A brief timeline of presidential politics in St. Petersburg:
In 2007, Mayor Rick Baker was named co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Florida. Later, in 2008, he made appearances on behalf of the McCain-Palin ticket.
In 2011, Baker was one of four state chairmen for Herman Cain’s presidential campaign in Florida. When that fizzled, in 2012, Baker was named a senior adviser on urban policy for the Romney campaign.
In 2015, Baker helped raise money for Jeb Bush’s political action committee in advance of his presidential campaign.
And now, in 2017, Baker says national politics have no place in a mayoral election.
Seems odd, doesn’t it?
Baker has never been shy about using his profile to endorse, and even campaign for, Republican presidential candidates in the past. And yet now that he is running for mayor again, he acts as if the Oval Office is somewhere in Siberia.
(Come to think of it, maybe it is.)
There is a reason for this. The current occupant of the White House has a historically low approval rating. He’s alienated immigrants, black people and gay people with an almost off-handed casualness.
So, if Baker comes out and says he’s a supporter of Donald Trump’s policies, he’d have a huge problem in a city that tilts heavily toward Democrats. And if he rejects Trump’s attacks on Dreamers, Obamacare and other issues, he risks turning off the GOP base in St. Pete.
That’s a difficult position, but it’s part of being a leader. You don’t duck, and you don’t hide. You don’t get to campaign when it’s in your interests and claim neutrality when it’s not.
The time has come:
Baker needs to address Trump.
I understand those who say the mayoral race is non-partisan and Baker has no obligation to talk about presidential politics. I understand, but I disagree.
While parks, potholes and sewers are a large part of a mayor’s job, a lot of people also want to know what’s in a candidate’s heart. And knowing how he feels about one of the most polarizing people on the planet will go a long way toward explaining that.
I’ve always thought of an election as the political equivalent of an executive job interview. You want to know an applicant’s background. You want to know their future plans. You want to know that they view the world in much the same way that you do.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that I’m wrong about this. That Baker is playing it smart by not antagonizing anyone on either side of the political spectrum. It is, after all, a close race, and any misstep could swing the election in either direction.
But I do find it intriguing that while Baker tries to avoid Trump-related questions, one of the latest ads from his political committee uses the president’s unpopularity as a selling point.
In a radio spot that caused a stir because of a false accusation against incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, civil rights activist Sevell Brown also threw in a gratuitous Trump reference. Baker, he said, was the one person in the mayoral race "who will fight Donald Trump.’’
Based on the past few months, he won’t even mildly rebuke Trump. In fact, based on his silence, we don’t know if he even sees a reason to want to fight the president.