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Romano: Tell the critics to shut up, Election Day has arrived in St. Pete

By John Romano
Incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker, pictured during a July debate, will compete for votes in the St. Petersburg mayor's race Tuesday. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

For months, everyone else has been telling you whatís important in the St. Petersburg mayoral race.

The candidates and their intermediaries. The editors and the columnists. The faceless PACs and the political parties.

Naturally, all those folks are entitled to their own points of view, but in the final hour itís up to you to decide which issues are most important in your world. And that hour is rapidly approaching.

Rick Kriseman or Rick Baker. The current mayor or the former mayor. If the choice were simple, the primary results in August would not have been separated by one-tenth of 1 percent.

And if youíre just voting along party lines, then you have little motivation to read anything else. On the other hand, if you think there is more nuance in this election, then hereís a last-minute checklist of some of the most talked-about issues.

Sewage crisis

Kriseman says he inherited this mess. Baker says Kriseman exacerbated it by closing the Albert Whitted sewage plant. In a big-picture sense, they are both right.

Previous administrations, including Bakerís two terms, did not do enough to ward off the impending breakdowns in the sewage system. And yet the problem was made far worse when the City Council, and Krisemanís administration, went along with the advice of city staffers who swore that closing Albert Whitted was a sound strategy.

My opinion? While miscalculations were made during Krisemanís term, I think this crisis was inevitable. The much greater problem is Krisemanís response. His administration seemed to put a higher priority on figuring out how to spin the story than simply accepting responsibility and fixing it.

Your choice? Deciding whether this was an excusable mistake, or a fatal flaw in Krisemanís management style.

Big ticket items

Among Krisemanís top selling points is that he solved an impasse with the Tampa Bay Rays over their stadium concerns, finally got construction started on a new police station and ended the interminable debate over the building of a new pier.

Baker seems to have problems with a lot of Krisemanís deals, but hasnít really made them a centerpiece of his campaign. Realistically, itís because theyíre all sound ideas.

My opinion? You can quibble over the details or the costs, but all of these issues had to be addressed. The police station was a no-brainer, and there was never going to be consensus on the pier. As for his take on the Rays deal, Baker is either being disingenuous or is flat-out wrong to criticize a plan that would allow quicker development of Tropicana Field acreage while also keeping the Rays in the marketplace.

Your choice? Deciding whether you want St. Pete to retain its small-town feel of days past, or whether the city needs to continue moving forward.

Campaign tactics

There is no question Kriseman has tried turning what is historically a non-partisan race into a referendum on President Donald Trump and the direction of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Bakerís team produced a sleazy ad on what could have been a legitimate issue about the effectiveness of Krisemanís inner circle.

My opinion? Hanging Trump around an opponentís neck shouldnít be the best weapon an incumbent such as Kriseman has. On the other hand, itís a little bothersome that Baker does not have the guts, or character, to point out where he agrees or disagrees with Trumpís policies. Or, for that matter, the hyper-partisan policies of the governor and House speaker in Florida.

Your choice? Deciding to base your vote solely on past performances, or deciding whether the values and philosophies of your mayorís party matter.

As I said earlier, this is not an easy decision. Both men have already held the job, and both are more than qualified to lead the city for the next four years.

I donít live in St. Pete so my vote doesnít count. But for nearly 170,000 registered St. Pete voters, you better believe your vote matters. The primary was decided by 70 votes out of more than 56,000 cast.

Youíve heard from the PACs and the pundits. From other politicians and both parties. Donít let this election go by without your voice being heard, too.

Itís your choice.