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Tomalin talks St. Pete past, present – and political future

Bill DeYoung



Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin good-naturedly fielded a handful of questions, Tuesday on The Catalyst Sessions, about the arts in St. Petersburg – when she was a young person in the city, when there wasn’t much to do (“it was a pretty pedestrian exposure to the arts”), and today.

“I don’t recall growing up in a City of the Arts,” she said diplomatically. “That wasn’t my consciousness or awareness. There certainly were some key elements, milestones and markers related to the arts growing up. But I think that the evolution our city has seen, accelerated in the last 25 years, has been a pretty notable and iconic movement along the continuum of being a City of the Arts.”

She proudly discussed her teenage children and their involvement in visual arts in the theater.

Kanika Jelks was a Poynter Institute scholar writing stories for the then-St. Petersburg Times when she met her future husband, sports and outdoors writer Terry Tomalin, in the early 1990s.

Armed with an MBA in Marketing from the University of Miami, and a Doctorate in Law and Policy from Northeastern, she worked in key executive positions at Bayfront Health for several years before accepting the job as second-in-charge to Mayor Rick Kriseman in 2014.

It was, Tomalin said, a “huge” leap of faith. “There’s nothing in my background, particularly or specifically, that would suggest I’d be sitting in this seat right now. It wasn’t something for which I prepared, or aspired to.”

She was, she said, “as surprised as anyone when Rick Kriseman asked me to leave my career in healthcare, and partner with him in taking the city through its next chapter.”

Her husband was her biggest cheerleader. “Terry was like, ‘you have to do this,’” Tomalin explained. “Our kids are the sixth generation of my family to call St. Pete home. ‘Got to give back to this community that’s given so much to me.’ And it’s been the biggest gift. I came into it thinking I was giving back. It’s been the biggest gift to me.”

The conversation touched on several key contemporary issues for the city, including the potential redevelopment of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site and the hits taken by business and arts because of Covid-19.

“We’re going to be OK,” she said. “We are a resilient city. And the path to resilience is paved with disruption. That is just the case.”

Tomalin also proudly discussed Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, where a new “urban” campground will soon be dedicated, named for her husband, who died in 2016.

And she deftly dodged the question of the hour: Does she plan to run for mayor after Kriseman’s second and final term is up in 2021?

“You think we’re going to break this news on The Catalyst Sessions?” the Deputy Mayor smiled. “That’s awesome.”

But she moved on, choosing her words carefully. “City Administrator is an awesome job that I love. City Administrators often serve multiple mayors. My kids are in a delicate place. I don’t – particularly right now – know that I’m going to be running for mayor in the next election. I’d love to continue to serve my city for as long as the city feels served by me.”


Today on The Catalyst Sessions: Novelist Lisa Unger and her latest, Confessions on the 7:45.

Streaming at 7 p.m. weekdays on the Catalyst Facebook page. All episodes are archived on our YouTube channel.




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