Goliath Davis: Both an asset and liability for Rick Baker
For 25 years Goliath Davis has been a central issue in St. Petersburg's mayoral races. It started in 1992, more or less, when former City Manager fired Police Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger, largely because of clashes between Curtsinger and Davis within the city's police department.
It continued through Curtsinger's unsuccessful campaign for mayor the following year. During David Fischer's reelection campaign against Bill Klein in 1997, Fischer named Davis police chief. The Go Davis factor loomed through Rick Baker's 2001 victory against staunch Davis critic Kathleen Ford. And again in 2009 when Ford lost to Bill Foster, in large part because she referred to Davis on the radio as "H.N.I.C. (Head Negro in Charge)."
Mayor Foster in 2011 fired Davis as "senior administrator of community enrichment" after the former police chief and 37-year city employee chose not to attend the funeral of three police officers killed in the line of duty, but did attend the funeral of the man who killed two of the officers. Davis explained that he went to that funeral to support the convict's family, whom he knew, not the killer. Attending the officers' funerals, he said, was too painful because it reminded him of a friend and fellow officer killed 30 years earlier. UPDATE: He says he attended the officers' wakes and that part of the reason he went to the killer's service was to ensure an eruption did not occur, as seemed possible.
In 2013, Davis all but endorsed Ford for mayor, miscalculating that she would beat Kriseman and other candidates in the primary election and emerge to challenge Foster in the general election.
"I think she has matured greatly as a politician," said Davis, whom Ford had once suggested might be tipping off drug dealers. "I'm not opposed to her becoming mayor. She's extremely bright, hardworking and committed. She has qualities that distinguish her from (Mayor Bill) Foster."
Once Kriseman emerged as Foster's challenger, Davis threw his support to him: "I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that we don't have another four years of Bill Foster."
Four years later, Davis is on Rick Baker's team again, despite Davis spending much of the year living in Quincy and a potentially awkward family dynamic.
His first cousin, Kanika Tomalin, is Kriseman's deputy mayor, who likely will be out of a job if Davis' candidate wins. At his campaign kickoff speech May 8, Baker even made a point of scoffing at Tomalin for having suggested after a Walmart closed in Midtown that the supermarket was not sustainable there.
"That is the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life," Baker said.
Davis and Tomalin say the tough campaign will not affect their mutual effection.
"Kanika's my cousin, and I love her," Davis told the Times. "I don't have any problems with her. My problem is with the top of the ticket."
Said Tomalin: "Goliath is my cousin. Our mothers are sisters. We share a Grandmother who taught us that no Earthly concern is greater than the love we have for our family. For both of us, family will always come first. That means, regardless of the direction this election takes, we will honor and respect each other."
She also implied that Davis' political influence in the black community -- or anybody's for that matter -- is not nearly as great as it is often portrayed.
"The media assigns too much attention and weight to the role of endorsements in the black community. Like every other voter, black people think and act as individuals, yet they’re often portrayed as a monolith. The support and positions of a few high-profile people are too often hailed and treated as the intent and will of a community of thousands," she said. "No one is seeking out former Deputy Mayors Mike Dove or Dave Metz to see who they’re supporting and how it will influence white people's vote. It's an intellectually dishonest exercise that marginalizes the many determinants of votes cast by voters who are black."
Former deputy mayors Metz and Dove, however, have never played so aggressively in city elections for so long as her cousin has. Over more than two decades, no single person has had as much impact on so many mayors and so many elections as Goliath Davis.
Davis is, fairly or unfairly, a lightning rod in St. Petersburg, which means he is something of a double-edged sword for Baker. Davis' public support and his political machine that can spread Baker campaign signs throughout southern St. Petersburg, will help win over a lot of voters for Baker.
It will also turn off a lot.