ST. PETERSBURG — In the midst of a tight re-election battle, Mayor Rick Kriseman courted coveted Midtown voters at a cookout event Saturday.
Kriseman won 76 percent of the Midtown vote in his 2013 race against incumbent Mayor Bill Foster. Winning the area's heavily African-American neighborhoods again will likely be crucial to his election path. No St. Petersburg mayor in recent history has been elected without carrying them.
Kriseman is facing former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. A St. Pete Polls survey released Tuesday showed Kriseman trailing Baker by 2.6 percentage points with Midtown voters — 36.4 to 33.8. The gap is well within the poll's 3.6 percent margin of error and is an improvement for Kriseman from the last poll in May, where Baker led in Midtown by 7.5 percentage points.
The Baker campaign says it expects to win the black vote. Baker, who won 91 percent of the Midtown vote in 2005, attacked Kriseman for neglecting the area at a debate Tuesday.
At the cookout, Kriseman said Baker didn't actually help Midtown as much as he claims.
"He's claiming credit for things he didn't do," Kriseman said of Baker. "And some of the things he did do weren't sustainable."
Kriseman offered up the opening of a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Midtown under Baker's tenure as an example. The Walmart recently closed during Kriseman's term. Kriseman said that's because Baker didn't do enough to make the business sustainable.
"He built it and it was needed," Kriseman said. "But he didn't take the next step to put dollars in the community: money for people to shop at the Walmart."
One speaker agreed, but didn't think re-electing Kriseman was the answer. Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter is one of the five other candidates who have qualified for the mayoral ballot. In 2013, she publicly supported Foster over Kriseman.
"Rick Kriseman, I love you," she said. "I love Baker. But I don't see jobs or opportunities out here."
A few people tepidly clapped after Lassiter spoke.
Though the event was held in Midtown and the crowd of about 50 was mostly black, Kriseman only alluded to race in his speech, mentioning that he would help those who were disadvantaged. He also never mentioned the official opening of his Midtown campaign office, though his campaign manager, Jacob Smith, said that was part of the reason for the event.
Smith promised Kriseman would not treat black voters as a monolithic bloc.
"If you put 10 people in south St. Petersburg in a room, you'll get 11 opinions," Smith said. "Diversity of opinion in south St. Pete is just as great as it is in the rest of the city."
Others disagreed. Jim Jackson, a candidate for the District 6 City Council seat, said the Kriseman campaign needed to continue targeting voters in the black neighborhoods of Midtown.
"These are the votes he needs," Jackson said.
Contact Asa Royal at [email protected]