After more than a year of speculation, St. Petersburg city council member Darden Rice officially filed to run for mayor Tuesday.
“I’ve had people asking me to run for quite a while,” Rice, a longtime St. Pete resident who has represented District 4 on city council since 2013, told the Catalyst. “I love this city, I’m passionate about St. Pete and I want us to thrive. That’s why I’m running.”
Campaigning during a pandemic will be a different experience than in previous election cycles, Rice said, and she plans to communicate with voters by working the phones and having one-on-one conversations.
“We’re going to be very careful and I want people to be safe and healthy,” said Rice, who identified getting through the pandemic as one of her top priorities. “Obviously, common sense and safety precludes having large gatherings but we’ll see what happens in the next few months. Hopefully we round this corner, the vaccines get out and maybe we’ll be having a different conversation.”
Once the immediate threat of Covid-19 is diminished, Rice said she still plans to continue looking for ways to provide support for businesses that have suffered during the pandemic and highlighted the ongoing need for funding for the public health system.
“This could be something that we may have to deal with again,” she said. “We just have to be better prepared.”
Aside from surviving the pandemic, Rice has also made a campaign pledge to make St. Pete the “education city” with the goal of creating universal pre-kindergarten and free two-year community college and technical programs during her first term as mayor.
“We know we can’t always count on state efforts to prioritize and ensure student success,” Rice said. “Our city needs to take a more active role in making sure our children start off with the tools they need to graduate high school and pursue additional education or job training if they desire.”
In addition to her support for education, Rice, who currently serves as an executive member of the board of directors for Tampa Bay Water and the chair of Forward Pinellas, has been an advocate for environmental issues, historic preservation, creating stronger neighborhoods and increasing affordable housing.
“As we grow, we want to make sure that we grow in a way that protects our authenticity, our specialness, and our affordability in a way that lifts up all neighborhoods and provides opportunities for everyone,” she said. “As the future mayor, I am dedicated to that, and I think it’s one of the most important challenges we face. And I suspect it’s going to be one of the main things we talk about on the campaign trail.”
In terms of the campaign itself, Rice has already raised more than $224,000 through her Friends of Darden Rice political committee. She didn’t identify any endorsements yet but said she will be rolling them out in the future. And while she “greatly respects” Congressman Charlie Crist and Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, both of who have endorsed her opponent, former county commissioner Ken Welch, she said “their voices are no more or no less important than teachers, artists, plumbers and retirees that make St. Pete home.”
Other candidates seeking the mayoral seat include former state representative Wengay “Newt” Newton and Michael Ingram, a political science major at USF. Due to term limits, Mayor Rick Kriseman will not run again. A primary election will be held Aug. 24. If none of the candidates gets more than half the vote, the top two will advance to the Nov. 2 general election. The winner will take office in January 2022.