Saturday, January 20, 2018
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Bad timing? Will news of a Tampa ballpark for Rays hurt Rick Kriseman's reelection chances?

Amid all the buzz about Tuesday's announcement that Hillsborough County has identified a stadium site in the Ybor City-Channel District area to offer to the Tampa Bay Rays for a new ballpark, St. Petersburg political observers wondered about something else:

How does this news affect the white-hot mayor’s race between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker?

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hillsborough: New Rays ballpark should go in Ybor City

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Kriseman supporter and fellow Democrat, told the Tampa Bay Times that the news came at a bad time for Kriseman — just two weeks before the Nov. 7 election. It puts the issue of the Rays possibly leaving St. Petersburg back on voters' radar.

"I think this could have been thought out more carefully — it would have been nice to see the Rays involved in this announcement," Buckhorn said. "I don't think the timing is helpful in the St. Pete election."

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race.

The Rays non-committal reaction to Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan’s announcement made pointed mention that St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field is still a potential site for a new ballpark. Rays executives and the team have also donated at least $81,500 to Kriseman’s reelection campaign.

Kriseman, of course, helped arrange the 3-year deal that allowed the team to look for a new stadium site in Tampa without violating its Trop contract. But the mayor said he still plans to try to convince the team to stay in his city, in a new stadium built as part of a redevelopment of the Trop's 85-acre site. City and county officials have also noted that the Trop redevelopment will take place with or without the Rays.

The Rays declined to comment Wednesday.

Baker reacted to the news by saying Kriseman’s deal with the Rays has hurt St. Petersburg's chances of keeping Major League Baseball. This latest news across the bay is proof of that, he said in a Tuesday statement.

But Baker’s campaign declined to comment Wednesday on the timing of the announcement or how it could affect the mayoral election.

Though the mayoral race is a non-partisan election, Hagan, like Baker, is a Republican. Was the timing of the announcement intended to help a fellow party member?

Hagan told the Times that it didn’t. In his mind, Hagan said, the outcome of the mayoral race does not affect whether the Rays can move and did not factor into his timing. The Rays' agreement to search outside St. Petersburg is so well-crafted, he said, that Baker couldn’t undo it even if he were to win office.

In the past, Hagan has told the Times that he thinks the Rays are unlikely to make any kind of announcement until after the mayor's race is over anyway.

While the Rays' exit from the Trop is spelled out in its contract with St. Petersburg, the next mayor could make that process easier or harder.

Kriseman’s campaign also declined to comment on whether the timing helps or hurts the mayor’s chances in a tight race.

"Mayor Kriseman has always been focused on doing on what is best for St. Petersburg and for keeping the Rays here in St. Pete,  but especially Tampa Bay. That has nothing to do with upcoming election," campaign manager Jacob Smith said.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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Published: 01/20/18