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.
As both a writer for and the publisher of Florida Politics, Peter Schorsch is known for his unique insights into local and state government; however, like many people, Schorsch has become disenchanted with the state of political affairs over the last several years.
That disenchantment is why Schorsch’s primary focus entering the new year is to help put the fun and bipartisanship back into politics.
Schorsch said that over the last few weeks, he put a lot of thought into his big goal for 2022. An unlikely source was the catalyst for his idea – a collection of old George magazines he recently purchased. Founded in part by John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1995, George broached politics in a lighthearted way to make the subject more entertaining and interesting to the general public.
Now, over 20 years after the last George magazine hit newsstands, Schorsch hopes to alleviate some of the animosity that permeates politics by resurrecting those themes.
“You know, there’s Cindy Crawford on the cover dressed like George Washington …,” began Schorsch. “I know it seems almost impossible after the last five years … but I’d like to make Florida politics, and the process of Florida politics – the legislative sessions; the campaign trail; I’d like to make it more intriguing, more interesting and more enjoyable.
“Take it off of the knife’s edge that it’s on right now.”
Schorsch said he would still be responsible for the journalism he produces but would like to reinject some joy into state government. He added that enjoyment was a key aspect during the state’s “golden era” of politics and said it was no coincidence that both Republican and Democrat lawmakers were more amicable and produced better governments during that period.
“That’s especially true in Tallahassee,” he said. “So, I’m going to try and just put a smile on more politicians’ faces and more people who read about politics as we go forward into 2022.”
One way Schorsch plans to achieve his goal is by highlighting the more colorful and personal aspects of politicians. He also wants to institute programming and events around Tampa Bay and Tallahassee that bring people together. Schorsch used the example of a now-defunct social gathering he previously sponsored, called Quorum.
“It was a not-too-political happy hour,” said Schorsch. “And you would not believe the different people that we would get there.”
Schorsch said it was common to find local Republican county commissioners mingling with Democratic lawmakers from south Florida. He said a host of lobbyists and journalists also attended, and reporters gained rare access to a more personal side of the public figures they covered.
“It was this bipartisan bizarro world that was a lot of fun,” said Schorsch. “And so, we’re going to do that and reestablish some of the programming we did.”
Schorsch believes an injection of fun and entertainment into local government would attract better people into the political sphere. He also thinks many people have left politics and political journalism behind due to the grind, and the negativity. Schorsch said he wants to help usher in a new era by recreating the public sentiment surrounding politics that was on display during the 1980s and 90s.
“People wanted to be Alex P. Keaton,” he said, referencing Michael J. Fox’s young Republican character from the ’80s sitcom Family Ties. “People wanted to watch The West Wing.’
“It feels like now there’s such cynicism in all of politics … people get into it and get right back out because it is a brutish place.”
Schorsch said he sincerely believes government – especially local government – functions better when partisanship is removed, and used Pinellas County as an example of the efficacy of centralism. Schorsch noted the county features a Republican sheriff, a majority Democrat county commission, Democratic mayors and Republican legislators.
“And yet, by and large, people would say that Pinellas County is one of the best-governed counties in all of Florida,” said Schorsch. “Because we attract centrists, we attract moderation, we deemphasize people that are angry and we celebrate the good actors … ”
Schorsch, a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg, said the city’s future under Mayor-elect Ken Welch is what excites him the most for 2022. He recalled the New York Times calling St. Pete a “must-visit” before Covid swept the nation, and believes the city will emerge from the pandemic even stronger than before.
Schorsch said he no longer has to explain where St. Petersburg is during his trips to New York and Washington due to people traveling and migrating to the area and what he called – in all seriousness, he added – the Tom Brady Effect. Schorsch said it is his opinion that the city has undergone three renaissances coinciding with its three previous mayors, and believes Welch can lead it through a fourth.
“As I walk around my hometown, I genuinely don’t know if I would want to live anywhere else in the United States than St. Petersburg, Florida,” he said.
Despite all the great qualities Schorsch believes St. Petersburg possesses, there is one area he hopes the city will improve upon in 2022: fulfilling its promises to its Black residents.
Schorsch said he hopes that Black residents receive a genuine and deserved seat at the table through the city’s progress and worries that in a rush to modernize and transform St. Pete, “that not enough of our Black brothers and sisters have been a part of that.”
Schorsch said his strong support of Welch’s candidacy is due to the promise of equity and inclusivity. He believes the election of the city’s first Black mayor could create what he calls the “Bridgerton Effect,” where having a leader at the top of the hierarchy who can relate to those not usually included creates a profound and lasting effect on that community.
“I don’t want to see St. Petersburg gentrified out where Black and low income St. Petersburg-ians don’t get to remain here …, ” said Schorsch. “It’s such a big solution that it becomes nebulous, but if we could just see a few more Black faces at the seat of power – I think it could be transformative.”