As we approach the Nov. 7 Mayoral General Election in St. Petersburg, I am reminded of two of America’s greatest orators, President Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and their commitments to freedom and the promises of America. In their iconic speeches during America’s struggle to reconcile its promises with the reality of everyday life, both Lincoln and King struck cords that are relevant to our current debate.
On Nov. 19, 1863, during his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln spoke about government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” These words reflect the very essence of American Democracy. One hundred years later in 1963, Dr. King reminded America that she continues to fail to live up to the promises of the Declaration of Independence, the U. S. Constitution and the principles for which Union Soldiers fought and died.
As African Americans continued the struggle for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Dr. King reaffirmed America’s inconsistencies noting America has given African Americans a “bad check,” one returned and marked “insufficient funds.”
The people, African Americans in St. Petersburg, find themselves once again confronting America’s promises at the local level in the form of incumbent elected officials, campaign promises and the ubiquitous deaf ear. Parents struggle to educate their children in communities plagued by failing schools and the Kriseman administration has an anemic response.
Midtown residents lose their requested grocery store and access to economically healthy foods and the Kriseman administration says a grocery store should never have been placed in the community. Oddly enough, but not surprising, the administration’s responses are inconsistent with campaign rhetoric regarding Kriseman’s affinity for Midtown and its residents.
The ubiquitous deaf ear is best personified by the recent discourse regarding one of Midtown’s historic treasures, the Manhattan Casino. The people have spoken. Stop the gentrification and preserve the culture and historical assets in Midtown. Yet, despite these voices and others, which include Kriseman supporters, he remains committed to giving a historical asset to Cuban businessmen.
When the community voiced displeasure, a prominent African-American athlete, not of the community, was added to the acquisition group. The addition of the athlete intensified objections and more recently a member from south St. Petersburg was added to the team. Sadly, the administration is either incapable of understanding the insult or just doesn’t care. At any rate, it is not a good day for government of, by and for the people.
Previous gentrification initiatives on or near the 22nd Street Corridor are the BMW motorcycle shop and the recent award of the Atherton Oil site to individuals active with the Kriseman campaign. African Americans have yet to receive principal ownership and control of major development initiatives during Kriseman’s tenure as mayor despite assertions and implications to the contrary. To use Dr. King’s metaphor, African Americans in Midtown and surrounding St. Petersburg communities continue to receive bad checks from Mayor Kriseman.
Regrettably, some in the African-American community have chosen to ignore the realities of Kriseman’s policies and practices related to black and underserved communities. I am reminded of the principles “each one teach one” and “reach back and pull one forward.” Hopefully, our representatives on council will represent the people of Midtown and vote to preserve the legacy and culture of the Manhattan Casino. Someone needs to listen and represent the people.
African-American proposals to manage the Manhattan Casino were reportedly discarded for economic reasons. Black folks are no strangers to the role economics play in government implementation of development initiatives. Baseball and the construction of an interstate to facilitate baseball are prime examples.
More recently, we are witnessing the allocation of $76 million for the construction of a Pier and $85 million for a police station. However, there does not seem to be an appetite for building African American capacity to own and operate the Manhattan Casino. Some will say the city tried and Larry failed. But, failure has never deterred city investment in other projects north of Central Avenue.
The current city government officials elected by the people and for the people of Midtown courted the black vote and promised great things during the campaigns. But once the votes were counted and the campaigns ended, they proceeded to ignore, neglect and forget the community–the bad checks bounced and business as usual became the order of the day.