Thursday, January 2, 2014

A new Council and Bill Foster's teary goodbye

Posted By on Thu, Jan 2, 2014 at 4:48 PM

Darden Rice signs in as a new member of the St. Pete City Council
  • Darden Rice signs in as a new member of the St. Pete City Council
In addition to a new mayor, St. Petersburg now has two new City Council members in Darden Rice and Amy Foster, who were officially inaugurated on Thursday morning. But before that happened, the six returning members of the City Council bid adieu to the members they were replacing, Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner. And they all said goodbye to Mayor Bill Foster.

A short tribute video of some highlights of Foster's tenure was shown in Council Chambers (including some truly embarrassing dancing) before the now ex-mayor, voice trembling, declared that the whole experience had been an honor.

And he had no regrets.

"When people ask me what I would do differently, I say nothing...every mistake that I made, every event that happened was a part of God's perfect will in my life. And that's the journey," he said.

He was also blunt in his assessment of the learning curve that the new mayor, Rick Kriseman, will face in his first year in office.

"Mr. Kriseman is going to drink from a fire hydrant for awhile. And he's going to need all the love, support and prayers, so I ask for people to pray for Rick and his family, because he's going into uncharted territory as far as his family."

While the various council members gave praise to their departing colleagues, nobody outdid Charlie Gerdes, who grew emotional at times in giving tribute to Curran, Danner and Foster. To the outgoing mayor, Gerdes quoted the 1910 Theodore Roosevelt speech delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, best known as "The Man in the Arena."

"You have known the great devotion and you have achieved triumphs," Gerdes said after finishing his paragraph-long quote from the TDR speech. "I want you to know that. And your face has been marred by blood, sweat and tears...thank you so much for your service." After asking the mayor to "shake me around the collar when I’m screwing up," he ended by saying simply, "I love you."

Councilman Jim Kennedy, who along with Karl Nurse was re-elected in November to a new four-year term, credited Curran with providing leadership on homeless issues, while Wengay Newton thanked her for teaching him and his wife more about art (Curran runs an art gallery on Central Avenue).

Newton also referred to Curran's life-threatening bike accident in 2010, saying that she came back strong after "a lot of people wrote you off. People were saying you wouldn't make it." He added that her successor, Darden Rice, had huge shoes to fill.

In her parting words, Curran said to both Rice and Amy Foster that they shouldn't worry about making everybody happy because that wouldn't be possible. She just cajoled them to "do the right thing."

Jeff Danner said that, contrary to the idea that Council is a part-time job (which it is classified as and pays as such), "It's your life," referring to the many nights he stayed awake at night thinking about a particular issue. He said after 16 years on the dais he would miss the job, but took pride in things the council had done over the years, including removing static billboard faces. "That was a good move that wasn't easy," he admitted. He also pushed city leaders to continue to push for a greater emphasis on the arts. "Other cities are great because of their art industry," he declared.

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