St. Petersburg has a vibrant downtown and strong neighborhoods, big public projects under way such as the new Pier and police station, and rising property values. But the city also faces big challenges: improving its sewer system, reducing poverty in inner-city neighborhoods and redeveloping the Tropicana Field site. City Council member Amy Foster was re-elected without opposition, and Darden Rice has no credible opposition. There are strong first-time candidates for two open council seats. Voters citywide will cast ballots for three council races on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Barclay Harless District 2
There are two well-qualified, first-time candidates to succeed term-limited Jim Kennedy in District 2, which covers the city's northernmost neighborhoods and the apartments and condos in the Gateway area.
Barclay Harless, 32, worked for four years as an aide to then-state Rep. Darryl Rouson. Since 2014, he has worked for the Bank of the Ozarks as a community banker making small business loans. He also has served on the Pinellas charter review committee, the board of R' Club Child Care and as state policy chair for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. That varied experience in different parts of the community would be an asset on the City Council.
Relying on his banking experience, Harless believes the city should better prioritize spending and focus on rebuilding infrastructure such as sewers, roads and bridges. He supports reopening the Albert Whitted sewage plant, and he would trim the additional spending proposed for the Pier to focus on activities for children. In Midtown, he recognizes the importance of investing in early childhood learning, vocational training and financial literacy to help reduce poverty and expand job opportunities.
Brandi Gabbard, 41, is a Realtor who moved from Indiana to St. Petersburg in 2003. She also is a strong candidate with a solid understanding of the city. Gabbard, a former chair of the board of the Pinellas Realtor Organization, has worked on real estate issues ranging from affordable housing to flood insurance in Tallahassee and Washington. She would explore reopening the Albert Whitted sewage plant, and she did not support seeking the additional $10 million for the Pier project.
The edge in this race goes to Harless, who has more varied experience working in government, the private sector and with nonprofits. While they share similar views on most issues, he is more detailed than Gabbard in his policy proposals. For St. Petersburg City Council District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Barclay Harless.
Darden Rice District 4
Darden Rice has made a significant impact during her first term on City Council, and she has no credible opposition for re-election to the seat that covers neighborhoods such as Woodlawn, Crescent Lake and much of the Old Northeast.
Rice, 47, is perhaps the most progressive member of the council and is particularly strong on environmental issues, job creation and working conditions, and transportation. She voted for the agreement to enable the Tampa Bay Rays to look in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a new stadium site and for spending an additional $10 million on the Pier project. She believes the city is on the right track in improving the sewer system but leans toward reopening the Albert Whitted plant. She helped lead the creation of a wage theft prevention program now run by the county, but her advocacy of progressive causes can go too far — such as her push for campaign finance reform that should be a state responsibility.
In a second term, Rice's priorities are fixing the sewer system, improving transportation in the city and throughout the region, and continuing to advance issues regarding environmental protection and sustainability.
Jerick Johnston, 21, is a University of South Florida St. Petersburg student and self-employed consultant. A first-time candidate, he opposed spending the additional $10 million on the Pier project and would reopen the Albert Whitted sewage plant. But Johnston has a vague understanding of other city issues and is not yet prepared to hold public office.
Rice, the current council chair, has been a positive force and will be even more effective in a second term. For St. Petersburg City Council District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Darden Rice.
Justin Bean District 6
Justin Bean, a rising young business leader, finished first in the eight-person August primary in District 6, which covers a diverse collection of neighborhoods including portions of the Old Northeast, downtown, the Old Southeast and Midtown. He remains the best choice to succeed the term-limited Karl Nurse.
Bean, 30, is a partner in his family's Web-based packaging company in St. Petersburg and has chaired the young professionals committee for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. He has been involved in various efforts to study plans for the new Pier and to redevelop Tropicana Field's 85 acres. He also started a nonprofit partnership to attract more activities to Williams Park in the heart of downtown.
The first-time candidate wants to encourage redevelopment that originates from ideas generated by local business and community leaders. He would invest more in early childhood education, focus on improving Midtown and support community policing. Bean opposes spending the additional money on the Pier project, and he is eager to work on regional issues such as transportation.
Gina Driscoll, 46, narrowly finished second in the primary to advance to the general election. The first-time candidate is the sales manager for a downtown hotel and president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. She supports spending the additional $10 million on the Pier project, creating more affordable housing options and developing more programs for youths.
While Bean and Driscoll are both strong candidates, Bean has more specific ideas and sounds less cautious about pursuing innovative initiatives in areas ranging from Midtown to redeveloping Tropicana Field's 85 acres. For St. Petersburg City Council District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Justin Bean.