A funny thing happened on the way to Rick Kriseman’s coronation/inauguration last Thursday in front of City Hall in St. Petersburg. The mayor-elect, who won a smashing 12-point victory over incumbent Bill Foster on Nov. 5, had initially earned strong praise for some of his first post-election moves. Among the most popular was naming Kanika Tomalin, regional vice president of Health Management Associates, as his deputy mayor. Tomalin will be responsible for helping the city meet the goal of Agenda 2020 to reduce poverty in the Southside by 30 percent by 2020.
“Too many people are struggling,” Kriseman said about Midtown during his 13-minute speech before a sunsplashed audience of 350 people. “One out of every five residents is unemployed. One out of four lives at or below poverty. Property values have fallen 42 percent since the onset of the Great Recession. This is happening right here in St. Pete, and it’s unacceptable, especially given Midtown’s rich history and potential.”
But a mini-controversy has broken out about the fact that neither Bill Foster nor Rick Baker
had a deputy mayor in his administration. Nor did they have a press secretary. Nor a chief of staff. All told, the eight new staffers plus two new secretaries in the new mayor’s office amount to over $885,000 in salaries (according to the Tampa Bay Times), prompting Council Chairman Bill Dudley to wonder how the city will pay for the new positions.
But the facts are that the judge assigned to the case ordered it closed and the arrest records sealed. King has always maintained his innocence and points to the sealed record as proof of that. Last week he told CL, “It’s an issue that’s long been resolved,” adding that there’s “just not a whole lot more to the story.”
Former City Councilman Jay Lasita said he was not surprised that Kriseman chose King to work in his administration, but he didn’t think it would be in such a high-profile position, assuming he might be used as a lobbyist for the city in Tallahassee or Washington.
“I just felt that there was no need to go into the door with what could be seen as a controversial thing,” said Lasita, who served with Kriseman on council a decade ago.
Interestingly, Lasita was critical of Kriseman during the campaign for being too careful. Now he says that with the new hires, he’s gone in the opposite direction. “He’s not been as careful as I’ve accused him of. Maybe that ends up being a good thing.”
But the new mayor was unrepentant in his inauguration speech about the staffers. “Simply put, our City Hall has not kept up with our city. And without adjustments, our city will not be able to keep up with other cities. With all that St. Pete has to offer, the only way we lose, in the pursuit of businesses and resources, is if we’re outmanned and outmaneuvered. And knowing that you’ve entrusted me to be a good steward for your tax dollars, I am pleased that we’ve been able to grow our team while staying within the confines of our current budget.”
Kriseman said that St. Petersburg will “become a daring city, a beacon of progress,” specifically mentioning issues such as climate change, gun violence and youth incarceration where the approach of his administration will differ from that of his predecessor.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Mayor Rick Baker did in fact have a deputy mayor on his staff. We regret the error.