Click the arrow above to listen to the full audio interview with St. Pete Catalyst Managing Editor Megan Holmes and St. Pete Beach City Commissioner Ward Friszolowski.
Getting involved in local politics, especially in a small town like St. Pete Beach, is not for the faint of heart. At the local level, constituents are neighbors and friends, and policy decisions affect peoples’ daily lives on a much different scale than national politics. What drives someone to get involved with their city on such an intimate level?
Ward Friszolowski has been serving in government in St. Pete Beach for decades, but he doesn’t consider himself a career politician. He’s looking more at doing the right thing for his city than winning the next election, he says. “Plus,” he laughs, “We don’t get paid much.”
An architect by trade, Friszolowski serves as president of Harvard Jolly Architecture, where he runs day-to-day operations. He is recognized within the Southeast as a library design expert, and has designed over 40 libraries. In fact, it was his education as an architect that first got him involved in city government, helping form the city’s first historic preservation board. Soon, he was reporting the progress of that board to the City Commission. Then, he was elected to it. After his first year, he was appointed vice mayor by his fellow commissioners.
The rest, as they say, was history. After five years as vice mayor, Friszolowski was elected mayor of St. Pete Beach from 2000-2008, during the bull economy. He termed out of office in March 2008, just months before the fallout of the Great Recession. Now, he’s back on the city commission and he serves on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, an association of local governments convening to solve difficult regional problems like transportation, planning for sea level rise, and improving the health of Tampa Bay.
In this long-form interview, Friszolowski shares his love of local politics, building consensus and some of the biggest challenges St. Pete Beach and Tampa Bay face. He talks about the importance of thinking regionally and tackling tough problems like the proposed bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach. “There’s always a solution out there, I’ve found,” Friszolowkski said. “You have to be willing to listen.”