ST. PETERSBURG — Since being elected two years ago as the youngest city council member in St. Pete’s history, Robert Blackmon believes he’s accomplished much in that short span, including his work on affordable housing, enforcement of public safety, and his comprehensive reopening plan in the wake of the pandemic. He now aims to become the city’s next mayor and focus on what he believes St. Pete needs.
“You hear a lot of my opponents talk about these national issues, and I don’t want to nationalize a local race,” the St. Pete native said. “What is a mayor’s job? It’s to run a budget, to have parks, to have public safety, to keep infrastructure together and to be business-friendly, and make that we take care of the roads, the sidewalks, the potholes.”
Blackmon is in favor of St. Pete having more STEM-based education and tech-based jobs and has pushed for a bipartisan effort to get funding to revitalize the Science Center near Tyrone Mall.
“It’s so important to have tech learning for young kids,” he said.
He asserted that climate change is an important issue, and there are a number of ways to address that and the city’s coastal high hazard areas.
“We’ve talked about stuff like hard infrastructure, like sea walls,” he said, “but I’d like to see softer coastlines, natural coastlines, and shorelines. Oyster domes and also vertical oyster gardens, which I’ve worked on with Tampa Bay Watch. But also, I’d like to see mangrove plantings to keep our natural shorelines natural.”
On shelter in place options in the event of a major storm hitting the region, Blackmon believes in storm hardening the existing solid concrete structures like the Science Center and incentivizing people to install impact windows.
“Storm hardening your own home and protecting resiliency is very important,” he said.
Infrastructure is the basic function of a municipal government, he asserted, adding “he’s all for adding infrastructure investments.”
“Our roads, our bridges, our sidewalks — they’re deficient,” he said, adding with the current funding it would take over 800 years to repair the bridges. “I’ve led the charge to try and put more funding for them.”
To address the rising costs of living in St. Pete, Blackmon would like to invest in buying up a mixed portfolio of condos that are older housing stock and offering them to residents who are under 80 percent AMI (area median income).
“It would be cheaper than building new, and you’d have mixed-income communities,” he noted, adding that he has also fought to reduce permit fees to zero for affordable housing projects.
When it comes to affordable housing, true equity is achieved through financial equity, Blackmon asserted. Buying cheaper existing housing stock will lead to more people owning homes and paying their own mortgages, “to truly create generational wealth and get equity because a rising tide they say lifts all boats — it doesn’t. Some people are drowning in that rising tide, and we need to make sure everyone’s on the boat.”
On the Tropicana site redevelopment project, Blackmon said he is regularly in touch with leadership of the Tampa Bay Rays, and said they are for having a stadium on the east end of the site.
“They’ve committed to consolidating the Rowdies into a multi-use stadium, which frees up 11 acres on the waterfront, which I’d like to see turn into parkland or possible additional museums. Right now, we have a stadium on 86 acres. If we have a stadium on 13 acres and consolidate around it, it would be a catalyst for economic growth, and that’s my one priority as mayor.”
As for working with Tallahassee’s Republican majority to benefit the city, Blackmon said he has always been bipartisan in nature, endorsing Republicans and Democrats for office and working with them both.
“If you give people respect, they’ll give you respect in turn,” he said.
Blackmon is a big believer in citizens getting actively involved in helping to shape the annual budget, suggesting they should write emails and speak at public meetings.
“We have so little common on so many issues, and a couple of comments can sway things,” he said, noting that he responds to every email that gets sent to his office. “Public input for council is huge, and I’m constantly, constantly starved for it and try to encourage people to come out.”
In his time working with outgoing Rick Kriseman administration, Blackmon said he is very proud of the emphasis Kriseman has put on inclusivity and “pushing the needle” on LGBT rights. He did, however, admit to disagreeing with some of the current mayor’s business ideas.
“I think that a lot of times we give away way too much in these business deals, and we need to be shrewder with the public’s budget,” he said. “The mayor is the CEO, and all the citizens are the shareholders, and we have a duty — a fiduciary duty to our citizenry, so I’d like to be a little bit tighter on the budget.”
Visit blackmon4stpete.com for more information.