ST. PETERSBURG — Amy Foster and Darden Rice may not be in public office anymore, but they plan to remain in the public eye.
Both former City Council members say they have found work, or expect to, that furthers the causes they championed on the council. They were forced to leave office due to term limits after serving two consecutive four-year terms.
Foster, 44, whom fellow City Council members pronounced their favorite when saying their goodbyes, focused on issues affecting vulnerable populations, particularly the homeless, and housing affordability. Rice, known as a sharp and practical policy wonk, championed environmental causes.
In December 2020, Foster was chosen as the CEO of the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas, a million-dollar nonprofit that, according to its website, coordinates community efforts to prevent homelessness in Pinellas County. She previously served as the alliance’s board chairperson.
“I always worked with underserved populations in my work,” she said, “but the particular focus on homelessness came through my work on council.”
Rice, 51, says she is pursuing a position at a statewide environmental protection nonprofit. She hoped that she would be the one inaugurated this month as the 54th mayor of St. Petersburg, but she missed the general election by placing third in the August 2020 mayoral primary.
Rice ended up endorsing her former political rival Ken Welch, who was later elected, and there was talk that she would work in his administration. But nothing has panned out on that front.
“I’m pretty confident that whatever I do next will be in the public interest and that it will put public interests ahead of powerful special interests,” she said.
A golden age
The women joined the City Council at a very different time.
It was 2014, and in an era of change they were elected along with Mayor Rick Kriseman, who defeated incumbent Mayor Bill Foster.
Foster and Rice weren’t just the only women on the dais, they were both openly gay, something Rice was attacked for when she first ran in 2005. The Defense of Marriage Act had been struck down six months prior.
They weren’t alone on that front, however. Steve Kornell was the first openly gay person elected to the City Council. Today there are no openly gay officials on the dais.
“There was sort of a golden age to getting our openly gay people elected to City Council,” Rice said. “I think it sent a very positive message to the whole world that St. Pete is a diverse, tolerant, forward thinking city.”
Foster ran for City Council to address neighborhood issues. North Kenwood struggled with blight and crime from motels in the area. She helped get the Mosley Motel, long a refuge for low-income families but operated in poor conditions, shut down and its residents relocated.
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Foster also made a name for herself pushing for tenants’ rights. Today, tenants on month-to-month leases must get 21 days notice of termination instead of 15, which is the case in the rest of the state, and landlords cannot discriminate based on a tenant’s source of income — both initiatives that were presented in 2018.
“Everything really had to do with things that took care of vulnerable populations,” she said.
Rice created City Hall’s first-ever environmental committee, the Health, Energy, Resiliency and Sustainability Committee. She worked on the curbside recycling program and was central to the creation of the Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, which contains ambitious climate action plans.
“I’d say the most substantive environmental legislation in the city’s history has her fingerprints all over it,” said James Scott, former chair and current board member of the Suncoast Sierra Club. “That’s a legacy that we’re proud of.”
Paying it forward
They haven’t been able to shake off council life just yet.
On Jan. 13, the first meeting with the new City Council, Rice had the meeting on in the background. Foster peeked at the agenda and saw that the new crew had an easy, short day ahead.
Would they run for public office again? Both say they’re not interested right now but wouldn’t rule it out.
Rice sees her role now as a mentor to encourage others to run for office and get involved.
“I see right now my role is to pay it forward and help support bright young political leaders,” she said. “To me, that’s the magic of getting it done. Everyone steps up and when you’re done, you turn around and pay it forward.”
Both candidates they endorsed as their successors won. Richie Floyd, now the youngest City Council member, first Black member elected north of Central Avenue and first Democratic Socialist, won a tight race to succeed Foster. Lisset Hanewicz, the first Hispanic person elected to the council, comfortably won Rice’s seat.
Foster said she spoke with Floyd about building relationships and getting things done by working with the administration behind the scenes instead of putting an item on the agenda and using parliamentary procedure to be effective.
“My background is in psychology, so I think that has definitely helped me in my tenure in council,” Foster explained. “Being able to read people’s body language, understanding what people need out of a conversation and understanding how they think and finding a way to build a bridge and get to yes.”
At her last City Council meeting Dec. 16, Foster made an impromptu decision that could be the capstone of her career on the council: At the pleading of distressed residents, she held a vote to explore rent control, and it passed 6-1.
Then, Foster cried the whole drive home.
“It was a great eight years,” she said. “I feel blessed to have been able to serve. I’ll continue serving my community. I haven’t missed it yet but I know I’m going to miss it.”