ST. PETERSBURG — After months of speculation, City Council member and real estate investor Robert Blackmon last week officially entered the race for mayor of St. Petersburg.
What You Need To Know
- Robert Blackmon, 32, joined the City Council in 2019
- He criticized the Kriseman administration’s handling of a defaulted development project that sits on city-owned land
- Kriseman leaving office because of term limits
- More Politics headlines
The 32-year-old St. Pete native says that he’s running on a platform that includes living up to the promises he made during his successful 2019 campaign for council, which included an emphasis on working on affordable housing, infrastructure and the environment.
That includes partnering with state Rep. Michele Rayner on a bill that would allow local governments to waive certain permit fees to build or rehabilitate affordable housing projects (it died in committee); a proposal to have a rebuilt Sunshine Center include an attached vertical tower with affordable housing units, and teaming up with state Sen. Darryl Rouson to revive the Science Center of Pinellas County.
During his tenure on the council, he’s clashed with Mayor Rick Kriseman and his administration on a few occasions, such as during the dispute over the historic St. Pete Pier bait house back in January, where his concerns were echoed by some fellow council members.
Blackmon was on his own last month though when he criticized the Kriseman administration’s handling of a defaulted development project that sits on city-owned land, calling it “disgusting.” That prompted Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin to respond that “the only thing I find disgusting is that you used this public forum as an attempt to grandstand and castigate an employee of this city.”
Looking back on the incident a few weeks later, Blackmon expresses zero regrets, saying, “I will never apologize for fighting for the people of St. Petersburg.”
“The fact that you’re even asking me this question goes to show that I was right in what I did,” he says. “Nobody was talking about this issue. It had been swept completely under the rug. And it’s now been three months since the default of the fourth extension. Nobody was watching this. Nobody was talking about this and I was the watchdog on this. So I make no apologies for bringing forth an issue that needs to be talked about and needs to be further vetted.”
He also says his intensity comes from a “passion” for St. Pete residents and the city’s finances.
Blackmon is a registered Republican in a very Democratic-leaning city. That’s of note when reviewing the last mayoral election in St. Pete in 2017, when Mayor Kriseman was able to nationalize his race against former Mayor Rick Baker, tying the unpopularity of former President Trump in the city as a cudgel against his opponent in what ultimately led to his narrow two percentage point victory.
When asked if he voted for President Trump in either 2016 or 2020, Blackmon declined to entertain the question.
WEB EXTRA INTERVIEW WITH CANDIDATE ROBERT BLACKMON
“National politics to me is an absolute afterthought,” he said. “I am solely focused on local issues. And I know that may sound like a copout but it’s not. I don’t follow the national scene unless it absolutely affects our area. And I’m solely and singularly focused on making St. Pete the best city it can be, first and foremost.”
Unlike some candidates in the race, Blackmon’s (nearly) two years on the council he believes gives him credibility with the public. But unlike the other big-name candidates in the race like Darden Rice, Ken Welch and Wengay Newton, he says he can also run as an outsider.
“I’m kind of the best of all worlds and I’m not jaded from the process. But I also know how to work through it, and you know a campaign should be a war of ideas, not a war of personalities,” he says. “So Robert Blackmon has had success on the council. I’ve had private sector success as well, but at the end of the day, this is not a campaign about me, this is about ideas for the people. And I think I’m the one who has put forward the most new, innovative thought-provoking ideas over the last two years.”