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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Baker talks about homeless, election and that unusual mustache



ST. PETERSBURG -- Mayor Rick Baker wants his successor to be intelligent, determined, passionate and nice.

"Temperament is very important," said Baker, the guest speaker at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon today. "You've got a lot of opportunity to utter harsh words and you gotta catch them."

Baker said he didn't want St. Petersburg's government to return to earlier years when the City Council ridiculed city employees during public meetings.

"We don't ever want to go back to that," he said.

Baker, who has less than 12 months left at the helm, recounted his administration's successes during the Tiger Bay luncheon and dodged questions about his future political aspirations.

Baker said he wants to focus on his last year in office, but acknowledged that he will soon need a new job.

"If you pray and you ask for God's guidance, when it's time, he'll tell you what to do," Baker said.

Baker defended some of his administration's most controversial policies, including the secrecy surrounding tax breaks given to Jabil Circuit and the annexation of the northern tip of Tierra Verde despite opposition from the island's residents.

"My priority in the next 365 days or however many I have left is always going to be what's best for the city of St. Petersburg," he said.

Baker also responded to criticism that the homeless are hurting downtown St. Petersburg. He cited the city's support of Catholic Charities' Pinellas Hope shelter and a series of city ordinances that restrict street homelessness, but he also said he would not chase away the homeless who sleep outside City Hall.

"We have an obligation as a community, and it's a moral obligation, to help folks who need help who are willing to help themselves," Baker said. "Unless I have a place to put them, they feel safe at City Hall at night, I'm not going to force them out."

Baker also addressed his unusual mustache after blogger Peter Schorsch asked him whether he would consider shaving it off to improve his chances of winning a statewide office.

"I happen to think my mustache is so pathetic that I could run for anything," Baker said.

His wife, he added later, likes it.

-Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:43am]


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