We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2023 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 2023.
The end of 2022 marks the conclusion of Richie Floyd’s first year as a St. Petersburg City Council member, which he described as an incredibly fulfilling learning process.
Now armed with a better understanding of sometimes unintuitive and often lengthy procedures, he relayed his confidence in helping create a more significant impact in 2023.
The District 8 representative named several local issues he hopes to address next year. One unique initiative is using public funding to support city council candidates.
“Essentially, helping match donations from residents,” said Floyd. “Trying to make it easier for people, who are new, to run for office when the cost of our elections has been going up for a while. Changing the year to even (numbers) just made it to where you need double – or maybe even more – votes than you did previously.”
In November, St. Petersburg voters overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment to align municipal election cycles with county, state and national races during even-numbered years. While the change creates an early voting mechanism and will save the city money and likely increase turnout, it also leads to longer ballots and will likely increase the cost of campaigning.
Floyd said he based his idea on a state program, and it would utilize the money saved from the county funding elections to match small donations. City attorneys are researching the legality of such an initiative. Floyd also ran a decidedly grassroots campaign last year and said he feels “pretty good that a little something could happen right now.”
He added that it is already “prohibitively hard” for average residents to take time off from work and fund a campaign.
“It’s almost impossible for a lot of people to run for office – the smallest local office you can if you live in St. Pete – city council,” said Floyd. “We should be encouraging people to do this and have wider debates and more ideas from everyday people.”
The sophomore council member also wants to ensure that St. Petersburg remains livable. That goes beyond providing affordable housing, Floyd said, and encompasses the entire cost of living.
He said wages haven’t increased with the inflation rate, still one of the nation’s highest at 9.6%. While St. Pete is known for its fun atmosphere and entertainment options, Floyd noted many residents struggle to afford housing and food prices that have soared since the pandemic.
The city is still home to many seniors on fixed incomes, relayed Floyd, and risks losing its identity as a warm and friendly place for working-class people to retire.
“We’re honestly in danger of unmooring ourselves from what we were founded as,” he added. “And that’s really concerning to me.”
He hopes to reduce costs in 2023 by making public goods and services more attainable. While Floyd said that would take state and federal support, he believes city officials “have some leeway” to implement their own measures, like bringing more high-paying jobs to St. Petersburg.
In addition, he believes local leaders can create permanently affordable housing that offers amenities to support the working class. For example, Floyd said he is working on a proposal to build mixed-income public housing that could include childcare services.
Addressing areas of South St. Pete long considered a food desert, and expanding access to transportation options like the SunRunner, would also “go a long way to easing the burden.”
“So, there are ways we can save people money in the here and now,” said Floyd. “Despite not having control over everything.”
He relayed his anticipation for Mayor Ken Welch to select a Tropicana Field and Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment proposal and see those plans come to fruition. Providing tenants with a right to legal counsel – an initiative Floyd spearheaded this year that recently received pilot funding – is also something he eagerly awaits to implement in 2023.
He explained that much of what takes place with the city council is an educational process for members not involved in a specific proposal. Sunshine laws dictate when and where those on the dais can speak to one another, and experience has taught him to anticipate his colleagues’ questions.
He is “fairly certain” administrators will bring a plan for the municipal marina back to the council by February, one of several city-owned assets Floyd said will soon receive upgrades or redevelopment.
“And I think that is exciting,” he said. “We just have to make sure we get it right.”