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Why Karl Nurse shouldn’t run for re-election to the St. Pete City Council in 2013

By on August 3, 2012

I am still sorting through the Monday morning quarterbacking taking place after the St. Petersburg City Council decided not to place a dangerously confusing referendum on the November ballot addressing the future of the St. Petersburg Pier. So bear with me as I work through my final analysis of this debate.

One conclusion I’ve reached which I am confident about is that the 2013 municipal elections are now underway.  One potential City Council candidate texted me last night about meeting to get their campaign off-the-ground. Other candidates are probably texting their own consultants to ask when they can get their campaign started.

Another conclusion I’ve reached, but am not entirely confident about is, that Karl Nurse should not run for re-election in 2013.

Blasphemy, you say. Karl is the lone progressive voice on the City Council, you insist. He’s both a man of ideas and action, you argue. He’s often the only one on the dias who makes any sense, his most loyal supporters will have you believe.

I won’t argue with any of that.

But I am ready to agree with the one criticism I believe Karl himself believes, or at least fears. It is the criticism that has dogged Nurse since he was first appointed to the Council in April of 2008.

Karl Nurse is standing in the way of a yet-to-be-identified black leader from emerging to help govern the city.

Four years ago, Nurse was appointed in spite of this issue. There was just too much upside to having Nurse on City Council to not appoint him. And Nurse certainly has lived up to his potential.

But, as it becomes apparent that Wengay Newton is pretty much the most visible leader in the black community, it’s clear that a new generation of black leaders must emerge if the promise of a ‘seamless city‘ is to be fulfilled. Likewise, there must be more than one African-American on the City Council for that body to be truly representative of the city’s population.

As it happens, Nurse represents one of the two districts which a black candidate has a reasonable chance of winning. Disappointingly, the City of St. Petersburg still has in place an election system that forces candidates to win their district in a primary election, but then stand before the entire city in a general election. This is an antiquated system that allows the majority (whites) to select the ‘right’ candidate in minority (black) districts.

Although Nurse defeated a bunch of tomato cans in 2009, it’s questionable that Nurse would win an election against a viable African-American candidate, such as Deveron Gibbons or even Gypsy Gallardo.

We don’t even know who the next generation of viable candidates are in the black community because there are so few opportunities for them to be elected. That’s my issue with Rene Flowers’ candidacy for the Pinellas School Board. It’s not that Rene won’t do a fair-to-middling job on the School Board, it’s that she’s a retread. She’s had her time. If only Glen Gilzean had a few more years behind him, he’d whump Flowers. Instead, he will probably lose to Flowers’ institutional support and be another young black leader left without a platform.

It’s because of political situations like this that the black community has Wengay Newton as its most visible elected official in the city.

I can’t even judge my annual ‘Morgan Awards’ anymore because there are so few African Americans in genuine positions of influence or power. Goliath Davis? Fired. Deveron Gibbons? Marginalized. Frank Peterman? Out.

Heck, it’s gotten so bad in the black political community that Mike Atwater had to shutter his restaurant, one of the unofficial town halls of Midtown.

One of the immediate ways to turn around the political situation in this community is for Nurse to announce that he won’t run for re-election in 2013. This would open up his district to a wide-open race that will, hopefully, encourage a broad field of new voices to run for political office. From this field, again hopefully, will emerge one of the new black leaders this city so needs.

In stepping aside, Karl Nurse may do more for his district than he could possibly do with another four years in office.

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