Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Primary election: Time for St. Petersburg voters to hit the polls

ST. PETERSBURG— The city's historic primary is finally here.

The race between current Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker has already made history: It is by far the most expensive election in city with the two Ricks together raising nearly $2 million. It's also the first time two mayors, an incumbent and a former mayor, have squared off against each other since the city switched to a strong-mayor system in 1993.

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

There are also eight candidates vying for the District 6 seat on the City Council. The top-two voter getters in this race will join the two other council races that will be decided in November.

Anyone who registered to vote by July 31 and isn't already exhausted by the avalanche of mailers and TV ads can vote in Tuesday's primary, regardless if they're a Democrat, Republican or even an Independent.

PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS: Check tampabay.com throughout the day for updates.

The two Ricks — Baker and Kriseman — are expected to finish in the first two mayoral slots. But questions abound:

Will Kriseman, who has trailed in fundraising and local polls, survive to fight on until the Nov. 7 general election?

Or could Baker, who served as mayor from 2001-10, get more than 50 percent of the vote and end the race Tuesday night?

In all likelihood, the other four mayoral candidates on the ballot will see their campaigns come to an end: Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter, Jesse Nevel, Anthony Cates III and Paul Congemi.

As of Monday afternoon, 35,554 mail ballots had been returned to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. That means nearly 21 percent of the city's 169,770 eligible voters have already made their choice.

But there are still some things to watch out for on election day:

In the 2013 primary, about 17,000 voters turned out to vote on election day in August.

Will this year's election-day turnout spike thanks to former President Barack Obama's last-minute endorsement of Kriseman on Friday? Or will the trend of residents voting by mail continue to rise?

Kriseman's campaign has said Obama's endorsement will help undecided Democrats and fans of the former president get out and vote.

RELATED: Obama gives Kriseman a last-minute but much-needed endorsement

Baker's campaign has said voters are more concerned with local issues like the pier, the sewage system and Kriseman's recent decision to award the historic Manhattan Casino bid to a group headlined by a Cuban restaurateur and ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer, instead of local black businesses.

The weather could also affect turnout. Voters arriving at the polls in the morning might have to deal with thunderstorms and heavy rain, but the skies should clear as the day progresses.

Historically, whoever wins the most African-American votes wins the mayor's office. Both Kriseman and Baker have been spending money and time this primary season trying to do just that.

But mail ballot returns in many Midtown and Childs Park precincts, which are predominantly black, lag behind other precincts.

RELATED: Battle for the black vote in St. Petersburg splits allies, families

So will black voters turn out on election day? Who will they vote for? Local polling has showed Baker and Kriseman are close in support among black voters and both campaigns have invested heavily in canvassing operations to try to turn out black voters.

That's where the Obama endorsement could prove to be crucial for Kriseman.

Until fairly recently, party politics hasn't played a huge role in St. Petersburg mayoral elections.

That's not true anymore. Kriseman, a Democrat, has repeatedly tied Baker, a Republican, to President Donald Trump and national GOP policies.

Baker has said Kriseman wants to nationalize the race to make voters forget about the two-year sewage crisis that unfolded under his tenure, as well as spending increases to build the new pier and police headquarters.

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

Kriseman said he wants to remind voters that the repercussions of decisions made in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee, such as the repeal of Obamacare, will be felt in St. Petersburg..

Will partisanship work in a city where there are 30,000 more Democrats than Republicans? If so, Kriseman's strategy could lay out the blueprint for future city elections.

Don't forget the District 6 City Council race, which sets the stage for three council races to be decided Nov. 7.

KNOW YOUR CANDIDATES: St. Petersburg City Council District 6

There is a diverse field of eight candidates vying to replace Karl Nurse in the redrawn District 6, which runs from Old Northeast through downtown to the African-American neighborhoods in Midtown.

RELATED: Hey St. Pete: Meet District 6's council candidates one more time

In the running are: Justin Bean; Robert Blackmon; Eritha "Akile" Cainion; Gina Driscoll; Corey Givens Jr.; James "Jim" Jackson; James Scott; and Maria Scruggs.

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

     
 
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