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Romano: A tale of two competent mayors, and one conflicted electorate

Rick Baker has filed to run against Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Rick Baker has filed to run against Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Well, okay, score the first point for the former mayor.

And all Rick Baker had to do was show up at City Hall.

Within an hour of the news breaking that Baker had, indeed, filed to run again for the mayor's office in St. Petersburg, he was being depicted as out-of-touch and divisive by Rick Kriseman's campaign manager. And, in case that description wasn't pointed enough, we were reminded that Baker worked to defeat the nation's first African-American president.

Really? We're going there on Day 1?

If Baker's mere presence on the ballot is enough to get the Kriseman team hyperventilating by lunch time, then this is going to be one long, joyless campaign for the incumbent.

Not that Kriseman doesn't have reason to be concerned. Baker might be the only person in St. Petersburg who could walk into this race and immediately have the polls on his side.

And that plays into what has been Kriseman's greatest weakness as mayor. He's too thin-skinned, and his staff is too eager to throw elbows at the first sign of trouble. And Monday's reaction didn't do much to dispel that perception.

So, here's a thought:

Why not walk into the race confidently?

You can bet that's what Baker will do this morning when he formally announces his candidacy in a City Hall stage show. He will remind voters he was the one who first saw this city's potential. He will bring up many of the accomplishments from his two successful terms. He will have familiar politicians standing by his side to recall the seamless nature of his administration.

And if Kriseman is smart, he will applaud from afar.

Acknowledge that Baker was a competent mayor. Acknowledge that he is a good man. Acknowledge that there might be people in the city whose politics align more closely to Baker's more conservative views.

And then Kriseman should make the case for his own accomplishments and vision.

That's the beauty of this race.

It doesn't need to be negative on either side. You can always find critics, but I would wager that most voters have favorable opinions of both the former and current mayor.

That doesn't mean they are flawless. And it doesn't mean that their more questionable decisions and quirks shouldn't be fair game.

Kriseman has issues deflecting blame. Baker had a penchant for operating in secrecy. Kriseman will have to answer for the sewer problems. Baker will have to answer for his judgment in once endorsing Herman Cain for president. Kriseman hasn't gotten along as well as he should with the City Council. Baker didn't get along at all with the Tampa Bay Rays.

In the end, the fact that Kriseman is a Democrat and Baker is a Republican is going to matter to a certain number of voters. And that's fine. Party labels offer a shorthand look into a politician's philosophies.

But for a great many voters in St. Petersburg, I suspect party affiliation won't mean as much as it does on the national or state level. Voters know Baker; they know Kriseman. They have seen them up close, and they have critiqued them at the ballot box.

There will be times when each candidate tries to paint a picture of his opponent as some liberal or conservative caricature. Sort of what the Kriseman campaign attempted to do Monday.

That kind of stuff is inevitable but not necessary in this case. Both have been worthy mayors in the past, and one will be again.

It's just up to you to decide.

Romano: A tale of two competent mayors, and one conflicted electorate 05/09/17 [Last modified: Monday, May 8, 2017 9:06pm]
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