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Omali Yeshitela leads rally endorsing Uhuru candidates for St. Petersburg elections

ST. PETERSBURG — In the midst of a hotly contested mayoral primary and city council elections, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidates were endorsed by the group’s founder at a rally Tuesday.

Uhuru founder Omali Yeshitela, who himself ran for mayor in 2001, endorsed mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel, 27, and District 6 council candidate Eritha “Akile” Cainion, 20. Both have already qualified for their respective races.

“We are winning,” chanted the crowd of about 40.

Yeshitela railed against the glut of other candidates in the mayoral and City Council races, describing them as “corporate puppets.” He praised the two Uhuru movement candidates as disruptors of the status quo: rising housing costs, broken cemeteries, gentrification and “parrot-like” politicians.

“Our candidates believe that we should not be sacrificed on the altar of capitalism,” he said.

Both Uhuru movement candidates said African-American residents and businesses have seemingly been under an “economic quarantine.” The solution to that is reparations.

The reparations would not involve cash payments, said Uhuru member Jackson Hollingsworth, but would come in the form of government support for black economic development.

One key element of that plan: demolishing Tropicana Field and replacing the baseball dome with affordable housing. Whether the Tampa Bay Rays stay or leave St. Petersburg, the 85-acre site of their former home is ripe for redevelopment. To build the Trop, which opened in 1990, the city evicted black residents of the Gas Plant community and razed their homes, businesses and churches.

Yeshitela argued that dedicating the Trop site to affordable housing would not only be just, but would benefit all residents by lowering housing prices across the city.

“It’s good for blacks and whites,” he said. “That’s economics.”

Both candidates also took the time to praise their own movement.

“Uhuru is the only movement that fights unconditionally for black people,” Cainion said.

Nevel said the Uhurus work to benefit all of the community, not just the black community. Nevel is national chair of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, an organization that says it mobilizes white support for the black community.

White residents should also support reparations, Nevel said, which would help them shed the “straitjacket” of oppression. And Nevel echoed Yeshitela’s criticism of the two main mayoral candidates: incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker.

“It’s a rigged election in favor of the big money candidates,” he said.

Kriseman and Baker will both be focused on winning black votes in this election. But Yeshitela and the Uhurus could factor into that equation. Yeshitela did very well in African-American precincts in 2001.

“Rick vs. Rick is fake,” Yeshitela said. “I hope the media understands the battle lines. They’re on one side and the people are on the other… We don’t care how much money developers throw at the Ricks.”

Tony Wise, 23, had come out to support the Uhuru movement. But while he was hopeful, he wasn’t sure their candidates would prevail in either election.

“It’s going to take more than the black vote,” he said. “A collective group.”

But Nevel said the Uhuru candidates’ goal is to prevail this year.

“We’re running to win,” he said. “Not to make a statement.”

The Uhurus plan to hold a free concert in support of both candidates on Friday from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Uhuru House, 1245 18th Ave. S.