In many ways, St. Petersburg is thriving despite the COVID crisis. People still want to move here and businesses see opportunity downtown and in outlying areas. To maintain the momentum, the City Council will have to make wise decisions about the Tropicana Field site, sea-level rise, affordable housing, transportation and how to tackle crime. Three City Council races are on the Aug. 24 primary ballot, featuring many first-time candidates. The top-two vote getters in each district move on to the citywide general election on Nov. 2. The candidates serve four-year terms, and the races are non-partisan.
Four candidates are vying to replace council member Robert Blackmon, who after fewer than two years resigned the seat — effective Jan. 5, 2022 — to run for mayor.
Gerdes, 38, has the right temperament combined with a solid grasp of the major issues facing his district and the city. Importantly, Gerdes is realistic about what he doesn’t know, and he understands the learning curve and hard work involved in being a member of the City Council.
Gerdes is a graduate of St. Petersburg Catholic High School and Saint Leo University. Earlier in his career, he worked as a teacher and as a business analyst with the Clearwater-based employer solutions company FrankCrum Inc., before becoming the growth and development director and a financial adviser with Northwestern Mutual of Tampa. His father, Charlie Gerdes, served two terms in District 1.
Gerdes wants to work to end divisiveness in the city and ensure that every neighborhood is part of the city’s progress. Gerdes’ even keel, and his eagerness to work together and willingness to put party politics aside would help on the eight-person City Council.
Gerdes, who sits on the Police Athletic League board, received the endorsement of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association. He would support the continued investment in programs that keep kids on the right track. He also would like to ensure that police officers and other first responders are “compensated adequately so we can continue to attract and retain a well-trained and diverse police force.”
Like most City Council candidates, Gerdes supports keeping the Rays in St Petersburg, but he says the city’s interests must come first. He speaks eloquently about the debt that is owed to the people who brought baseball to the city, and the families in the Gas Plant district who had to move when the current stadium was built. He’s also open to dismantling the Interstate 175 spur, so that the the redeveloped Trop site is better connected to the neighborhoods to the south.
Edwin “Dr. Ed” Carlson, 80, is a retired dentist active in the Jungle Terrace Neighborhood Association. “I’m the get-it-done candidate,” he says. He intelligently advocates for cleaning up the city’s lakes, too many of which he says are overgrown with invasive species and contaminated with algae. He wants the city to create wider sidewalks to help with public safety, though he does not support the city’s current Complete Streets program, saying it eliminates too many vehicle lanes in the growing city.
Carlson is well-informed on the city’s top issues, and is not afraid to speak his mind. He seems unlikely to buckle to outside pressure on important issues.
John Hornbeck, 36, is a lawyer whom Blackmon defeated in the District 1 race in 2019. He has a history of volunteering in his district including at the Walter Fuller Recreation Center. He’s also a board member on the Jungle Terrace Neighborhood Association and sits on the city’s Nuisance Abatement Board, which does the unsung work of trying to keep properties from becoming havens for drug dealing or gang activity, among other things.
Hornbeck, a graduate of Stetson University College of Law, thinks the Tampa Bay Rays should play at a new stadium at the Al Lang site in downtown St. Petersburg. He leans toward including a “world-class” convention center at the Tropicana Field site, but he would like to hear more from residents. Hornbeck takes pride in not accepting any campaign contributions from developers, and he said he would work to “pump the brakes” on downtown development.
“I’d rather lose a race and not sell my soul,” he said.
Bobbie Shay Lee, 48, is a first-time candidate who champions more government transparency. The consultant and breast-cancer advocate lists public safety, children’s physical and mental health, and sewage infrastructure and water quality as her three top priorities. She would also like to address the plume of contaminated water at the old Raytheon facility. But she lacks specifics on too many major issues.
Gerdes is the strongest overall candidate in this race. For St. Petersburg City Council, District 1, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends Copley Gerdes.
Lisset Gonzalez Hanewicz
Voters in this five-person race have several solid options, but Hanewicz stands out as the best candidate to replace council member Darden Rice, who is term-limited and is running for mayor. The 50-year-old former state and federal prosecutor has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in business administration from Florida International University and a law degree from the University of Florida.
Her top priorities include maintaining St. Petersburg’s unique character even as the city grows. She wants to ensure the city’s infrastructure is prepared for that growth and the effects of sea-level rise. Her years spent serving on several local boards, including as president of the Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association, show in her firm grasp of the challenges the city faces when it comes to making sure critical infrastructure like sewer lines and stormwater systems can keep up with increased use. She also sits on the board of the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation, which focuses on improving education outcomes for children in St Petersburg.
