The crowd was chanting, a Tom Petty song was playing and the re-elected mayor of St. Petersburg was expressing heartfelt thanks from the center of the stage.
This is what victory looks like.
In another four years, we’ll know if it’s also what vindication looks like.
This is your time, Rick Kriseman. Even more so than your first mayoral victory four years ago. That election started you on a new path, and this election will determine where you end up.
Where, in a real sense, everyone ends up in St. Pete.
You defeated Rick Baker on Tuesday in a race that stretched from spring to fall with the two of you seemingly running side-by-side the entire time. So take a bow. You deserve it.
But also know this:
You won the most votes, but you didn’t win as many hearts.
I’m sure it hurts to hear that, but you probably knew it already. You knew it when you turned a nonpartisan election into a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency.
The only way you were going to survive your day at the polls was by making the election a question of Democrats vs. Republicans instead of Kriseman vs. Baker.
If you look at it strictly by party numbers among registered voters in St. Pete, you should have begun the election with an 18-point advantage on Baker. And yet you won by 3.2 points. That would seem to indicate an awful lot of Democrats and independents either sat at home or decided to vote for Baker.
Kind of hard to muster a WOO-HOO out of that, huh?
I don’t say that to be mean, but rather to be helpful.
A local business leader recently suggested that you are a much better man than you are a politician. Maybe some people don’t think that’s a compliment, but I certainly believe it was meant that way. Especially since I think the opposite is true of far too many elected officials.
Consequently, it’s when you try too hard to play the political game that you get into trouble. Whether it’s strong-arming City Council members or stiff-arming reporters, your tactics are more off-putting than your ideas.
Now, you could argue that these observations are overblown. That your first term was unfairly tainted by a sewage crisis that you inherited just as it was about to explode. And that, if not for broken-down pipes and a sewer department’s miscalculation on the Albert Whitted treatment plant, you’d have had a much easier ride during your first term.
I’ll buy that.
But, if you’re being honest, it wasn’t the only problem. There were too many unforced errors along the way. Petty feuds about claiming credit, or hiding from blame. Voters might expect that on the state or national level, but it feels unseemly when you’re talking about a politician so close to home. And that perception ate into your support this year.
But here’s the good news: None of that matters today.
The election was narrow, but its effect could be colossal. Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, you’ve been given an amazing gift. A chance to start over. To change the trajectory of a legacy.
Be the mayor everyone expected in 2013, and these squabbles and missteps will be long forgotten. There have been few questions about the goals of your administration, just the methods.
You have already represented the city well when it comes to the police department, the environment, the Tampa Bay Rays and the idea of connecting St. Pete with the larger region.
There is no doubt the city is in a better place today than it was a few years ago. It’s moving forward. It’s making a name for itself nationally.
For that, you should be proud.
Your acceptance speech Tuesday night was a great example of the mayor you can be. While Baker failed to congratulate, or even mention you, during his concession speech, you were gracious toward him, appreciative of the voters and uplifting for the city.
You’re a good man.
Don’t ever forget that.