Gulfport’s First New Mayor in 22 Years Speaks to the City

Cathy Salustri


Gulfport’s First New Mayor in 22 Years Speaks to the City

1. What was your reaction to the vote?

Surprised, because I felt like we had a really good chance of winning, I felt like we had worked harder and smarter than the other campaign, but because of Bob’s longtime history and the signs... tended to give us the feeling of us being the underdog. Best case scenario? I hoped for 10%; I did not expect 30. I feel that Bob’s campaign team did him a great disservice.


2. What’s the first thing on your plate?

I want us to sit down as a council – and this will happen this coming Thursday – and work through our rules and procedures for how the meetings are going to be run. I feel like a lot of other things we do are going to stem from that.


3. What do you mean?

I think how we handle the meetings is going to dictate how our decisions get made. For example, the letters. We have councilmembers with a wide spectrum of views on issues beyond the bounds of Gulfport. I want to get back to the place where we can write a letter, with their name on it, [or several councilmembers]… but every letter we send does not have to be from a unanimous council. We just need to make it clear in those letters that the signer does not represent the whole council.


4. What’s the biggest thing on your plate?

I want us to continue with – and granted, this is dependent on whether we get the RESTORE Act money – but I want us to continue with the 49th Street  retrofit project for the Clam Bayou watershed. I’d like to see us include some long-term confirmation sampling, to gauge whatever we’ve got now. I’d like to see water and bottom materials. That money is also the money we can use for sewer pipes. It will depend on how much, if any, we get. Kind of tied with that is the brownfields on 49th Street.


5. Talk about 49th Street and how the brownfield monies would help people who live within three blocks of it.

First of all, right now we have some blighted properties that are not very viable... if we can remediate those properties and the get the final approval from the EPA... they’re a lot more marketable. [The city would have to buy them]


6. How does that address resident concerns?

It gives you the opportunity to improve property values. I think that having blighted properties adds to the perception of the neighborhood being bad. I think blighted properties tend to be inviting of crime because it doesn’t look like a nice place. If we’re going to talk about 49th Street, though...

It’s kind of the chicken and the egg thing – do you reduce crime to make the place nicer, or do you make the place nicer to reduce crime? So we have some work to do on 49th Street and I want to work with the police department and residents.

How?

Get input from residents. What are their concerns? Get input from the police, the actual crime statistics, what they feel could be done to improve it.

I would like to see enhance use of our satellite office, particularly at night, if that’s what the data shows.

I’d like input from the officers as well. If they have ideas what works and what doesn’t work, I’d like to know as well.


7. What about St. Petersburg?

At this point, I’m just really not sure how much of a priority 49th Street is for St. Petersburg, and I would love to hear that it is one.


8. What do you think about the marina?

I feel like people have got the wrong impression that I’m not in favor of the marina... I think it’s time we need to start investing some money there. I’m hoping that we start getting some of the [BP] settlement money...because if we want it to be a nice marina, we have to invest in it. It’s time to update it, and if we get some of that settlement money back, it’s one of the most appropriate uses of that money. We’ve let things go, so we need to address it. And it’s a great resource.


9. Where is the city, financially, if it doesn’t get RESTORE Act money or BP oil money?

We’re in a better position than we’ve been in since I’ve been on council because property values are starting to level out, so we’re not dealing with the same level of loss that we’ve been in since 2008. This may be the first year that we haven’t been on the horrible position we’ve been in before. We’re not dead in the water, but we may not get to do some of the nicer things on our wish list that we’d like to see done.


10. As mayor, what power do you have to do any of these things?

Truly, when it comes down to it, the mayor’s vote is no more powerful than anyone’s vote. The difference is, that as mayor, you do have power in prioritizing the agenda. And, of course, you’re always the tie-breaker vote. I feel like I have an excellent reach outside the city because of the connections and the contacts I’ve made because of the regional and statewide agencies that I’ve served on. Florida League of Cities is a great one, because you’ve got people from all over the state and you have absolute freedom to speak on, [for example]l, how did you guys handle decreasing property values... and I’ve been doing that for three years. The more people you know that area also public servants the more opportunities to have to learn to do things.


Mayor Henderson asks that anyone with questions, comments or concerns about anything in the city get in touch with him in one of two ways: phone or e-mail. E-mail him at SHenderson@MyGulfport.us or call him at 344-6186.


Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.