BY KENNETH T. WELCH, Pinellas County Commissioner
As we vote for mayor in the coming weeks, it’s important that we elect the person who will best move our community forward. I believe that person is our current Mayor Rick Kriseman, a progressive leader who is moving us forward in many important areas, including equal opportunity, justice reform, poverty reduction and community development. That progress must continue.
As a county commissioner, it’s vitally important to have a true partner in the mayor’s office. Due in large part to Mayor Kriseman’s leadership and collaboration, today we have the best county/city relationship since I was elected in 2000.
Working with Mayor Kriseman and the City Council, especially Councilmember Karl Nurse, Pinellas County and the city have partnered to address poverty by creating the first Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) in the county’s history. The South St. Pete CRA is focused on poverty reduction and commits an estimated $60 million in funding to fund job training, housing, education, infrastructure improvements and other programs to address poverty in south St. Petersburg.
Justice reform is another vitally important issue. Many in our community are affected by a minor arrest that hampers their ability to get a job. Mayor Kriseman supported a collaborative effort led by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and funded by the county, to create an adult diversion program (APAD) which gives people arrested on minor charges an opportunity to serve community service and avoid jail and a criminal record. In just three months, more than 400 individuals have taken advantage of the APAD program and the opportunity for a second chance.
In another first, the county and city have worked together to adopt complementary Wage Theft laws to make sure that working people are paid the money they’ve earned. We’ve removed “the box” from employment applications, a barrier that too often prevents ex-offenders from being considered for jobs. And both the county and the city have implemented $12.50 per hour “living wage” minimum wages for all employees.
These initiatives are improving lives and providing opportunities in our community, and that progress that will continue during Mayor Kriseman’s next term.
It’s important to remember that all politics has local impacts, and the mayor of our diverse city has a duty to be a voice on all issues, including state and national issues that impact the lives of St. Petersburg residents. For example, when Washington and Tallahassee politicians block healthcare access, an estimated 50,000 uninsured Pinellas residents are forced to rely on local governments and organizations to step in and provide a safety net for basic health services.
Mayor Kriseman has supported President Obama’s efforts to provide healthcare access for everyone because it affects our local citizens, our families and neighbors. He’s also acted at the local level by engaging his Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin to lead the Healthy St. Pete Initiative. Mayor Kriseman’s leadership on healthcare access and community health is what we should expect from the mayor’s office.
State policies can have a profound impact on our city as well. When Tallahassee politicians conspire to restrict voting rights, underfund our public schools, divert housing money, obstruct the civil rights of ex-offenders and deny the reality of climate change (and its disproportionate impact on Pinellas), it is our local friends and neighbors who are harmed.
Mayor Kriseman has been a strong voice on these issues as well, and has supported state initiatives that reflect our values, and opposed those which do not. Mayor Kriseman is a visible champion for civil rights, voting rights, affordable housing and equal educational opportunities. This is especially important in the face of the destructive policies of the current Tallahassee and Washington leadership. We should accept no less from any candidate for mayor of our diverse city.
In this mayoral election, it’s important that we focus on the experience and accomplishments of the candidates, as well as their policy positions and actions regarding the many issues that ultimately affect our community. While others have been silent or aligned with the policies of Governor Scott and President Trump, Rick Kriseman has been a strong advocate for our community in the face of regressive state and national policies.
Like President Obama, he inherited substantial challenges, and like President Obama, he has worked hard for progress despite the tide of backward policies on healthcare, justice, voting, education, etc. from Tallahassee and more recently from Washington. And like President Obama, Rick Kriseman has earned a second term to finish his work. All politics is local, and our mayor needs to be a voice on every issue that impacts our community, whether it emanates from Washington, Tallahassee or The Deuces – it all matters.
Kenneth T. Welch is Vice Chair of the Pinellas County Commission.