L-R, Comm. Ken Welch, Rev. Frank Peterman and Rep. Charlie Crist
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG –In the first quarterly Pinellas County African-American Leaders Conference, Rep. Charlie Crist gave folks a chance to voice their concerns about topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act to education in the black community.
Joining him on the panel was Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, former state representative and city council member Rev. Frank Peterman, and Carlos Senior, the senior pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, who all gave Crist suggestions on how to improve his district.
Welch said by 2020, there is a possibility that public transportation in Pinellas County could become a lot worse.
“They need about 45 million to buy new buses that are aging out,” he said. “If they don’t have enough funding to buy new buses, they will cut services even more.”
The transportation problem will be hot button issue for the next election if it is not solved.
Peterman suggested a collaborative database between national, state, county and city entities that would connect people to resources such as job training, entrepreneurial programs, ex-offender services and education, including early childhood services.
Dr. Mendee Ligon said she would like to see school choice, vouchers and charter schools go away. She wants public schools to be improved so that all children will have access to quality education.
“With all levels of government working together, they could ascertain all the information and all of the resources we need for our community,” said Peterman, who is the senior pastor of The Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church.
He also suggested an economic engine in south St. Pete such as a plant of some kind of major operation that would employ hundreds of people.
Although Senior is not a politician, he said that he is equally concerned about his community and the challenges it faces.
“I’m concern about the fact that there doesn’t seem to be very many outlets for people that are entrenched in deep poverty,” said Senior.
Citing the number of wraparound services available to those at the top or in the middle, he said “for folks that are at the bottom of the bottom and don’t have access to the ladder,” there is little to no help available.
Senior asked Crist for help with access to quality early childhood education in south St. Pete. The few that he found in the area are too expensive with long waiting lists, “which to me is indicative of the fact that there are not a lot of quality places…”
With 85 percent of brain development occurring within the first three years of life, quality childcare facilities lay “a foundation for the tools the child needs for the first 18 years or more.”
To him, this is also an employment and economic issue. When parents are trying to provide for their families, he said, but don’t have access to quality care, it makes it difficult for people to go out and earn a living.
For older children, Senior said there is not enough programming available that targets children who do not have parental support or an adult in their life that can help them take advantage of some of the resources that are around them.
“We need more money for mentoring,” he said.
He also asked for help with effective drug addiction services in south St. Pete that would remove the addict from the area “to help people break cycles of addiction that are sometimes generational…”
When the floor was opened up to the audience, Chelsea Baker explained that she has had health problems since the age of 13. By the age of 17, she reached her lifetime maximum of health insurance.
Under the Affordable Care Act, she was able to obtain insurance even though she had a preexisting condition. Now with Trump in the White House, she is terrified it will get repealed.
“I don’t want to replace it,” Crist said, “I want to continue it. I stand strongly on the Affordable Care Act.”
Baker asked Crist to add a formal statement to his website and for him to tell her story to Senator Marco Rubio who would not acknowledge her.
Community activist Ray Tampa asked Crist to explain the termination of Vito Sheeley, who was Crist’s campaign outreach director.
“He wasn’t terminated,” Crist answered. “Any other questions?”
Tampa felt dismissed saying, “If he was not terminated, tell us what happened.
“That incident can have a bearing on whether he’s going to be re-elected. You can talk about the Affordable Care Act all you want, if the community feels betrayed, feels slighted and votes against you then all of this is for naught. There are a lot of people feeling that way.”
Tampa said Crist missed an opportunity to set the record straight.
In a statement issued last month, Sheeley wrote: “Many have and will continue to question my reason for leaving Congressman Crist. That is an answer that will remain between Charlie Crist and me.”