During the beginning of this election cycle, I was immersed in my own fight for St. Petersburg City Council District 6, but once the outcome wasn’t favorable I immediately reverted back to my role as president of the St. Petersburg Branch NAACP and immediately began to address the fact that the City of St. Petersburg was immersed in a hotly contested mayor’s race.
As opposed to hosting a candidate forum that would have limited our ability to engage the candidates and the interruption of Hurricane Irma, the NAACP’s executive committee opted for a dialogue during their October meeting with both mayoral candidates regarding issues of importance to the NAACP and the community as a whole. Both candidates were provided with the questions ahead of the scheduled meeting.
Nothing earth shattering, so we thought. The process involved sending both camps an invitation on the same date. The Baker camp acknowledged the invitation and accepted the invite. Rick Baker himself called and confirmed location and time.
The Kriseman camp did not acknowledge the invitation. Even though I personally sent the invites, I also sent back up invitations to School Board member Rene Flowers in the Kriseman camp and to Nick Hansen in the Baker camp in the event the invitations were missed through their barrage of campaign communications.
In spite of the attempts to ensure the invitation was communicated to the Kriseman camp, they never acknowledged it. As a result, I reached out to the Baker camp and offered to extend his time with the executive committee. Imagine my surprise while conducting the meeting and Kriseman walks in with two African-American members of his campaign in tow at the time that we invited Baker.
Mayor Kriseman walked in quite confidently and announced he only had 15 minutes. While this was not the first time this type of dismissive and disrespectful behavior had been shown toward me and the NAACP, I was still caught completely off guard, as well as members of the executive committee.
As opposed to Kriseman’s camp taking responsibility for their candidate’s failure to communicate attendance, his supporters took to social media responding to my account of the incident and accused me of endorsing Baker, alleged the meeting was a set up because we wanted to discuss the Manhattan Casino and the comprehensive planning process for south St. Petersburg.
I got accused of stealing money from Happy Workers and tearing the organization up. One supporter even offered up the fact that because Kriseman came for 15 minutes that was sufficient enough time. Baker remained for an hour and a half and while shocked by what was playing out, he didn’t comment about the mayor and his team’s disrespectful behavior.
The failure of Kriseman’s campaign team to accept responsibility for their failure to communicate and then attacked me and the NAACP sparked me to chronicle both my experience with the administration in both my role as the president of St. Petersburg Branch NAACP and in my role as chairwoman of Happy Workers.
• Last month, Hurricane Irma took our community by a storm. The FSC NAACP placed a call out to all branches placing them on notice regarding the implementation of disaster relief strategies. Recognizing that we needed to access support that could respond quickly, I reached out to Rick Baker requesting assistance with setting up a temporary relief center. Baker contacted me within two hours and advised we could be set up at his employer’s building by 6 p.m. Within three days, 600 people had the opportunity to utilize computers to register for FEMA aid and 1,300 people were fed. Imagine my surprise to be notified that Kriseman surrogate Rene Flowers posted a notice on Facebook implying what we were doing was not legitimate.
• In June, the NAACP hosted its 2017 Freedom Fund Celebration. While we did receive the support of the St. Petersburg Police Department, the City St. Petersburg administration quietly went on Facebook and purchased a table. The mayor’s staff acknowledged his attendance…this was great. Two days after the Freedom fund, one of his supporters advised that I owed the mayor an apology because I offended him in my remarks about the support of small African-American owned businesses. Recognizing that was not the intent, I did not hesitate to make phone calls and to send emails offering an apology and my attempt to clarify the context of my comments. Neither the mayor nor any of his staff acknowledged the apology via return email or return phone call.
• Susan McGrath DEC put on social media that the NAACP created IRS violations, who knows for what, but that is her post.
• While in the capacity of Happy Worker’s chairwoman, we reached out to the City of St. Petersburg to support Happy Workers 85th Birthday Celebration. After months of follow-up and follow through, the city provided Happy Workers with 12 tables and 100 chairs. They confirmed their support staff attendance if memory serves me it was the deputy mayor’s administrative support staff who would attend representing the City of St. Petersburg.
• While in my capacity as chairwoman of Happy Workers, I reached out to the city for support as a result of the challenges facing Happy Workers in regard to licensing violation issues. As opposed to dealing directly with me, city staff chose to work with Rick Davis, a Head Start employee.
They were willing to fund Head Start to provide technical assistance that if provided it would have simply been a waste of money and Happy Workers would have closed. To ensure that Happy Workers survived, I ultimately made a recommendation to our board that we transfer management/ ownership to the ‘R Club not because we didn’t have the capacity to manage our own but it was clear that the Kriseman administration simply did not want to deal with a competent black woman.
The moment Happy Workers was turned over to ‘R Club and they were dealing with a white male, the entire support for Happy Workers changed. R’Club has worked hard to address the same issues that the board of black people was preparing to address.
• During the mayor’s first budget cycle and through the development of the Southside CRA, I attended several meetings to advocate for the city’s support of independently owned early childhood education centers and homes. While the city began to support the effort, they consistently worked around Maria Scruggs, the black person, to provide funding to traditional white ran organizations like USF/St. Pete, who had to ultimately turn to me after recognizing the challenges in executing something I proposed.
• Since the NAACP’s reorganization, we have hosted two Emancipation Proclamation services and an installation service, the City of St. Petersburg has been invited to them all but has failed to acknowledge the invitations.
• The NAACP filed a formal complaint with the SPPD in May 2016 as a result of funds being taken from the account in excess of $11,000 by members of the previous administration. It has been almost 1-1/2 years since we filed that complaint. While we have attempted to be patient, it appears the investigation has been intentionally stalled.
• To add insult to injury, in response to the Tampa Bay Times’ question, the mayor was asked about his intentions for Midtown…his response equated to in essence that we have a lot of work to do. The mayor didn’t bother to expound on any specifics.
When Mayor Kriseman appointed Kanika Tomalin as deputy mayor and Nikki Gaskin-Capehart as director of Urban Affairs, I personally hoped that this was a sign of a turning point in city hall. I personally celebrated these appointments and looked forward to progressive and meaningful work in the African-American community.
Mayor Krisesman’s policy decisions and practices in regard to the Southside CRA, the city’s dependency of the agenda 20/20 Plan as a legitimate poverty reduction strategy, the Not My Son Campaign, the State of Urban Affairs address, the creation of a joint parent teacher association, Manhattan Casino, the parcel of land farmed off on 26th Street South, his Sunday dinners, his march down central in protest of the senseless deaths of young black men and boys have all lacked substance and have merely served as politically expedient topped with a blatant disrespect and disregard for any substantive and meaningful work in the black community.
The St. Petersburg Branch NAACP is a non-partisan organization. We are bold in our advocacy for social and economic justice for minority people. We can’t and will not give any elected official a pass in regards to their treatment of the African-American community or any other minority group of people.
Maria L. Scruggs,
St. Petersburg Branch NAACP