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Details escape council hopefuls

Candidates for City Council District 6 are short on specifics about how to rejuvenate the neighborhood.

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The candidates for City Council District 6 have talked about the most pressing needs of their economically depressed neighborhood just south of Tropicana Field: more new businesses, more help for existing businesses and more jobs.

But the devil is in the details.

Days before Tuesday's primary that will narrow the five candidates to two, they are passionate about what needs to be done but hard-pressed to offer specifics about how they would accomplish their goals.

"No one individual has all the answers, but working jointly we can come up with the answers to make it happen," said candidate Abdul Karim Ali.

Ali is not the only one without a clear plan.

Three other candidates -- Ezell Boykins Jr., Dwight "Chimurenga" Waller and Earnest Williams -- also rely on vague partnerships between the city and private enterprise to move the area forward and had even fuzzier ideas of how they would pay for improvements.

The area's economic problems have been the focus of Mayor David Fischer's Challenge program, which seeks to add jobs and lure new businesses to the area. But many residents complain the program has produced little beyond new landscaping and sidewalks.

Candidate Chrisshun Cox, 35, referring to the Times' editorial board recommendation of Earnest Williams for the District 6 seat, declined to comment.

"The only questions you should have are for Earnest Williams, and as far as who I am and what I do, that's my business," she said.

The other candidates' proposals:

Ali, a shipping clerk who unsuccessfully ran for the District 6 City Council seat in 1989, said he would try to create partnerships between the city and members of the business districts, the St. Petersburg Area Black Chamber of Commerce and local community development corporations to improve the economic outlook in the district.

Ali, who uses buzz phrases such as "empowering our neighborhoods" and "encouraging networking," said he would gather these business experts together and have them come up with a plan for the area.

But that's as far as his plan goes.

Ali, 53, said he would meet with businesses and encourage them to relocate to District 6. And he would enhance the offerings of the city's 3-year-old Business Development Center, although he couldn't say exactly what he would do.

Boykins, 51, a printing press operator, thinks the key to economic development lies in finding extra grant dollars to help businesses and encouraging job training for residents.

Boykins could not say where those grant dollars would come from. He said any money he found would be used to create new businesses.

When told government dollars can't be used to start new businesses, Boykins then said the money would be used to assist businesses that don't qualify for bank loans.

Boykins, who said he volunteers at a program that provides job training, had no specific plan for improving job training except to say that he would like to see more of it and he'd push to inform more people about it. But he also said he would cut down on the amount of time people spend in job training, pushing them into work faster.

Boykins said he would like to see the city help develop the former Mercy Hospital site along 22nd Street S into a full-scale health facility, possibly even running it if an outside agent can't be found.

Waller, 49, a lab technician, said he wants to lure a more affordable BayWalk-like entertainment complex to District 6.

BayWalk opened downtown last November after the city spent more than $12.9-million building a parking garage and paying for landscaping and other improvements to the area.

Waller was not clear about how he would attract such a large-scale project to an area that has had a hard time supporting its existing businesses.

"I'm not saying it's going to be easy," he said. "It's what I'm willing to fight for. What's missing is the commitment to try to do that."

Waller could not say where he would get the dollars for such a complex or what services would be cut to pay for them. He pointed out that services weren't cut to pay for BayWalk and the city would just have to find the money.

He also wants to see eight city outreach centers throughout the city, where local residents can meet with each of the eight council members and discuss problems. He was unclear how he would pay for them.

"We can rent them, build them, buy them, I don't care how it gets done," Waller said. "It needs to be done."

Waller said "we might have to" increase taxes to pay for these items, but he said he wouldn't increase taxes until he made sure it couldn't be done any other way.

Williams, an insurance agency owner who was appointed in December to serve the remainder of Frank Peterman's term on the City Council, also had little semblance of a plan for economic development in District 6.

Williams, 53, thinks it's his job to listen to the people and advocate for them. He said he would survey residents about what they want to see in the city. He said that effort would produce a strategic plan for the city.

"You have to talk to people and see what kinds of services and programs and jobs they'd like to come to the area," he said.

Williams said he would encourage more projects such as the Dome Industrial District, which the city created by buying up land along 22nd Street S to eventually be sold to larger-scale employers.

Williams thinks the city needs to partner with businesses to do a marketing survey that could show larger stores, such as Publix, that they can be successful in the neighborhoods south of Central Avenue.

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