What matters is what’s between the dash

Rene Flowers

Dear Editor:

Over the past few weeks, we have been indulged from all fronts regarding the importance of not only the upcoming mayoral election, but on the status of our democracy as a nation. I am almost certain that a number of political pundits and professors will use the backdrop of this election as an exercise or assignment for their class.

Certainly, filled with passion and a go get it attitude, I must say that I am quite pleased with the manner in which voters have educated themselves and armed themselves with the ability to ask questions and to make their own decisions.

My parents got me involved in the political process along with my other siblings. My father who served in the United States Army, was a man of values and of principles. He really did not say much, but when he spoke it was incumbent for anyone within ear shot to listen- his words resounded and held firm. That is what I have held to since my initial run for elected office and what has served me well.

Knowing that nothing happens without a true team effort, those items that I was successful in accomplishing happened because of teamwork. My vote alone did not move the needle, however adding in the votes of my colleagues did! From affordable housing, to summer youth employment, and the HOPE VI housing renovations to the Enrichment Center on 22nd Street (construction funded by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority)- none of it was possible without five (5) and sometimes six (6) of my colleagues.

When the community voted in a “Strong Mayor” form of government, the Mayor no longer had a vote on the actions to be taken. Yes, the mayor can propose a plan and he/she can have staff do a wonderful job with a presentation. Business interests can parade up and down the halls as well as those with specific interests however at the beginning and the end of the day, it is the council as a body who moves the needle.

I will be the first to tell you that we had some great times when I served on council and we had some battles. Once the vote was taken- the battle was over and we moved on. I did not agree nor vote for every item brought forward by the Mayor when it was Fisher (known as the Tree Mayor) or Baker -that was not my role. But if the item passed, I supported the effort. I knew then and I know now that if one of us failed, we all failed!

As I step back and take a look at what has been accomplished since then, two leadership styles have taken the reins- 4 years with Mayor Foster and 4 years under Mayor Kriseman. Four years ago, I supported Kriseman’s opponent. My choice did not lead me to call persons of color slaves or house negroes because they did not agree with me. I did not get mad and call other elected officials out of their names when they did not support nor endorse me and I lost a County Commission election (I admit I was disappointed).  I did not encourage my community to take aim at others or try to cause a rift where one did not exist between friends. I simply supported the candidate of my choice. My candidate was not successful and as such, I gave honor and respect to the winner- now Mayor Rick Kriseman.

You all know my story; it has been in the paper and I have shared it. My son broke the law and he paid the price, but does that mean that he pays that same price for the rest of his life? With the Ban the Box Initiative that is a nationwide initiative, at least he will get to show the interviewer who he is now and not who he was back then.

Summer Youth employment for our students often times will pay the rent, light bills, water bills, grocery, new shoes and school clothes for some of our families. I have never and would never support anyone who does not share that value with me. This administration provides Summer Youth Employment and Internships so that our students have real world executive on the job training. For anyone to tell you differently, they are not being truthful.

So let’s say that I have job but it barely provides for a family of four. Mayor Kriseman did not hesitate. He supports the New Deal and its Cohort of Champions. Mayor Kriseman also supports and partnered the city of St, Petersburg’s resources with Agenda 20/20. This strong partnership joined with other agencies such as the Pinellas County Urban League, Pinellas Opportunity Council, Mt. Zion Human Services, PERC, Pinellas County Schools, Pinellas County Commission, and so many others to reduce poverty by 2020. The celebration of a drastic reduction in poverty came this year, just last month as indicated by the United States Census Bureau. And while the fight for $15.00 per hour movement spans across the United States, Mayor Rick Kriseman raised the wages of city employees with the expressed intent (with the support of council) to raise the wages incrementally to reach the desired threshold of $15.00 per hour.

The partnership between Commissioner Welch and the Board of County Commissioners has blossomed. The funding of CRA dollars have created yet another funding stream of opportunity for minority business owners. Had the city accepted this opportunity years ago when it was offered by Commissioner Welch for South St. Petersburg (Midtown), verses going to the Mahaffey, who knows what 22nd Street- the Deuces Live” would look like?

If transportation is an issue for you to get to work as a city employee, worry no more- the partnership between PSTA and the City of St. Petersburg will provide you with a Bus Pass. This is a clear example of removing a barrier and showing human kindness.

Comments have been made to elude or move you into thinking that Kriseman and his administration does not care about education. Moving towards the Neighborhood School Model (De-segregation in 2007) occurred at the end of Bakers time as Mayor. The majority of Bakers term in office was when busing was in full effect and high achieving students made up a greater percentage of students in schools such as Melrose Elementary (Magnet Journalism Program), John Hopkins (Magnet of Dance and music), and Campbell Park (Magnet focusing in Marine Science). Even then we offered teachers an incentive to teach in the Midtown Community- down payment and closing costs on a home purchase and additional support if you bought a home in Midtown and taught at one of the schools in Midtown…. Teachers were not clambering even then to move into nor teach in our community even with this added bonus.

When the Court Order took place and the PCS Board voted in 2007, teachers that had a choice made their choice to put in for transfers. South St. Petersburg lost a great number if seasoned teachers who could foresee the challenges ahead. Henceforth an increasing number of new teachers at the schools in the heart of our community. Foster and now Kriseman both had to deal with this concern.

Under Kriseman’s administration, he has expanded upon the education initiatives that were in place during the Foster Mayoral years and the Baker years. Scholarships are available, partnerships with Pinellas County Schools exists (including partnering with me to bring back the Vyrle Davis Scholars Award event), submitting to the practice of Restorative Practices/Restorative Justice behavioral models, after school programs within the recreational centers particularly at Wildwood. Campbell Park, and Childs Park are rigorous, robust, and enjoy additional partnerships through the United Way, Cross and Anvil Center, Men in The Making, Not My Son, and Women in The Making only to name a few. Three of the Five Challenging Schools improved their grades to that of a “C”. We have work to do and work we will- however the needle moved due to partnerships!

Some leaders have no choice but to be the first, and so it is with the increased diversity in Kriseman’s administration. The city has NEVER had an African American let alone male City Clerk. Well, meet Mr. Chan Srinivasa. The city has never had an African American Female Deputy Mayor. Well, meet Dr. Kanika Tomalin. And by all means please add, Leah McRae over Education and Niki Gaskin-Capehart as the Director of Urban Affairs, and Kenneth Irby as the Community Intervention Director. Last and certainly not least, Police Chief Anthony Holloway. Law and order is at the top of his agenda, but so is respect and community. Under his leadership crime has dropped, the number of police officer complaints have been reduced, the morale within the SPPD has improved, and he has instituted the Civil Citation Program for Youth and adults who commit their first offense (volunteer and complete the program and your record is clean)

A leader who does not respect the Black Community would certainly not fly the Dr. Carter G Woodson African American Flag over City Hall- Mayor Kriseman flew the flag with pride. A leader who does not respect the Black Community would have never supported and purchased the building that houses the history of the Black Communities heritage – the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. I asked then SPHA Executive Director to save the building known as the Community Center and Rent Office with $50,000 of HOPE VI money. He did and the museum we know as the Carter stands strong because of a solid community and city partnership

The International Museum that was located in the old Maas Brothers building received millions upon millions of dollars under Bakers administration. That museum is not there anymore on any level.

November is a month where the weather transitions for us, but only for a brief moment. It does so because it knows that in order for our city to thrive, we need the sun to shine on everything and everyone. On Nov. 7, you can make sure that the sun shines continuously by re-electing Rick Kriseman as the Mayor of the City of St. Petersburg!

Rene Flowers

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