Saturday, February 24, 2018
Politics

In St. Petersburg's battle of the Ricks, past is prologue

ST. PETERSBURG— Mayor Rick Kriseman's narrow victory in Tuesday's primary energized his base and handed him momentum in the race after trailing in the polls and fundraising.

Meanwhile former Mayor Rick Baker, who shot out of the gate back in May, must now recover after underperforming in a race that some thought he could win outright in the primary.

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race.

As the highs and lows of primary night fade, how will the campaigns shift over the next ten weeks before the Nov. 7 general election?

Kriseman did not respond to requests for an interview on Wednesday. But his campaign staff and supporters showed little appetite to discard a successful formula: tying Baker, a Jeb Bush-style Republican, to the current GOP standard-bearer, President Donald Trump.

"Everywhere I go, every day, I hear people talking about the border wall, barring transgender service people from serving," said Pinellas County Democratic chairwoman Susan McGrath. "These are personal values. And there's nothing more important to people than their personal values."

PRIMARY ANALYSIS: Unpacking the primary: Where did Kriseman and Baker get votes — and where can they get more?

Former Mayor Bill Foster, who lost to Kriseman in the 2013 runoff after finishing first in a three-way primary, said that Baker is an awkward position. Condemning Trump would cost him some Republican voters. But keeping silent hasn't helped, either.

"Trump has hurt Baker, some of the issues Mr. Trump has had," Foster said. "I think it's very dirty. He's never met Trump. It's guilt by association.

"But it puts Baker in a weird spot. He's going to have to figure that one out."

JOHN ROMANO: St. Pete mayoral race now goes to overtime

MAYORAL PRIMARY: Kriseman, Baker headed to runoff

CITY COUNCIL PRIMARY: Justin Bean leads District 6 council race; Driscoll, Blackmon trail

So far, Baker is sticking with a familiar defense: The mayor of St. Petersburg is a non-partisan office that should stay that way.

"I'm going to continue to reject the attempt to inject Washington-style poisonous politics into St. Petersburg," Baker said Wednesday. "It's done damage to our city. I understand why he does it. He doesn't have anything else to run on."

That's not so, said Kriseman campaign manager Jacob Smith. There are local issues to talk about that are relevant to Trump's impact on politics. There's climate change, Smith said, and what he called the conflict of interest between Baker winning office and then handling city business involving his current boss, Bill Edwards.

"The next ten weeks will really be about the two mayor's records," Smith said. "We saw a lot of backroom behavior, Trump-like behavior during Baker's time as mayor."

RELATED: Big money brings in few extra voters in St. Pete primary

University of South Florida St. Petersburg professor emeritus Darryl Paulson, who studies government and local politics, said it would be a mistake for both Baker and Kriseman to keep plodding on well-trod ground as their campaigns head into November.

"More of the same thing is going to be detrimental to both candidates," said Paulson, who has followed city elections for four decades. "Voters in St. Petersburg know both of these individuals. We know who the Democrat is. We know who the Republican is. What neither of them did is convince people: This is why you should elect me."

For Kriseman, he said, too much emphasis on partisan politics could backfire if voters tire of hearing their mayor talk about national issues instead of local issues.

"It's not a terribly strong message for an incumbent," he said. "'Vote for me, I'm the Democrat.' St. Petersburg voters are used to their local elections being non-partisan."

RELATED: Legally, St. Pete mayoral race is nonpartisan. Truthfully, party matters

But Tom Eldon, Kriseman's pollster, said his candidate has the pulse of the city, which has 30,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.

"We need to continue communicating the message of a progressive mayor with a vision versus Rick Baker, a Republican (former) mayor who pretty much has a locked-door agenda he doesn't want to talk much about," Eldon said.

At some point, Eldon said Baker will have to address flashpoints like white supremacist violence in Charlottesville or pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord or risk further political damage.

Baker said he will continue to talk about what he says is Kriseman's mismanagement of the city's sewer system, pier replacement and economic development in Midtown. But he added:

"We're always going to adjust our campaign," Baker said. "We're not going to be rigid on anything."

So who is right? Will voters tire of partisanship? Or does Tuesday's result demonstrate that voters frustrated by Trump's antics have found a local outlet with which to express their ire?

No surprise, both campaigns see it differently.

"The biggest take away from last night is that a majority of the city said 'no' to incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman just four years after he won by 11 points," said Baker campaign director Nick Hansen.

McGrath didn't buy that. After all, Baker served as mayor from 2001-10. Tuesday's primary could also be seen as a judgment of his time in City Hall as well.

"In any other election that would hold water," she said, "but Rick Baker to some degree is also an incumbent because he was in office much longer."

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

Comments
Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushnerís security clearance

Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushnerís security clearance

WASHINGTON ó A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, three people fami...
Published: 02/23/18
Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

TAMPA ó A bipartisan pair of former congressmen spoke Friday about gun safety measures that are more drastic than those being considered following the Parkland school shootings, and about hopes for a national youth movement comparable to the 1960s an...
Published: 02/23/18

Gulfport candidates draw stark contrasts

GULFPORT ó One candidate is a plain-spoken, straightforward technology consultant who preaches "conservative fiscal responsibility" and votes Republican in national elections.The other is a self-proclaimed "progressive liberal" who practices law, pro...
Published: 02/23/18
William March: Gun issues playing bigger role now in local races

William March: Gun issues playing bigger role now in local races

In the aftermath of the Broward County high school shooting, gun rights issues have jumped to the forefront of local legislative races.Democratic challengers are calling out incumbents in Tampa legislative seats on their past stances on gun control."...
Published: 02/22/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to propose to President Donald Trump that transgender members of the U.S. military be allowed to continue serving despite the presidentís call last summer for a ban on all transgender service, acc...
Published: 02/22/18
Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

After an emotionally draining day that captured national attention ó the massive rally in Tallahassee and a small, tearful gathering of survivors at the White House ó CNNís Wednesday night town hall on the Parkland shooting could have easily been ove...
Published: 02/22/18
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens indicted on felony invasion of privacy charge

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens indicted on felony invasion of privacy charge

A St. Louis grand jury has indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony invasion of privacy charge related to the Republicanís affair with a woman in 2015. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced the indictment Thursday. She launched an ...
Published: 02/22/18
Two weeks after Trump chose him for ambassador, nominee pledged money for a gala at Trumpís club

Two weeks after Trump chose him for ambassador, nominee pledged money for a gala at Trumpís club

Two weeks after President Donald Trump nominated Florida businessman Leandro Rizzuto Jr. to be ambassador to Barbados, Rizzuto pledged thousands of dollars to fund a gala at Trumpís Mar-a-Lago Club, the galaís organizer said.Rizzuto and his wife, Den...
Published: 02/22/18
Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case

Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case

New charges were filed Thursday against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, ratcheting up the legal pressure on them as they prepare for a trial later this year.A new indictment has long been expected in special cou...
Published: 02/22/18
Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Gun advocates are absolutely right about this:A ban on assault weapons will not end school shootings.How do we know?Because there was a federal ban on assault weapons for 10 years, and mass killings persisted. Thatís because a ban deals only with fut...
Published: 02/22/18