Last summer in St. Petersburg, Florida, two political candidates shocked reporters and won support from local residents when they openly called for a criminal investigation into the administration of mayor Rick Kriseman for his role in dumping over 1 billion gallons of untreated sewage on the city in 2015 and 2016.
The candidates were Akilé Anai who ran for district 6 and Jesse Nevel for mayor. Known as the “Uhuru Candidates” because of their backing by the African People’s Socialist Party, Akilé and Jesse never missed an opportunity on the campaign trail to expose the Kriseman regime’s hand in causing the sewage disaster and its underlying themes of corruption and profit-driven gentrification plans.
Now, a year into his second term, the Kriseman regime continues to befoul the city in the fetid stench of raw sewage.
Nearly 230,000 gallons of wastewater spilled from a tank on December 7, 2018 at one of the city’s water treatment plants is the latest of the 2 million gallons to spew in the past three months.
Despite Kriseman’s promise to keep the public informed, the city actually changed its policy to become more secretive, only notifying the public about spills that don’t leave facility grounds.
What the Tampa Bay Times and other local media outlets fail to point out, however, is that the sewage crisis is merely a symptom of the deeper ills gurgling in the bowels of local government.
The real problem, as the Uhuru candidates intoned last summer, “is the sewer of corruption in City Hall.”
The roots of the sewage crisis
During a now-famous debate at the Hilton Hotel where the League of Women Voters called the police on the enthusiastic supporters of the two Uhuru candidates, the question was posed to the mayoral candidates, “How should the city pay for repairing the sewage and stormwater infrastructure?”
Jesse Nevel’s response: “I think Rick Kriseman should pay for it.”
Backed by millions from real estate investors, Kriseman was re-elected and instead of paying for what he did, the city’s people have had to foot the bill for his crimes against the environment and the population, especially the black community.
The sewage leaks began in 2015 when hundreds of thousands of gallons were leaked into the predominately African working class residential neighborhood surrounding Clam Bayou in Gulfport, a nearby municipality.
The city had just recently shut down the Albert Whitted sewage plant to make room in the prime real estate zone of downtown for predatory investors waiting in the wings to build more high-rises on that property.
The decimated sewage system was overpowered by storms and the city attempted to solve this crisis by leaking wastewater into the black community.
When the risk of sewage reaching the white downtown areas of St Pete began to arise, the administration decided to route the sewage into the Tampa Bay, pumping what ultimately amounted to a billion gallons, poisoning the fish and birds and polluting the waterfront.
The Uhuru candidates met with city workers in the Water Resources department and learned that a rampant culture of anti-black oppression, combined with secrecy and corruption, led to Kriseman’s disastrous decision to close the Albert Whitted plant.
City workers had tried to warn the government that closing the plant would be a catastrophe.
An audit of the sewage infrastructure reached the same conclusion. A copy of this audit was placed right on Kriseman’s desk for him to review before ordering the plant to be shut down. Kriseman claims he never saw the audit, an obvious lie.
The demand for a criminal investigation of Kriseman, and for Kriseman and his minions to be jailed was not just an election talking point. It was a serious demand rooted in the actual criminality of their actions, according to their own laws.
Shortly after his re-election, Kriseman was granted amnesty from the state to avoid facing any criminal charges.
Pinellas-Pasco state attorney Bernie McCabe claimed that the responsibility for the sewage crisis was so generalized throughout the administration that no single individual could be prosecuted.
In other words, everyone was guilty, so nobody was guilty and after two years and a billion gallons of sewage, scores of dead pelicans and St. Pete residents waking up to fecal water spurting out of their bathtub faucets, the whole Kriseman cabal walked away unsullied.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators said they found evidence that 89 felonies and 103 misdemeanors were committed, but the Uhuru candidates didn’t secure enough votes to take the mayor and city council seats and so Kriseman sleeps in his mansion at night, not in a prison cell.
Furthermore, the people of St. Pete have to suffer the financial consequences of Kriseman’s sewage fiasco. A City Council committee unanimously approved a plan earlier this year that increases the average customer’s monthly utility bill by $11.02, an increase of 11.5 percent, to pay for repairs to the sewage system.
Kriseman’s rampage of gentrification
All of this takes place in the context of Kriseman’s rampage of gentrification that has led local black leaders to ask, “Will there be even a black community in St. Pete two years from now?”
The glut of high-rise condominiums and the skyrocketing cost of rent is driving black families from their homes.
The traditionally African working class south St. Petersburg is facing an invasion by white property speculators brandishing clipboards, paving the way for a community’s utter annihilation.
The resistance that mobilized thousands to rally behind the Uhuru Candidates last summer is not over. It is just beginning.
The black working-class-led campaign for Akilé and Jesse’s respective candidacies swept through the city and even inspired thousands of white people to march behind the cause of “unity through reparations” as the core of a truly progressive future for all people in St. Petersburg.
Communities United for Reparations and Economic Development (CURED) was formed to advance the platforms on which Akilé and Jesse ran and to promote a progressive agenda that centers around black community economic development and reparations for injustices past and present.
CURED is expected to announce plans to run candidates in the near future.