One of the most interesting anecdotes in Kerry Kriseman’s book, “Accidental First Lady: On the Front Lines (and Behind the Scenes) of Local Politics,” comes well into her husband Rick’s political career. He’d just been elected mayor of St. Petersburg, and the couple was attending an art event. While her husband was talking with someone, a businessman approached Kriseman.
“You’re really just arm candy, aren’t you?”
Kriseman bristled, as any woman would. But she turned the moment around to talk about not only her husband, but her life.
“The man who wanted to affix the ‘arm candy’ label on me got an earful about my longevity as a city resident, my family, my volunteer work and my job as the public relations manager for a nonprofit that serves people with disabilities,” she writes.
Accidental First Lady is Kriseman’s first book, and it’s a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes machinations of local politics. While she does describe some of the glamour of being a political spouse, like attending events at the White House, she doesn’t gloss over the difficult times, either.
Her son was targeted at school for being both the mayor’s son and Jewish, a police officer tried to curry favor with her in hopes of winning a promotion, and countless people attempted to criticize her husband through her during conversations that would be awkward for most of us.
Through it all, Kriseman remained balanced, courteous and patient, which is no small feat in today’s fractured political landscape. This book is a must read for locals who want to delve into the nitty-gritty of Rick Kriseman’s tenure in office (which is coming to a close), and for anyone whose spouse is considering getting into politics.
Another first lady – Michelle Obama – said “Let our jobs and our lives speak for itself.” After reading Kriseman’s book about her time as the mayor’s wife, and considering her community work with Southeastern Guide Dogs, Creative Clay, and her ovarian cancer diagnosis, it’s apparent that she has, indeed, spoken her truth.
The Gabber spoke with her about her future, advice for political spouses, and her favorite Gulfport spot.
Would you ever consider running for office?
There are many ways to contribute, and if one of them requires me to consider pursing a position in public service, I owe it to myself to explore that idea. However, at this time, nor have I ever, considered running for office.
What advice would you give a new political spouse?
If asked, I would tell any new political spouse – male or female – to learn as much as you can about your spouse or partner’s platform and what he or she stands for. People see your spouse in you. I would also recommend that new political spouses refrain as much as possible from reading social media comments about their partners. The third piece of advice I would give a new political spouse is to be grateful for the new experiences and people you meet along the way.
Did you ever feel vulnerable during Rick’s years in office? Was that uncomfortable for you, and how did you overcome that?
Throughout the 22 years that Rick has been involved in politics, the only times I’ve felt vulnerable were when it was necessary for police officers to sit in their cars in front of our home. Occasionally, there were threats on Rick’s life, or to our family, based on decisions he made, or positions taken on issues. I was grateful for the protection by our police officers, but it was a chilling reminder that sometimes politics can be dangerous.
What’s your favorite spot in Gulfport for a date?
I rarely order crab cakes if they’re on the menu, but it’s the only thing I order when Rick and I go to Backfin Blue Café. If we’re lucky, we get to enjoy our sumptuous meal on their quaint porch, followed by a stroll down Beach Boulevard to the historic Gulfport Casino.
Kerry Kriseman will read from “Accidental First Lady” at the Dec. 11 Winter Market and at Tombolo Books on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m., then at Book + Bottle on Dec. 17 at 5 p.m.; you can buy her book anywhere, but if you wish to support local businesses, you can get it at Tombolo Books.