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Catalyze 2022: Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin

Bill DeYoung



We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2022 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2022.

Shortly after the turn of the New Year, the Kriseman administration, in residence at City Hall since 2014, will say goodbye.

It’s a bittersweet moment in time for Dr. Kanika Tomalin, St. Petersburg’s Deputy Mayor and City Administrator, who’ll re-join the private sector as Eckerd College’s vice president for strategy and chief operating officer.

“I’ll always be serving this city in some capacity, all the days I’m fortunate to call it home,” says the St. Pete native. “For the immediate future, that’s going to manifest at Eckerd College, which is one of the treasured assets of our community. Higher education and increasing access to it, I think is one of the most important elements of the formula that it’s going to take for our city to continue its rise and trajectory.”

Tomalin, who spent eight years in the front row for the city’s unprecedented 21st century growth spurt, said she continues to be optimistic about the future.

“My wish list for St. Petersburg is very long, and obviously goes well beyond 2022,” she explained. “But I specifically look forward to St. Pete ‘normalizing the novel.’ We have become a very progressive city that is defined by big ideas and innovation, and civic engagement, and some pretty significant advancements.

“I would love it if the momentum carries, where the seeds that’ve been planted are really cultivated, and those things that we do now as novelties just become part of the culture. For example, the ferry as a regional transportation option, not a novelty or a way to just recreationally cross the bay to have a fun weekend. It can be an actual commuter mode. And we need more regional approaches to transportation.”

On an even more practical, grassroots level, “‘Open Streets’ was such a huge hit on Halloween. Closing Central – people loved that! That’s not something we have to wait for one day a year to do.”

She has no delusions about the city’s rapid development and expansion, and what that might mean for its reputation as a quirky, accessible cultural hub.

“There is nothing mutually exclusive about development and culture and charm,” Tomalin asserts. “Some of the cities that really define America and are great are the largest, and also known for the individual character of their neighborhoods. And history, and the way it’s preserved.

“We wrote it right into our vision, one of the first things we did when we came. So that we honor our past while we pursue our future. I think both are required for the city’s best future.

“It’s a false narrative to assume that one comes at the total cost of the other. It’s all about balance. As cities go, I think there always needs to be a balance between what is an innovation for that city, and an understanding of innovation overall.”

As for politics, don’t count Kanika Tomalin out just yet. “I am fully embracing this next chapter, but life’s a whole book – a lot of chapters,” she said. “I would be so fortunate to find my way back to public service some day. I think there’s certainly a time and a place for that.”











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