The first time I met State Representative Rick Kriseman, a Democrat from District 53, was 2007 and I was celebrating my first wedding anniversary. I was in Tallahassee to see Duncan, who was totally immersed in the legislative session with her boss, also newly-elected Representative Keith Fitzgerald, a Sarasota Democrat from the 69th District.
Duncan and I were at a pretty nice Asian-fusion restaurant and in came Rick along with his wife Kerry, joining his legislative aide, Kevin King and Kevin's girlfriend (now his wife) Karis. I should say Rick was wheeled in. He'd been playing softball on a lovely spring day and had broken his leg on a hard run to first. It was a severe break. The leg was held completely straight and ridged as he sat upright in the wheelchair, and it looked profoundly uncomfortable.
Poor Rick, Duncan said, we should say hi.
We approached their table and chatted with them for a short time. Rick looked to be tired and in not an inconsiderable amount of pain, though it was hard to tell which was more painful, the broken leg or negotiating the contentious legislative session.
Though not new to politics, 2007 was Kriseman's first legislative session as a State Representative. It was a difficult session -- and it would not be his last.
Representative and Mrs. Kriseman greeted us warmly -- he and Keith have become close over the course of their legislative careers -- as did Kevin and Karis. It was an interesting dynamic. First, Duncan will hardly ever be the one to initiate contact. She's more likely to hold back, especially during something like, say, our anniversary dinner.
Second, I was struck by how together Kriseman seemed to be. He and I only chatted for a few brief minutes, but he was warm and engaging, animated and quick. You'd expect this in any good politician, but the fact that he was probably very uncomfortable, if not in considerable pain, made it all the more impressive.
I've since found Representative Kriseman to be exactly all of those things, and more so since his leg has healed. But Kriseman also represents what is possibly a new generation -- and a new character -- of politician emerging in Florida (and possibly nation-wide; you could argue Obama fits this mold): the down-to-earth, accessible, everyman politician. I like to call these politicians "neighborhood politicians," because they are the people who live near you. Down the road, around the corner. You see them at the grocery store, at the pizza place, at Blockbuster, at the gas station. They are a living, breathing connection between the life you live and the complicated, often difficult-to-interpret politics which affects it every day.
This first installment of the Profile & Interview focuses on Representative Kriseman's personal life. As a new father who is relatively new to the area, I was curious to hear what life was like for him when he was young, and what kept him here. I was heartened by his answers, and believe they support my idea of a what I like to call a neighborhood politician.
Following is the first half of what I hope may be more Profile & Interview pieces. In the coming days, I'll post the second half of Representative Kriseman's Profile & Interview, including a video session in which we'll discuss some policy issues affecting District 53, Florida, and America.
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When and where were you born?I was born in Detroit in 1962, moved here in 1972 when I was 9 years old.
What are your parent’s names? What did your parents do for a living? Do you have siblings?
My dad, Donald “Danny” Kriseman, started his own business, Modern Wholesale Hardware, and at the time he sold the business, it was a city block long and was located in Pinellas Park. My mom, Doris Abramsohn Kriseman, was a homemaker. However, as a hobby, she wrote music. I have one sibling, a sister Nancy, who lives in Atlanta. She is a licensed Social Worker with an advanced specialty in Gerontology. Aside from the time she spends counseling families who are dealing with an aging parent, she also trains nursing home staffers on how to better communicate with their patients utilizing a technique she wrote about in her book “The Caring Spirit”.
What was life like growing up in St. Petersburg?
I attended public school at Pasadena Elementary, Azalea Middle, and Boca Ciega High School. This was a great community to grow up in, and for that reason, many of the kids I went to school with, like myself, have remained and are raising their own families here.
You went to U.F. and studied broadcasting. What was the draw?
I have always loved music, and my initial thought was that broadcasting would provide me with a vehicle to earn a living while continuing to enjoy my love of music. After working in the profession for a short period of time, I soon discovered that with the job came the requirement to work nights, weekends and holidays, and at the time, the idea of doing so was not appealing to me.
Tell us something about your children, Jordan and Samuel. When you’re home, do you talk much about what’s happening in Tallahassee?
My daughter Jordan is the oldest. She has just turned 13 and is in 7th grade at Shorecrest Prepatory School. My son Samuel is 7, and is in 2nd grade at Shorecrest. Jordan, who recently celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, has been engaged in a service project for the past year. Her project, which has involved the whole family, has been raising a service dog for Southeastern Guide Dogs. She also has been doing Irish Step Dancing for the past 6 years and has competed in National competitions. Samuel has been taking Karate at Ron Schnell’s Superkicks in South Pasadena for the past 3 years. In addition to Karate, Samuel’s other passion, besides reading non-fiction books, is golf.
When I’m home, I try not to talk about politics or what has been happening in Tallahassee, as I do need some down time where I can focus solely on my wife and kids. However, my wife and kids are very interested in what I do and what is going on in Florida, so despite my best efforts, political discussions are a common occurrence in the Kriseman household.
I first got involved in politics in 1986 when a longtime friend from high school decided he was going to run for office and asked me to be his campaign manager. He had never run for office before, and I had never managed a campaign before, so it was perfect. Unfortunately, we were not successful that time, however, two years later, my friend Lars Hafner successfully defeated the incumbent Dottie Sample, and served in that position for 12 years until term limits ended his term. I also served as a founding board member of the Tampa Bay Democratic Leadership Council. It was during my time on this board that I first entertained thoughts of running for office. My first attempt was in 1999 when I challenged St. Petersburg City Councilmember Bob Kersteen. I lost that race, but was soon appointed to serve on the city’s Nuisance Abatement Board. While serving on that board, Councilmember Kersteen resigned his seat to run for the State House seat being vacated by the termed-out Rep. Lars Hafner. In December 2000, I applied for and was appointed to serve as the City Councilman for District 1. In 2001 I ran for reelection and did so again successfully in 2003. From the time I first ran through my service in the Florida House, my goal has always been to be thoughtful and a voice of reason.
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This interview and profile is the first of a two-part series. In our second part, we will feature a more in-depth discussion of politics and policy, as well as an accompanying video interview.
It was an honor to interview and write about Representative Kriseman. I thank him and Kevin King for their openness, availability, and honesty.
Please support Rick Kriseman for State House.