Mayor Kriseman, congratulations. I was pleased to see you beat a man who served no functional purpose, as far as I could tell. I have higher hopes for you. This is based, I should note, primarily on you NOT being either of the two former mayors. That's not exactly setting the bar very high, sir.
This is: Fix life on the south side.
That may sound odd, coming from someone who moved to Gulfport from St. Pete Beach, but remember, I moved to St. Pete Beach from the 'burg. Do you know why I left, Mayor? Because I was naive, and I bought a home in Bartlett Park on the promises of former-former mayor Rick Baker's administration that it wasn't that bad, really, and they were making changes.
Change, I'd like to note, came in the form of a now-closed Sweetbay and not much else. I am not here to moan about my bad choices, because they were just that: mine. I trusted an elected official, I did my part, took a chance on a "bad" neighborhood, called the cops when I saw illegal activity, and, when I finally grew scared enough – aided in no small measure by a fine police officer who told me flat-out "We can't keep you safe here" – I left. St. Petersburg failed me. I wanted to live where little girls don't die in drive-by shootings. I wanted to come home after work and not find the SWAT team using a battering ram to get into a drug house three doors down. I wanted to not feel afraid anymore.
Of course, not everyone can just leave. I walked away from a home I loved in a neighborhood that permanently altered my world view, and I'll pay in more ways than one for a long time. But I am alive, happy, and living in a town where I can call the cops because someone is illegally distributing handbills and they show up immediately.
But what about the people who can't or don't leave? They need big action and they need it from you. St. Petersburg's leadership has consistently denied a problem in the south side and, in doing so, denied these families the quality of life found in every other corner of the city.
City advisors may talk about programs and opportunities and crime rates until you start to believe hey, I'd live in Childs Park, it sounds awesome.And it is; such a shame the south side residents don't realize how great they have it, what with all the drug deals and crime. Then your police chief may cite call logs and tell you not that many people call, so things must be fine. Or he may talk to you about "policing to community standards" and how the quality of life in Childs, Jordan, Bartlett and Parks (to name a few) is acceptable.
If he does that, give him a choice: quit your job or live in Childs Park for the duration of his tenure with the city. Because I can tell you, having lived it for a just a few years, there is nothing about life in the south side these residents find acceptable. Anyone who spent one night there knows this. The apparent apathy isn't apathy at all: it's fear mixed with heart-rending hopelessness.
Yes, these residents should call the police every time they see something. They don't. Why? Well, I don't know for sure, but I wonder if it's because many of these residents remember when it was acceptable to hang people just for being black in the wrong part of town and the police didn't do a damn thing. A lot of these people are scared of the police. And, as if that isn't enough, retribution for calling is another problem. It happened to me in Bartlett Park. Others don't call because – and I heard this a lot – "Why bother? Nothing changes." So if you're not scared of the police or your neighbors and haven't yet surrendered to the soul-sucking despondency that comes with being a poor black person in the 'burg's south side, you call the cops. You, and about seven other people. I'm not shocked if calls for service are low; I'm more shocked anyone ever calls. That doesn't mean the community finds things to their liking. It means you, sir, have a scared and dejected population, and not an insignificant one at that.
We can say it's poverty or a choice, but St. Petersburg has made choices, too: not to replace broken alley trash cans that don't do their job, not to maintain right of ways, not to fix potholes, not to, basically, do a damn thing to convince the city's poor black people that anyone thinks they're worth a damn. St. Petersburg may have "programs" but on a day-to-day basis? Your city has treated these men and women like trash. Their sin? They've allowed it, because really, what choice do they have? They have been born into this legacy of poverty and the segregation it maintains. Your inaction will damn them just as surely as this has.
I'll be honest: if you succeed in making life better in the south side – not just midtown, let's be clear, I'm talking about every poor black neighborhood that suffered first at the hands of malice and then at the altar of political apathy – it improves life for us in Gulfport, too. So that's part of my agenda. But it's just as much this: no one should have to live the way some of your residents do. I don't have the answers. My job isn't to have the answers. My job is to expose problems; your job is to create solutions.
I sense you may not realize how disheartening life in the south side can be, so I extend a very public invitation: let's go for a bike ride. Not a car ride, not a tour, a bike ride, just you and me. No entourage, no mayoral procession. Let's just take a ride.
Let's go see your city, Mayor.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.