By Dinorah Prevost
Another USF St. Petersburg student is vying for a City Council seat this November.
Jerick Johnston, 21, a senior business management major, is running for St. Petersburg City Council’s District 4 seat against popular incumbent Darden Rice.
This run is Johnston’s first venture into politics. A St. Petersburg native, he is running for District 4 because he’s lived there his entire life.
In challenging Rice, he said he wants to bring a younger voice to City Council.
“I want to make it easier for small businesses to work in our city, bring a new voice, a young voice to City Council and try and get more young people involved in city government,” he said.
“I just wanted to make an impact in the community. We’re a changing city and I wanted that to be represented,” Johnston said.
Fiscal responsibility is one of his top priorities, and he also wants to deal with the city’s sewage problems in an environmentally friendly way.
He also opposes spending an extra $10 million on rebuilding the pier and would reopen the Albert Whitted sewage plant, which current mayor Rick Kriseman closed in 2015.
However, Rice is likely to be re-elected, as she is experienced and a popular progressive voice in City Council.
In its recent editorial that endorsed candidates for the three City Council seats, the Tampa Bay Times endorsed Rice, and harshly criticized Johnston’s “vague understanding of other city issues,” calling him “no credible opposition” to Rice.
“I have run a credible campaign and am just as competent and prepared for office as any other candidate that has not served for four years. Age should not be an issue in this race,” Johnston said. “I have spent countless hours educating myself and talking with city officials to become well -versed on all the city’s issues. I, along with those who will vote for me over the next month, believe I am well equipped to take office.”
Johnston is the second USF St. Petersburg student to run this local election cycle. He joins graduate student James Scott, who ran for St Petersburg City Council District 6 in August. Alum Corey Givens Jr. also ran for District 6.
Givens and Scott both fell short to candidates Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll, dropping out of the race after the Aug. 29 primaries.
Campaigning and participating in debates have come with a learning curve for Johnston, a self -confessed introvert. In an extrovert dominated political world, Johnston wasn’t phased from running.
“This is so far out of my comfort zone, but I said ‘I’m going for it.’ It’s growing on me and I’m finally starting to loosen up,” he said.
Johnston is a fan of author Susan Cain, who wrote “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” and her website “Quiet Revolution.”
Since its release in 2012, “Quiet” has marked a turning point in public understanding of introversion. In it, Cain argues that introverts are undervalued in heavily extroverted Western society, despite the benefits of their unique insights into the world.
Cain’s popular TED talk, “The power of introverts,” has racked up over 24 million views on YouTube and ted.com since 2012.
“I love her TED talk. It’s my favorite TED talk,” Johnston said.
Johnston started his own consulting company at 18, Johnston Consulting, and works “almost full time” as its president and CEO.
In the past, he’s balanced the demands of his company with a full course load at the university. When it came time to work on his campaign, Johnson went to part-time status.
Johnston describes himself as a techie and “movie buff”.
He was also a fifth generation beekeeper. Because of the Florida heat, he gave up bee-keeping in his backyard, although he said he may return to it one day.
“Part of the (downside) for me here is the weather because it’s so hot and you have to put the whole bee suit on. If you’re not doing it in the winter, it’s scorching and it’s a year-round activity to maintain them,” he said. “It would break my heart to leave them by themselves (during the summer) to where they may not survive.”
Municipal elections for mayor and City Council are on Nov. 7.
Information from the Tampa Bay Times was used in this report.
Header photo courtesy of Jerick Johnston