For the past two years I have spent the vast majority of my time living in New York to attend school. Still, St. Petersburg, Florida will always be my home - for better or for worse. Although I lived in St. Pete for seventeen years, it has only been recently that I have really paid attention to the local politics. This is the first mayoral race that I am old enough to vote in - albeit with an absentee ballot, and I plan to take it very seriously.
There are literally no parts of Florida distant from the sea. This means that there are few parts of the United States as vulnerable to climate change as Florida - especially South Florida. Other environmental concerns unique to the state include lack of mass transit, unclean water, and (particularly in St. Pete) sewage issues, among others. One of my main deciders in who I vote for has always been their stance on environmental issues and how far they will go to fight to protect it. At my local level, this becomes even more important.
With all the available materials (interviews, voting history, investigative articles, etc.) I have compiled a list of the seven candidates and dug into their environmental stances. The main contenders are really Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker. The rest are currently polling below 5%.
Until very recently, incumbent Kriseman was undoubtedly the most upfront candidate about his dedication to the environment. Between himself (democrat) and his only legitimate competition, Rick Baker (republican), their stances are miles apart. Kriseman caused a stir among centrists by accusing Baker of siding with Trump’s abandonment of the Paris agreement. Although Baker never explicitly said he agreed with Trump, it isn’t crazy to interpret his complacency as an endorsement. Kriseman on the other hand, is one 362 (and counting) US Mayors committing to adopt, honor and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals. He has also been endorsed by the Sierra Club.
Everything changed a week ago, when news came out that Kriseman’s administration was (possibly) mainly responsible for the city’s 200-million gallon sewage spill crisis. The spillage has released antibiotic resistant bacteria into the bay. Climate change and rising sea levels makes the spread of such bacteria even more likely. The bacteria is capable of seriously harming almost every type of marine animal. Financially, along with an expected $100,000,000 cost of clean-up, the city has been issued an $800,000 fine from the Florida Department of Regulations.
On Cates’s campaign website, he pledges to come up with a sustainable environmental plan - but does not elaborate on what that means or how he will implement said plan.
His central campaign is securing reparations for African-Americans. He is also is extremely critical of Kriseman’s role in the sewage crisis and its destruction of the environment. Additionally, he is in favor of community gardens.
She has never publicly expressed her beliefs on the subject.
Much of former-Mayor Baker’s financial backing comes from the GOP. Generally, the GOP is notoriously opposed to the science of climate change. Adding to this, he has been silent on Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord. It should also be noted that Baker has long been an opponent of bringing curbside recycling to St. Pete.
Curiously, three weeks ago the Baker campaign released a video preaching Baker’s supposed history of supporting the environment. The 30 second ad includes references to how Baker expanded city parks, cleaned up Lake Maggiore, built bike trails and planted over 20,000 trees during his tenure.
Of course, he doesn’t waste an opportunity to bring up his opponent’s sewage scandal. After his latest attack ad against Kriseman went live, a scientist featured in the video made a statement that it was actually misleading for the Baker campaign to put to blame all of the spill’s environmental impact on Kriseman. He also failed to mention his own part in the spill.
While none of the candidates may be perfect, it's clear that the environment is a growing issue in the minds of voters. As Florida continues to face urgent threats from climate change, residents are more and more eager for leaders who can address some of its worst effects on our state.