Top Row: L-R, Mhariel Summers (District 6), Richie Floyd (District 8) and District 6 City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll
Bottom Row: L-R, Dane Kuplicki (District 8), Jamie Mayo (District 8)
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Faith in Florida hosted a city council candidate forum at Bethel Community Baptist Church on July 12, where current District 6 City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll, Mhariel Summers (District 6), Richie Floyd (District 8), Dane Kuplicki (District 8), and Jamie Mayo (District 8) fielded questions.
As to how the candidates can ensure how south St. Pete residents can benefit from the Tropicana site redevelopment, St. Pete native Summers said visible equity is part of her platform. She is partial to the Sugar Hill plan, as there is equity built into every level of their redevelopment strategy, she noted.
“From the construction workers to the development companies to the actual team themselves, equity’s built all in,” Summers said. Noting that it is a 10-year-plan, she said, “We need to make sure that the people we want to benefit from the Trop are prepared, so starting with the existing businesses and entrepreneurs, we need to make sure that we’re breathing life into those Black firms to prepare them for this great opportunity of having their business there.”
Floyd, a public-school teacher, said more important than what goes where in the future site, is a guarantee that living-wage jobs go to the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and affordable housing is a part of the site.
“We need to make sure that we’re contractually obligating the people who are redeveloping Tropicana Field and the city itself to ensure that certain metrics are met when it comes to housing and jobs,” he said. “And if they’re not, there need to be penalties for it.”
Kuplicki said we need to utilize the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) as “a tool to benefit the south side” and believes homeownership on the site is going to be critical.
“Because whatever gets built on that Tropicana Field site, all of those buildings and all of the homes and the renters that are on the south side, they need to be able to take part of that equity boom,” he said.
Mayo said though the current redevelopment plans in consideration are an opportunity to create a “multi-use platform that could heal a community displacement years ago,” she wants to wait for a new mayor and new policymakers to take office before proceeding with any definitive plans.
Driscoll said not only should the site offer affordable housing, but it should be affordable enough for the workers who are working on the site.
As St. Pete is receiving $45 million as a part of the American Rescue Plan to help recover from the pandemic, the candidates made their cases about how they’ll ensure the funds go to those who need it the most.
Floyd said it is imperative that the community offers direct input on how to spend the funds and advocates such groups as Pinellas Theory of Change Canvassing, who push for such community involvement.
“This money needs to be an investment into our future,” he said. “It needs to be an investment into the working people and poor people’s future of this city, the Black people’s future of this city on the south side because those are the people that have been disproportionately affected.”
Kuplicki said he would be a champion for “bridging the digital divide” and closing the nutritional equity gap.
“We hear the food deserts get brought up all the time, but if you don’t have good food in your belly — or any food in your belly — you’re not going to be able to work; you’re not going to be able to go out and learn in school,” he explained.
Mayo said that money needs to go where it’s needed most, even though it might mean saying no to some groups who want to hear yes.
Driscoll has not decided how the money should be spent because she hasn’t heard from everyone yet but hopes to hear from more residents in upcoming scheduled meetings. As the pandemic has put a “spotlight” on disparities among communities, she is for closing the gap in health disparities — access to healthcare and nutritious food — and education disparities.
Summers said we “need to provide immediate relief to those who are suffering the most” and consider the mental health of the essential frontline workers.
“Maybe there’s some way we can find a stipend to give these folks a break,” she said.
To address the increase in gun violence deaths in the city, Kuplicki said the city needs to find out where the guns are coming from and stop them at the source. He noted that giving the city’s youth opportunities through sports, jobs, and paid internships could help deter them from paths that end in violence or death.
Mayo agreed that the core issue is youth outreach.
“We really need to make our children understand that they matter, and they have a purpose, and they have a hope and a future,” she said. “When we can kind of reach in and grab them on that level, we’ll make a big stride in gun violence.”
