, who has been endorsed by St. Petersburg’s police and fire unions, said that continuing to support first responders and public safety officials is vital to maintaining the city. Additionally, he said he wants to use rezoning and public-private partnerships to get more affordable housing built in St. Petersburg.

Gerdes has a degree in religion from Saint Leo University. He founded a pediatric cancer charity with his wife. Gerdes is on the board of the Police Athletic League and is the chair of the community planning and preservation committee for the city of St. Petersburg.

His father, Charlie Gerdes, previously served two terms representing District 1.

Gerdes has been endorsed by Mayor Rick Kriseman, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice and four sitting city council members. His campaign had raised $55,215 as of Sept. 17.