Monday, Dec 22, 2014

St. Pete’s Kennedy touts experience in re-election bid

BY Christopher O’Donnell
Tribune staff

Published:

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ST. PETERSBURG — When Jim Kennedy needs inspiration for drafting new city ordinances, he only need look at the walls of his former Orange Grove caretakers cottage that is now his law office on Second Avenue North.

A keen history buff, Kennedy has collected over the years old parchments of laws and letters signed by former presidents, including William Howard Taft, Grover Cleveland and John F. Kennedy.

After five years in office representing District 2, Kennedy has earned a reputation as an understated, thoughtful, no-nonsense leader who steers clear of the histrionics and jibes at opponents that have become common on a fractured City Council.

Now, he wants voters to give him another term.

“I have an unfinished agenda, and transportation is probably at the top of that,” Kennedy said.

As a member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and also the Advisory Committee for Pinellas Transportation, Kennedy has been a vocal advocate of a mass transit system for Pinellas.

More buses and a light-rail network will attract more employers, give more people an alternative to getting to work and help boost redevelopment of Midtown, one of the city’s poorest areas, he said. If elected, Kennedy said he will work to persuade residents to back the proposed 2014 referendum to pay for transit by raising sales tax by one penny.

“A large section of the population accepts the fact that roads are there and see transit as an additional cost,” Kennedy said. “We need to dispel the concept that roads are free.”

Kennedy said his biggest accomplishments include his work on the city’s budget, particularly through a time when revenues from property taxes fell from roughly $105 million to $70 million because of the real estate crash.

As a four-year chair of the city’s Budget Finance and Taxation committee, he worked to lower the city budget without layoffs or cuts to essential services. As City Council chair in 2010, he led efforts to prevent the county from making cuts to the EMS system.

Working with city and county staff, he was also able to secure $83 million in state funding for a future Gandy Boulevard overpass over Fourth Street North.

Some of his accomplishments are more bookish, such as his efforts to get council committees to track and schedule outstanding items so that issues do not get forgotten.

In his own district, he worked with the School Board to get the site of Rio Vista Elementary School designated as a city park. He increased the number of playgrounds in his district by negotiating joint-use agreements with churches and a condo association.

Kennedy has faced criticism for often supporting Mayor Bill Foster on several issues and also for pushing for the city’s controversial red-light cameras, which opponent Lorraine Margeson opposes. Two companies owned by American Traffic Solutions, which runs the city’s program, have both contributed $500 to Kennedy’s campaign.

He said accepting the donation is not a conflict of interest, even though the issue seems likely to resurface with a new city council after the election.

“I supported red-light cameras before I ever got a contribution from them,” he said.

If elected for another term, Kennedy pledges to secure funding for the replacement of the San Martin Bridge, close to Weedon Island, and to extend the Pinellas Trail so that it loops completely around the county. Studies show that a majority of users on the trail are commuters, he said.

“It’s not just a recreational component but part of our transportation network,” he said.

Kennedy said the council needs his legal expertise and budget know-how as it heads of the recession and questions whether Margeson has the background to be as effective.

“I bring a lot of talents and skills to the table that allows us to do a better job,” he said. “I’m not sure she has the formal training to go as deep into budget issues as I go.”

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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