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  1. Opinion

Times recommends: Gerdes, Garrett, Wheeler-Brown for St. Petersburg City Council

A new pier on the waterfront is on the way, a building boom continues downtown and universal curbside recycling is here. St. Petersburg is on a roll, but there remain challenges, from creating more jobs to revitalizing Midtown. The biggest issue is still breaking the baseball stadium stalemate. Three City Council races are on the Nov. 3 ballot, and voters citywide will have an opportunity to add more thoughtful voices to the discussion.
A new pier on the waterfront is on the way, a building boom continues downtown and universal curbside recycling is here. St. Petersburg is on a roll, but there remain challenges, from creating more jobs to revitalizing Midtown. The biggest issue is still breaking the baseball stadium stalemate. Three City Council races are on the Nov. 3 ballot, and voters citywide will have an opportunity to add more thoughtful voices to the discussion.
Published Oct. 19, 2015

A new pier on the waterfront is on the way, a building boom continues downtown and universal curbside recycling is here. St. Petersburg is on a roll, but there remain challenges — from creating more jobs to revitalizing Midtown. The biggest issue is breaking the baseball stadium stalemate. Three City Council races are on the Nov. 3 ballot, and voters citywide will have an opportunity to add more thoughtful voices to the discussion.

Charlie Gerdes

District 1

After four productive years representing west St. Petersburg, Charlie Gerdes has demonstrated a consistent ability to dissect important issues with common sense, a solid grasp of the facts and a long-term vision for the city. The lawyer's practical approach serves as a bridge between the most conservative and progressive council members, and he deserves a second term.

Gerdes, 59, has helped guide the city through tough financial times and a divisive fight over building a new pier on the downtown waterfront. As the current council chairman, Gerdes works well with Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Gerdes advocates a possible property tax rollback as real estate values increase. He also understands the need for wise investment in priorities such as a modern police station and an active economic development commission. He wants the city to be more aggressive in recruiting businesses and supported hiring more downtown police officers so other officers can focus on the neighborhoods.

Most importantly, Gerdes has been a steady voice for allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to search in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for sites for a new stadium. He recognizes the potential for redeveloping Tropicana Field's 85 acres and wants a new stadium to be part of that vision.

Monica Abbott, 66, is a legal assistant and neighborhood activist who has lobbied to maintain Sunset Park as a passive park and crack down on a problem hotel property near her home. She cares about neighborhood issues, but Gerdes has the broader vision for the city.

For St. Petersburg City Council District 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Charlie Gerdes.

Philip Garrett

District 5

After nearly six years as a City Council member, Steve Kornell should recognize a unique opportunity to transform St. Petersburg, create jobs and generate tax revenue that could help pay for the youth and social programs he cares so much about.

Yet the 49-year-old social worker for the school district has been an obstructionist on the Tampa Bay Rays stadium issue. He opposed Mayor Rick Kriseman's reasonable plan to let the Rays look for new stadium sites, contending the Rays would not pay enough. By focusing on payments from the Rays, Kornell fails to acknowledge the enormous benefits of creating a path to keep the team in Tampa Bay and pursuing a $1 billion redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. It is an irresponsible position that extends the stalemate, reduces the city's leverage and squanders a prime asset. Kornell says he is "open" to a deal, but he still wants more money from the Rays.

Philip Garrett, 50, is a senior property appraiser for Hillsborough County and has been a member of the executive committee of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP. Like Kornell, he is a passionate advocate for education and for creating more jobs in this southern district. Garrett would have made the Skyway Marina District larger and seeks ways to expand the city's black middle class.

Most importantly, Garrett would have voted for Kriseman's proposal to let the Rays look for new stadium sites and recognizes the redevelopment potential of Tropicana Field. With similar views on other issues, Garrett's willingness to break the stadium stalemate and Kornell's failure to embrace the opportunity is the deciding factor in this race.

For St. Petersburg City Council District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Philip Garrett.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown

District 7

Lisa Wheeler-Brown's deep commitment to public safety from the ground up has strengthened relations between St. Petersburg's police department and its residents. After her son was murdered in 2008, she ran down tips and helped authorities find the killer, who is now serving a life sentence in prison. She continues to work with police to battle an "anti-snitch" ethic that undermines criminal investigations. Her energy and ties to her local neighborhoods make her the best candidate in District 7, which includes much of Midtown and some of the city's poorest areas.

Wheeler-Brown, 47, served two years in the U.S. Army and is a medical billing specialist. She serves on the Melrose Elementary School PTA and is past president of St. Petersburg's Council of Neighborhood Associations, which gave her broad exposure to city issues. There still will be a learning curve, as her issues with filing accurate campaign reports reflect.

Among Wheeler-Brown's priorities: ensuring the safety of neighborhoods, adding affordable housing and creating jobs. Unlike incumbent Wengay Newton, who is term-limited, Wheeler-Brown supports allowing the Rays to look for other stadium sites and grasps the enormous redevelopment potential of the Tropicana Field site.

Winthrop "Will" Newton, 49, a retired city firefighter and longtime union leader, still works part time for the firefighters union. He was not successful at achieving compromises as a union negotiator, and it is not clear he could represent broader interests as a council member. He finished second to Wheeler-Brown in the primary election.

Like his brother, Newton does not support Kriseman's approach to ending the stadium stalemate and fails to acknowledge how a hard-line stance on the Rays damages St. Petersburg's economy, delays redevelopment of Tropicana Field and reduces the region's chances of keeping the team.

For St. Petersburg City Council District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Lisa Wheeler-Brown.


Referendum questions

There are four referendum questions on St. Petersburg's Nov. 3 ballot. One is about protecting specific submerged lands, and the other three amend the City Charter. The changes are mainly technical, and voters should approve all of them.

Referendum Question 1 empowers the City Council to impose restrictions on submerged city land east of North Shore Park without holding a cumbersome voter referendum. As water quality in Tampa Bay has improved over the years, sea grass has proliferated in this area, enhancing marine life and water quality. Because these grass beds are part of the waterfront park system, use restrictions could require a special referendum. The change would allow the council to pass protective ordinances after a public hearing but without holding a referendum. On Referendum Question 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting yes.

Referendum Question 2 clarifies how the eight council districts are drawn, favoring compact districts with borders that follow streets, railroad tracks and other natural boundaries even if that means splitting a voting precinct between two or more districts. Following precinct lines sometimes results in districts with jigsaw alignments that split natural neighborhoods into different districts. The charter amendment would give precedence to compact districts that follow neighborhood boundaries over following precinct lines. On Referendum Question 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting yes.

Referendum Question 3 would require City Council candidates to continue living within their districts after qualifying for election and - if elected - during their term in office. Mayors would have to continue living in the city during their terms. These requirements would now be explicit in the charter. On Referendum Question 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting yes.

Referendum Question 4 would make the council's electronic voting system legally sufficient for tallying and displaying official votes. The charter amendment would eliminate the need for the city clerk to announce the votes as well, an unnecessary duplication of time and effort. On Referendum Question 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting yes.

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