Rene Flowers and Maria L. Scruggs are fighting for your vote to be the next District 7 Pinellas County Commissioner.
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
PINELLAS COUNTY — Pinellas County Commissioner candidates Rene Flowers and Maria L. Scruggs fielded questions concerning COVID-19, food deserts, renewable energy, and other important issues concerning District 7 at the League of Women Voters virtual candidate forum held last week.
Both candidates cited affordable housing as a top issue for the commission to address, while Democrat Flowers noted that healthcare services and economic development were also critical. Scruggs, running with no party affiliation, listed escalating unemployment also as an issue, noting that more than 60,000 residents in Pinellas have filed for unemployment for the first time in the last two months. Rebuilding small and minority-owned businesses was another top concern for Scruggs.
Scruggs explained that because District 7 is a single-member district, the issues have often “been left off the table” and noted that the district contains three out of the five most economically challenged zip codes in the county.
“What I would be doing is placing a strategic focus on the economic opportunities that need to occur with District 7,” Scruggs said.
Flowers saw the equitable distribution of resources as a continuing problem for the district.
“When you look at Gulfport, Kenneth City as well as south St. Petersburg, we still are lagging in the area of economic development,” she said, adding that she’d like to focus on expanding the community redevelopment area (CRA).
In addressing the problem of food deserts, Flowers said the necessity of an affordable grocery store in the heart of Midtown should be a focus, but also we need to work with the corner stores and make sure they are carrying fresh produce. Programs that show people how to grow their own produce is an option as well.
Scruggs said that though we need the support of grocery stores, before that, “we’ve got to focus on the economic opportunities that allow individuals to afford the healthy options.”
Scruggs believes that she is the most qualified candidate due to the four decades of public service under her belt.
“What I bring is 40 years of work at different levels, ranging from law enforcement, community corrections, public housing, early childhood education,” she said.
Flowers pointed out that even from her time as a city councilperson, she has always held a full-time job, and therefore has been able to donate “great portions” of her government salary for various causes.
“Because it’s not about saying what I want to do and how I want to figure things out,” she said, “it’s about making sure that they happen.”
Scruggs and Flowers saw eye to eye when it came to the county commission’s efforts to keep the COVID-19 infection spread down, as they both lauded the importance of following the guidelines touted by health experts. They also supported Pinellas County’s participation in Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, which advocates for an equitable and affordable energy system powered by 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050.
Since the hospitality and tourism industries have been hit hard by the pandemic, the candidates offered their strategies for those affected by these layoffs.
“We recognize that the tourist industry is the backbone of this county, but when we look at the reality of the impact of COVID-19, it is going to force us to shift our focus on the other five key industries in this community,” Scruggs noted. “And then looking at how do we retrain our individuals who have lost jobs and then how do we link those opportunities to our education, to our Pinellas public school systems, to our local colleges, and to our local universities to ensure that individuals are properly trained for these positions within these industries.”
Flowers said she believes tourism will come back, adding that we have a “wonderful Chambers of Commerce who continue to advertise and recruit business to come here, whether it’s for their conferences or other things.”
“It’s just a matter of making sure that people understand that they’ll be safe when they come,” she said, “and making those provisions until we can, in fact, find a cure for the pandemic that we’re going through.”
For tackling the problem of the disproportionately negative impact of climate change in low income and communities of color, Flowers said that when we are talking about renewable energy sources, “we have to always think about those individuals who may not be able to afford some of those things.”
There are several programs, Flowers said, that will help fund and finance, and offer a forgiveness loan after 10 years “for things like solar energy that will help reduce costs that will allow persons to put dollars back into their pockets.”
Scruggs said that before we can talk about a particular strategy on how we address climate change in Black and Brown communities, it is important that “when we talk about climate change and when we talk about sustainability that we’re very strategic in recognizing that Black and Brown communities have a much broader and more difficult barrier to cross because they just have not been on the table in this discussion.”
Flowers, who, among her accomplishments, has been a member of city council and the Pinellas County School board, believes she is the right person for the job.
“My service as president of the Florida League of Cities, my service as your school board member, and certainly my service in municipal government for eight years with the City of St. Petersburg have all uniquely prepared me for this challenge,” she said.
Scruggs, former president of the St. Pete Branch NAACP, explained that she is running as a non-party affiliated candidate because “people in District 7 are over the partisan politics.”
“What I bring to the table,” she said, “is over 40 years of public sector experience, which would get results.”
The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 5. Click here to check your registration status.
The League of Women Voters will launch their non-partisan 2020 Candidate and Ballot Election Guide on Sept. 29. Click here to access it.
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