St. Petersburg Mayoral Forum at Suncoast Hospice

08/11/09 Lindsey Kratochwill
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Last night at Suncoast Hospice in St. Petersburg, the NAACP along with many religious organizations sponsored a forum for the mayoral candidates.

The candidates were asked ten questions prepared by the NAACP and other sponsoring religious organizations. The questions were directed to three candidates at a time on a rotating basis. The first question concerned the controversy over the privatization of the Baywalk sidewalk. While Richard Eldridge said he would err on the side of the constitution, against the privatization and Jamie Bennett said he wanted to see Baywalk live again, Paul Congemi did not feel that the issue was so important.

Another question was about the unemployment rate in St. Petersburg. Kathleen Ford said that a big problem for businesses is the property tax. She said that residents were not hit as hard, due to a 3% cap, but commercial businesses struggle, leading them to lay people off. She proposes a new budget to help these businesses and lighten their property taxes.

Deveron Gibbons had three ideas to help increase employment. One idea was to have a mayor’s youth council, similar to a model used in Atlanta and improve education and job training. Another was simply to maintain jobs.

Crime was also discussed by the candidates. They were asked what they would do in order to address the problem and how long this would take. Larry Williams wants to start with areas where crime may be happening, which he called hot spots.

Bill Foster was asked by an audience member what he would do to address crime. His idea was to create a new kind of neighborhood watch for during the day, by training city employees.

In response to a question about increasing affordable housing opportunities, Richard Eldridge simply did not think it was financially possible.

Kathleen Ford thought that there was money, and that by building new houses, there would be more jobs as well as more housing opportunities.

Candidates were asked about what they would do to help the situation of homelessness in St. Petersburg. The city was recently named the 2nd meanest city for homeless people in the country. Deveron Gibbons felt that in order to address this, a united agency is necessary.

In order to improve education, Bill Foster wants to use city employees to hold tutoring programs in recreation centers and libraries. Deveron Gibbons said that this is important, but said the city should also look to community organizations.

Overall, the public response to the forum was positive. Kevin Johnson, of St. Petersburg, was glad for the variety that the candidates represented.

Kathy Harrelson of St. Petersburg was happy with a lot of the answers she heard, but one issue she thinks is important that was not addressed as extensively was the environment.

There will be another forum held at the Palladium Theatre on August 19th. Tickets are free, but limited to four tickets per person.

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