The St. Petersburg primary election is over. The once-crowded mayoral race is winnowed to just two — Ken Welch and Robert Blackmon. Congratulations to them. Now we need to hear more from the two prevailing candidates. More about their visions for the city. More about why they are different from each other. No more playing it safe. The voters deserve to know precisely what a Welch or Blackmon administration will mean for St. Petersburg. The candidate who tells the better, richer story will have the advantage going into the Nov. 2 runoff.
Former Pinellas County commissioner Welch and current City Council member Blackmon triumphed over six other candidates, plus one write-in. Welch led the way with about 39 percent of the vote, with Blackmon capturing a little more than 28 percent. City Council member Darden Rice followed in a distant third with less than 17 percent. None of them won more than 50 percent, so the top two run off to see who will replace Mayor Rick Kriseman, barred from running again due to term limits.
The nine-person primary revealed some hidden political talent — take a bow bar owner and first-time candidate Pete Boland — but the more seasoned pols, the ones with name recognition and ample campaign coffers, attracted the most votes. With so much competition, the leading candidates largely stuck to safe ground, a familiar strategy in a race with no clear front runner. Bold ideas can get lost among so many competing messages. But Welch and Blackmon don’t have that excuse anymore. They are the only two voices left. They have the time and space to make their pitches to voters — loud and clear.
St. Petersburg is on a roll, so as this Editorial Board has said before, the next mayor’s first priority must be to build on that momentum. Which candidate is more likely to create an environment that attracts big companies to the city? We need good-paying jobs, after all. Which one can help the city’s smaller businesses prosper, or at least stay out of their way? Who can set the right tone in trying to reach a win-win deal with the Tampa Bay Rays?
There’s so much at stake. The Tropicana Field site, for one, remains a golden redevelopment opportunity on the edge of the city’s downtown, but only with the right leadership, much of which must come from the mayor’s office. Making housing affordable remains a pressing challenge. So does ensuring that every resident has an opportunity to benefit from the city’s prosperity. And the winning candidate will have to prepare the city for sea-level rise.
Welch and Blackmon have their flaws, and there is certainly going to be some mudslinging, even if it doesn’t come directly from the candidates. How they handle personal attacks or address mistakes can reveal how they will lead, how they handle pressure. But the nine weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election must be about more than just parrying the typical barrage of personal assaults. Residents, some of whom are only now starting to follow the race, deserve to hear specifics from each candidate on their plans for St. Petersburg. Whom do they plan to hire to help them run the city? What will they try to accomplish in their first 100 days? How about in their first year?
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This important campaign begins again now.
The St. Petersburg mayoral contest and five of the eight seats on City Council will be on the Nov. 2 ballot. All the elections are non-partisan and citywide, meaning voters from any district can cast votes in all of the races. The candidate in each race with the most votes wins.
Voter registration ends Oct. 4, and the deadline to request a mail-in ballot is 5 p.m., Oct. 23. For more information about vote-by-mail, go to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections information page.
The races (”I” signifies incumbent):
Mayor — Ken Welch vs. Robert Blackmon
City Council, District 1 — Bobbie Shay Lee vs. Copley Gerdes
District 2 — Brandi Gabbard (I) vs. Kyle Hall
District 4 — Lisset Gonzalez Hanewicz vs. Tom Mullins
District 6 — Gina Driscoll (I) vs. Mhariel A. Summers
District 8 — Richie Floyd vs. 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.