Darden Rice launches St. Petersburg mayoral campaign - Watermark OnlineOur July 2021  Interfaith Meeting included speakers Wengay Newton and Darden Rice. Unfortunately, Ms. Rice was not able to join us in person. We present to you her written responses, and we thank Councilwoman Rice for taking the time to respond.

ITB does not endorse one candidate over another. We simply want to keep our readership informed.

Question 1: What has your relationship been with the interfaith community in St. Pete?

My work with the interfaith community has primarily involved organizing around issues that we care about and creating positive change for our community. Before getting elected, I worked with faith organizations to organize for environmental protections. I have worked extensively with Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST) on issues like affordable housing, keeping our neighborhoods safe, providing opportunities for disadvantaged workers, improving our transportation system, and more. I know that we are stronger when we work together on these important issues, and as Mayor, I am committed to expanding the city’s work with the interfaith community to continue tackling the issues we face. I strongly believe that the city should engage with faith organizations as part of building community and bringing in diverse perspectives and beliefs.

 

Question 2: Please tell us your position on the development of the Tropicana Field site.

The redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site is a once-in-a-generation, incredible opportunity for St. Petersburg, and we have to get this right by ensuring that it fulfills the broken promises made to the people who were displaced from the Gas Plant neighborhood to make way for its creation. That means this entire process, from start to finish, must be transparent, collaborative, and designed in a way that holds all parties involved accountable. I envision a new Tropicana Field site development that keeps the promises that were made so long ago for this area, including opportunities for good paying jobs, job training, and affordable housing. I would also love to see a large green space, like Central Park in New York, that provides a recreation space that doesn’t cost money to enjoy where everyone can feel safe and welcome and soak up the sunshine in a family friendly atmosphere. We would also benefit from having a convention center on this site, which would be the first in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.

As Mayor, I also plan to strengthen our neighborhood affairs division, and I envision this revitalized department playing a significant role in this redevelopment process. A stronger neighborhood affairs division will give us the opportunity to work on lifting up the neighborhoods around this site as well and ensure meaningful connectivity between neighborhoods.

 

Question 3: How will you support stronger families in our community?

One of the key elements to ensuring that we have strong families in St. Petersburg is ensuring that all families have access to the resources they need to live a life of dignity. These resources include, but are not limited to, nutritional food, affordable housing, healthcare, public transportation, quality education, and more. We have made progress on some of these issues in St. Pete, but we need to be working much more quickly, and we can’t do it alone – our partners at the regional, state, and federal level need to step up and help address these concerns as well. As Mayor, my goal is to create an economy in St. Petersburg that gives everyone the opportunity to thrive, and tackling these quality-of-life challenges head-on will be an important element of that plan.

 

Question 4: What role will you take regarding education in our city?

From the minute I announced my campaign for Mayor, I have been saying that the City of St. Petersburg must take a larger role in ensuring student success in every school. As Mayor, I will create a program that provides free pre-k for our youngest learners and free two-year college or technical training for those who are graduating high school. As a part of the latter program, the City will provide additional support to students who are the first in their family to pursue a higher education degree or training, because studies show that paying tuition isn’t enough to make this work. These two programs will help students at the beginning and the end of their educational careers, but we can’t stop there. Our city must also step up its efforts in providing before and after-school care and programs, as well as summer programs that help keep students engaged, retaining or better understanding the information they’re learning in the classroom, and provide meaningful activities while parents are working.

 

Question 5: Please speak about the right to protest in our city.

I am firmly committed to protecting the right to protest in our city, state, and country. I was extremely disappointed when Governor DeSantis signed HB 1 with our Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri at his side. I spoke out against this and other extreme overreaches by our state government as a City Councilmember and will continue to do so as Mayor. My understanding is that a lawsuit has been filed to challenge the anti-protest bill, and as Mayor, I would be interested in signing onto that lawsuit, both as a city and as a private citizen, so we can fight this in court or aiding in any other way that is appropriate given the status of the suit. As a regional leader, I have experience working with other governments throughout Pinellas County and Tampa Bay to solve complex problems. I am committed to working together with other municipalities to ensure that everyone can exercise their right to protest safely, whether they live in St. Pete or anywhere else in Pinellas County.