She has some common sense ideas about how to make housing more affordable, including adding more accessory dwelling units like garage apartments, changing zoning laws “where appropriate” to increase housing density, and employing land grants to make projects less expensive.
She’s been endorsed by the Pinellas County Realtors, the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association and Ruth’s List, and she has proven an effective campaign fundraiser, an indication of a well-organized and focused first-time candidate.
Tom Mullins, 57, is an investment banker with Raymond James whose net worth is about $32 million, according to financial disclosures. He has a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and an MBA from Dartmouth College.
Mullins possesses an outsider’s eye and would bring a wealth of banking and big business knowledge currently lacking on the council. He wants the Tampa Bay Rays to stay in the Tampa Bay area, but he does not think that baseball is the best use of the Tropicana Field site. He thinks city officials have badly underestimated the value and potential significance of the site. “The four development plans short-listed by the city in its (request for proposal) process are largely sterile, centrally planned concepts with troubling levels of office/convention/retail content that are now threatened by multiple macro trends,” he said.
He also said that he would “play defense against popular ‘woke/progressive’ municipal governance policies that have nonetheless proven very harmful in actual practice in city after city across the U.S.” including Seattle, Portland and Baltimore.
Mullins is a creative thinker and isn’t afraid of a big idea. But he lacks Hanewicz’s deeper understanding of the challenges facing the city and would not likely be as effective at convincing other council members to support his positions.
Jarib Figueredo, 34, is a an entrepreneur who started his own payroll software business. He grew up in Cuba, and as a 10-year-old sold lemons and perfume on the street. “I was a good salesman,” he said. “How else do you sell perfume to people who don’t need it?”
He came to the United States in 2006, worked in a payroll company before going out on his own. He bills himself as “the voice of the people” and “the voice of small business.” He supports growth downtown but said that “we can’t let growth outpace our infrastructure.” He promises to incentivize developers to build in responsible ways that maintain the city’s character.
Douglas O’Dowd, 55, has run several small businesses and works as a consultant with a private equity firm. He has been active with several community groups and is currently on the board of the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association. His priorities include affordable housing and sustainable infrastructure, and he would like to find ways to increase wages for workers and attract small, clean manufacturing companies to the city.
Clifford Hobbs III, 41, has worked as a chef and has been in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years. He attended St. Petersburg College and says on his website: “I’m not here to make new promises. I’m here to make good on the old ones.”
In a strong field, Hanewicz is the clear choice. For St. Petersburg City Council, District 4, the Times Editorial Board recommends Lisset Gonzalez Hanewicz.
In this crowded race, Danner’s moderate views and keen grasp of St. Petersburg government make him the best choice to take over for council member Amy Foster, who is term-limited. In some ways he has an unfair advantage: He already served eight years on the council having won in 2005 and 2009. He had a reputation for doing his homework and for trying to find common ground on a council whose members didn’t always see eye-to-eye.
Danner, 60, has worked as a contractor and spent the last four years as a building inspector with the city. He’s a historic preservationist who has opposed the demolition of some downtown buildings, though he has a realistic view of the balance between preserving the past and allowing enough growth for the city to prosper. In 10 years, he hopes downtown has a “a balance of updated and well-maintained historic buildings, blended with compatible, contextual state-of-the-art development worthy of a place in our city.”
He also espouses a solid approach to mitigating the effects of sea-level rise, including engaging scientists to weigh in on the best plan, and the appropriate urgency not to punt the problem down the road.
As for how much public money to spend on a new baseball stadium, he said, “As little as necessary. (The Tampa Bay) Rays and the developers stand to profit nicely from this opportunity. We need to be very mindful of the position we have with the largest development opportunity in the country.”
Richmond “Richie” Floyd, 30, is a digital systems engineer turned Pinellas County science teacher. His time spent organizing campaigns for progressive causes, including the $15 minimum wage and criminal justice reform, give him an impressive understanding of the social justice issues the city faces.
He speaks passionately and in depth on ways to make “housing permanently affordable,” including using land grants and changing permitting and zoning rules. He would also expand and improve tenant protections through the city’s Tenant Bill of Rights.
Floyd would bring some youthful energy and a reliably progressive mindset to a council that already tilts in that direction.
Dane Kuplicki, 35, is an optometrist who went to the University of South Florida and the Indiana University School of Optometry. He would like the city to embark on a “once-in-a-generation response to tackle the affordable, or attainable, housing crisis” and he wants to improve access to health care and to ensure fair wages for workers.
Jamie Mayo, 59, runs cleaning and bookkeeping businesses. In 2005, she ran unsuccessfully for the District 8 seat.
Danner would bring a balanced approach to the job, bolstered by deep experience. For St. Petersburg City Council in District 8, the Times Editorial Board recommends Jeff Danner.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.