Driscoll is supportive of Police Chief Anthony Holloway’s efforts through initiatives that create better relationships between the community and the police and noted that she had been involved with the Not My Son program against gun violence.
Summers said she is no stranger to gun violence as she had a cousin “gunned down in District 6” a few years ago, adding that poverty and hopelessness breed crime, no matter the race or the community. Economically empowering the Black entrepreneurs who live in a certain community would go a long way in curbing hopelessness, poverty, and ultimately crime.
Floyd maintained that young people in south St. Pete should be targeted for violence intervention programs and anti-gun violence programs, adding that he personally has organized for social services to be put in the community.
Concerning solutions to the affordable housing crisis the city is facing, Mayo would like to develop an affordable housing center that residents can visit to get the pertinent information and support they need.
Driscoll said we must look at changing our zoning to allow for small-scale increases in density in our neighborhoods where it makes sense to do that. We also need to focus on jobs and workforce development, she added, so more people have the necessary incomes to afford a moderately priced home in the city.
Summers is in support of looking at zoning laws and structures such as tiny homes and multi-family buildings. Floyd stressed that we need to invest in solutions that keep housing affordable over the long term, like community land trusts, and make sure that people have better job opportunities and economic conditions under which they live.
Kuplicki said in tackling the affordable housing issue, we need “to attack this through a zoning change,” namely along high-density quarters, and upzoning will allow for multi-family units on a lot.
Driscoll said she has already voted in support for substantial funding and land for the museum’s new vision regarding plans for economic development in areas south of Central Avenue and the future of the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. She noted, however, that she is disappointed with the slow progress made in the development of Tangerine Plaza.
“It was vacant when I was elected,” she said. “It still is. It has been extremely challenging to find a grocery store that is willing to come into that space.”
Summers said it is a colossal failure that Tangerine Plaza has sat empty for so long, adding that we can do something about it “whether it’s a co-op or smaller, grocery fresh food options.” Floyd said he would push for a “Pier-sized investment” into south St. Pete, be it jobs programs, workforce development, housing, or economic development.
Kuplicki suggested bringing the Saturday Morning Market to Tangerine Plaza, complete with vendor booths.
“Let’s get people to bring their food to that market so we can have food immediately,” he said, adding that he’s all for turning Tangerine Plaza into a “food oasis.”
Mayo said she would be in favor of funding the Woodson Museum and making sure it finds a permanent home but added that fixing the economic issues on the south side “will be a puzzle.”
“We’re going to have to address the youth development and their opportunities,” she said. “We’re going to have to create small business opportunities, and we’re going to have to create a real sense of safety so that we can attract businesses into the community.”
Concerning whether taxpayer dollars should be used to build a baseball stadium, Summers and Floyd said they should not, while Kuplicki, Mayo and Driscoll said taxpayer dollars could play a role in developing a stadium that would benefit the city in the long run.
As for supporting an increase in the police department’s budget if elected to office, Kuplicki, Mayo, Driscoll and Summers would be in favor of an increase, while Floyd said he would work on social services, so we don’t need as big a police department as we have now.
To earn the city’s Black and Brown votes, Kuplicki said he plans to develop innovative solutions, listen to residents, and take action for the south side. Mayo said she is a champion for marginalized people, while Driscoll said for years she had used her role on the council to advocate for and listen to Black and Brown folks in her district and throughout the city.
Summers pointed out she spent the last few years working in various neighborhoods in south St. Pete and developed important connections with key African-American stakeholders. Floyd noted he has a history of organizing with this community to raise wages, increase criminal justice reform and increase social services for the community.
“I left my job as an electrical engineer to become a teacher in majority Black school and I’m going to take this same activist spirit to city hall with me,” he said.
District 8 candidate Jeff Danner did not participate in the forum. Deadline to register to vote for the Aug. 24 St. Petersburg Primary Election is July 26. Visit votepinellas.com for more voting information.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email firstname.lastname@example.org