Several St. Pete City Council candidates agree the Lens is a bad idea

08/14/13 Janelle Irwin
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Candidates in St. Petersburg share this month’s ballot with a referendum asking voters whether or not to kill the contract with architects to build a new pier. During a Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon Wednesday, all but one candidate for city council district eight seat said they were opposed to the design known as the Lens. The only hold out was Amy Foster said she appreciates the debate.

“But my campaign is focused on the issues that affect people’s daily lives…”

Though the crowded field of candidates mostly agreed that the Lens isn’t right for the city, they differed on how to spend the $50 million allocated to the project if voters say yes to the referendum. Alex Duensing, whose campaign signs are all hand painted by local artists, said it’s all about letting the people decide.

“If this vote goes, that we cancel the contract, I’d like to look and see if the current inverted pyramid can be done under $50 million…”

Another district eight candidate, Robert Davis, reminded people during the forum that he was not a politician. Davis has worked for the city and holds a degree in political science. He’s also endorsed by the labor union SEIU. Davis said he would work to unite the community when it comes to the fate of the pier.

“I would work hard toward building a consensus. Somewhere there’s very diverse opinions about that…”

District eight encompasses neighborhoods south of 40th Avenue to about Central. It expands East to West from about 22nd Street, to 49th Street. A small part of the district extends as far West as 66th Street. Steve Galvin, a home remodeler, is also vying for that job.

“I’ve been a renovator most of my life, and I think that our most fiscally responsible option is to rebuild the pier we have.”

Candidates in district four were also at the debate – David McKalip, Darden Rice, Carolyn Fries and Richard Eldridge. All of them were opposed to the Lens. Candidates were also asked about improving education throughout the city even though that’s a topic typically dismissed as being the responsibility of the school district. Duensing used to teach poetry at USF and said he considers himself an educator.

“I have been out there personally, linking the people that I talk to – and this is something that I will continue to do – with educational resources…”

And Foster, who works to build public-private partnerships across the country, said she could use her skills to expand after school programs to keep kids off the streets between 3 and 6 p.m.

“One of the national groups I work with is called Citizens Schools. I’d like to see Citizens Schools come here to St. Petersburg…”

And Galvin, who is one of four candidates vying for the district eight seat being vacated by current council member Jeff Danner, suggested alternatives to the typical college-minded education.

“Provide some vocational training for kids who aren’t planning on going forward into college. College is becoming increasingly more expensive…”

District six city council member Karl Nurse will also be on the ballot this month. He’s being challenged by Trevor Mallory and Sharon Russ.

The St. Pete primary is August 27.

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