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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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St. Pete City Council races decided by wide margins

ST. PETERSBURG — With frontrunners Karl Nurse, Jim Kennedy Jr., Darden Rice and Amy Foster cruising to victory in Tuesday’s City Council races, political observers say the tone at City Hall is likely to change, creating an environment more favorable to causes such as transit and the environment.

Nurse, who serves as the City Council chairman, crushed challenger Sharon Russ in the District 6 race, taking 70 percent of the votes cast, while fellow incumbent Kennedy prevailed over community activist Lorraine Margeson in the District 2 race with 62 percent of the vote, according to provisional results from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office. Newcomers Rice and Foster also won big, with Foster besting Steve Galvin with 67 percent of the votes cast in the District 8 race and Rice beating out businesswoman Carolyn Fries by a slightly narrower margin, 55 percent of the votes, in the district 4 race. Rice and Foster will replace Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner, who could not run because of term limits.

Voters and elected officials say they’re hoping the new council can work in a more collaborative way, after disagreements over issues such as The Pier and the Tampa Bay Rays’ quest for a new stadium divided city leaders for much of the year.

“I really do think it’s a new day in St. Petersburg,” Rice said.

At her boisterous election night party at Red Mesa Cantina downtown, Rice was surrounded by Democrats from across the Tampa Bay area, including District 13 congressional candidate Alex Sink.

“We worked hard and didn’t take anything for granted with this election,” Rice said. “We had a plan, we stuck to it, we didn’t go negative.”

Rice may not have peppered the airwaves with ads attacking her opponent, but she out-raised opponent Carolyn Fries by tens of thousands of dollars in the run-up to the election. Fries posted the strongest showing among Tuesday night’s losers.

“Considering where I started in the race, with little or no name recognition, lack of money, lack of endorsement, I’m thrilled,” said Fries. “It was a great experience, I met a lot of people out in the neighborhoods.”

Rice and Foster will take office in January.

Rice said her first priority is mass transit and that she wants to work with the county in its attempt to overhaul and expand the bus system and bring in light rail.

Some incumbents said they’re looking forward to having two new members on board.

“I think we’ll be a very cohesive council,” said Councilman Steve Kornell, whose district includes much of South St. Petersburg. “I think we have a lot of the same goals.”

Those could include stronger intervention programs for St. Petersburg’s at-risk youth as well as more aggressive pursuit of alternative energy and curbside recycling.

“I think curbside recycling will happen,” Kornell said. “I think we will truly live up to being a green city.”

Rice and Foster have shown their ability to work collaboratively, Council of Neighborhood Associations chair Kurt Donley said. Rice has long been active with groups such as the Gulf Restoration Network, the League of Women Voters and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Foster, who is not related to the outgoing mayor, works for a nonprofit that aims to steer at-risk girls into science and technology careers.

“The skill that I bring to the table is ... my background in consensus-building and collaboration, and trying to create win-wins for everyone involved,” Foster said.

Donley said he hopes that the City Council will take a fresh look at the possibility of making neighborhood grants available. Funds for the neighborhood grant program dried up during the recession, which Donley believes caused CONA membership to be cut in half, as neighborhood associations saw little from the city in the way of beautification projects and code enforcement. But he thinks Rice and Foster both have a level of community involvement and attention to detail that should serve the city well.

“I am very optimistic about the future of St. Petersburg right now,” he said.

Voters leaving the polls seemed to have a slightly different take. While many were not very familiar with the council races, they based their votes on how incumbents treated a controversial attempt to redevelop The Pier with the Lens design.

“I don’t know anybody that’s running for council. I just know the ones that are in now, and I voted for the other person,” said Ellen Fuchs, who was voting in Kenwood. “We have strong ties to The Pier, and there’s nothing wrong with what’s there already.”

Downtown resident Pat Carlisle felt the same way.

“I did not like the Lens, I did not like the way it was promoted the way it was,” he said. “It was very disappointing to me.”

Carlisle praised Nurse, an incumbent who opposed The Lens.

“I think he’s done a lot,” he said.

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