ST. PETERSBURG — At just over two decades old, Michael Ingram is younger than your typical political candidate. Yet, the St. Pete native sees this as a benefit in his bid to become the city’s mayor. Young people are one of the most underrepresented groups in all of politics, he said, pointing out that seats at the state and federal levels tend to be dominated by those from the older generations.
“Young people, we’re the ones who are going to see the result of what policies are made today,” he said. “We’re the ones that are going to be here 50, 60, 70, 80 years from now, seeing the result of what we did. So why shouldn’t young people be getting into politics now? Getting what we want to see done now?”
Though Ingram believes St. Pete is inclusive, he wants to see it become a model city for growing from the bottom up.
“Just because we’re getting bigger and because we’ve become more vibrant of a city doesn’t mean we need to be pushing out people,” he said. “I’ve got family, friends who don’t live in the St. Petersburg area anymore because they simply can’t afford to do it.”
Referencing the city’s current Grow Smarter plan that implements an economic development strategy targeting five key sectors, Ingram said we need to make sure we’re not just looking at the city in certain areas only.
“We need to be going on a smaller scale basis,” he said. “This might take more effort, but what we’re getting out of that is a more direct approach, addressing individuals or very specific groups as opposed to just addressing an area of the city.”
Concerning the coastal high areas and rising sea levels, Ingram believes that there are parts of St. Pete that might be underwater within his lifetime.
“Beach Drive may not exist when I’m older,” he said. “We need to be protecting our coastlines with a living coastline. We don’t need to be spending money on any seawalls that will be damaged in storms and we need to pay constant money in ensuring that they stay in a good state. We need to be producing mangroves; we need to have seagrass beds, as that is what’s going to keep us safe.”
Regarding the city’s recent issues with sewage overflow, Ingram believes previous administrations neglected to face the problem head-on when it was timely to do so.
“It was really an issue that was caused by previous mayors looking at the issue and thinking, ‘This won’t happen for me, I won’t be here anymore to see this,'” he said. “Again, I’m young. I will be here to be held accountable for anything that happens like this…We need to be pulling money from everywhere we can to be addressing this issue as quick as we can, because any future releases or deep well injections of improperly treated sewage is super harmful to our environment and will not result in us having a good future.”
As large-scale development continues to increase, Ingram said we “need to be making sure we’re not just leaving behind people.”
If we just have the people who can afford to live in the downtown condos, he maintained, then “that doesn’t leave anyone left in St. Pete in order to work the day-to-day jobs that run our city.”
To keep the historic charm of downtown in the face of development, Ingram said it’s vital that the city’s zoning isn’t allowing for outside businesses to “just come in and build essentially strip malls in the parts of St. Pete that have made St. Pete what it is.”
“We need to be making sure that we’re encouraging local businesses–people who live in St. Pete–and be investing back into our community,” he said. “We need to be making sure those are what is still on Central Ave. and on Beach Dr. because that is what St. Pete. We are our local businesses.”
Addressing the city’s rising costs of living, Ingram said any affordable housing projects currently underway need to provide housing at a rate that’s one-quarter of the monthly salary of a full-time worker at minimum wage.
“There’s no reason that you should be spending half your salary or more just to have somewhere to live,” he said. “That doesn’t give you any money to get to or from work and to take care of your needs.”
While Ingram lauded current mayor Rick Kriseman’s overall management of the Tropicana site redevelopment project to date, he underscored that affordable housing should be the city’s focus for the plan. He understands the need for hotels being slated to be built on the site, as St. Pete depends upon tourism but noted that “we need to be making sure that we’re not just bringing in tourists, but that we can keep the people who have grown up and lived here. Especially as Tropicana was once the Gas Plant District and those people were moved out in order to build Tropicana Field.”
As for the challenging relationship between the city and the Tallahassee Republican majority, Ingram said that though it can be hard to “reach across the aisle” to come together on certain issues, it is something that needs to be done.
“There are also issues that both parties care a lot about,” he said, “issues that we need to work on together to bring in funding, to bring in products, to make sure that St. Pete’s growing properly.”
Concerning the city’s police department as an accountable body, Ingram said he would like to see body cameras on every officer because “accountability is one of the most important things for us to see from our law enforcement.”
“They’re here to protect us, but we need to be making sure that’s all that’s going on,” he said, adding that he’d like to see an individual not attached to the police department body that would independently examine any issues that come up.
For more information, visit Ingramstpete.com