Mayor Rick Kriseman received a holiday gift from the local chapter of the Sierra Club Friday: an endorsement.
For nearly two years, Kriseman has struggled to emerge from an ongoing sewage crisis that dumped about 200 million gallons of sewage into local waterways and streets. The spills sparked federal and state investigations. The state investigation is ongoing.
The Suncoast Group of Sierra Club didn't mention the sewage crisis in its news release, but David Harbeitner, the chapter's political chair, said the group has been closely tracking issue since first discharges began in 2015.
"We have been very concerned about it since 2015, but we wanted to make sure the administration was getting to the root cause," Harbeitner said.
Kriseman's $304 million plan to fix the sewers and a master plan to roadmap long term fixes to the sewer and stormwater systems is evidence that the mayor takes the issue seriously, Harbeitner said.
Also important are Kriseman's other accomplishments, including implementing curbside recycling and developing a sustainability action plan.
And Kriseman gets it right on climate change, Harbeitner said.
"This is the first time we've had, at an administration-level, the recognition of how climate change can impact our community," Harbeitner said Friday.
Climate change has been a point of contention in the mayor's race. Rick Baker, a former mayor, has said he believes humans have had a role in climate change; he's just not sure how much of one. In any event, Baker said, leaders need to work on removing carbon from the atmosphere.
Kriseman has been vocal about the threat of climate change to a city surrounded on three sides by water. He has scoffed at Baker's position, saying that it ignores the scientific consensus that human activity has been the driving force of a warming planet.
Baker's campaign greeted the news with puzzlement.
"It is odd that the Sierra Club would endorse one of the worst polluters in our city's past over a former mayor who has one of the best environmental records in our city's history," said Baker spokeswoman Brigitta Shouppe in an email late Friday.
Below is the news release:
ST. PETERSBURG - The Suncoast Group of Sierra Club today officially announced its endorsement of Rick Kriseman in his race to be re-elected Mayor of St. Petersburg.
"We are very pleased to endorse Rick Kriseman, who has clearly proven his leadership in making St. Pete one of the state's most environmentally progressive cities," said David Harbeitner, Sierra Club spokesperson. " His decisions have been instrumental in taking actions with long-term benefit to the environment and the city's future."
Mayor Kriseman has built a strong body of knowledge and results from his time on the St. Petersburg City Council, the Florida House of Representatives and currently as Mayor of St Petersburg. His achievements include creating the city's Office of Sustainability and supporting the development of an Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, initiating a city recycling program, and integrating energy efficiency into new construction citywide.
The threat of climate change and sea level rise in Tampa Bay cannot be ignored. In issuing a proclamation in 2016 to move St. Petersburg to 100% renewable energy, Mayor Kriseman proves he is committed to protecting our communities and building a greener, stronger city. His support of alternative transportation includes spearheading a regional ferry pilot program, funding St. Pete's first bike-share program, supporting ride-share and a Complete Streets policy.
Proposing significant investment into the city's infrastructure to modernize it and ensure it can handle the impact of changing sea level and future storms reflect his long-term commitment to strengthening the city. Additionally, he is a strong advocate for residential and business development, and economic stability of South St. Petersburg, an area long challenged.
His background includes: Mayor, St. Petersburg (2014-present); Florida House of Representatives (2006-2012); St. Petersburg City Council (2000-2006); Chair of the St Petersburg City Council (2005).
With a proven track record of strong leadership and a commitment to creating a sustainable and environmentally forward city, the Sierra Club supports the re-election of Rick Kriseman for Mayor of St. Petersburg for another four years