Which direction will St. Petersburg take?
ST. PETERSBURG — The city's next mayor will inherit a slate of economic woes and unresolved issues.
Homelessness and unemployment rates are soaring. Downtown storefronts are increasingly vacant. Foreclosures are rising as property values continue to fall, leaving craters in the city budget.
Courses will be set for the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, the remaking of the city's iconic Pier and the rehabilitation of BayWalk, a downtown cornerstone.
But the city also is better off than many, said Mayor Rick Baker. After years of economic prosperity and growth, Baker said he led a fiscally conservative administration that invested heavily in redevelopment, education and saving for the future.
The city, Baker said, is poised to recover gracefully as the economy rebounds.
"I'm very bullish on where we are," he said. "Do you have challenges? Yes, but in the context of where we were 20 years ago, we didn't have a downtown, Midtown wasn't where it is now, we didn't even have neighborhood plans. … I would be very pleased to take over Jan. 2."
Whether voters agree with Baker could prove to be a critical factor in the outcome of Tuesday's mayoral election.