Saturday, September 22, 2018
Politics

Rick Baker says he'll get St. Petersburg back on track

ST. PETERSBURG— Former mayor Rick Baker says he wants to return to his old job because he fears the city's upward trajectory is in danger of plummeting because of reckless spending and poor management.

Baker took aim at his rival, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, during his visit Thursday with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

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

The former mayor appeared the day after Kriseman criticized Baker's management style when he served in City Hall from 2001-10. Kriseman accused Baker of intimidating and micromanaging city employees.

Baker denied that charge. He said he was both a big-picture kind of mayor, and a detail-oriented kind of mayor.

"I know I've been called a micromanager, but I'm a detail guy," Baker told the Times editorial board. "I don't just hover at 30,000 feet and never come down."

That was a jab at Kriseman's assertion Wednesday that he prefers to take a "30,000-foot" view of the city while delegating to his "bright" staff.

Baker said he was more of a hands-on mayor one who was constantly driving through the city, especially Midtown. Once when he saw dry grass at the Jordan Park housing complex, Baker said he would call it in. He visited the old Sweetbay Supermarket at Tangerine Plaza so often (it closed in 2013, and the Walmart Neighborhood Market that took its place closed in January) that the managers knew what kind of doughnuts he liked.

RELATED: Kriseman and Baker trade jabs at mayoral debate — not, this time, the crowd.

Even though two grocery stores have now closed there in the past four years, Baker said he would bring back a major grocer to Midtown.

"I won't rest until it's there," he said.

But can a mayor who worked in a more parochial era become a regional player now that Tampa Bay's various municipalities are trying to work more closely together?

Aside from battles over voluntary annexations, Baker said he got along with the Pinellas County Commission. But he said Kriseman's 2016 deal to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to look for a new stadium in Tampa — a deal seen as a way to keep the Rays from fleeing the bay area altogether — was a mistake.

"By doing that we have lost leverage that we would have otherwise had," Baker said.

When Baker was mayor, the Rays pitched building a waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg in 2007. But the plan quickly fell apart in the face of strong opposition. Baker denied an old rumor from that failed deal: That he would only support building a new stadium if the team renamed itself the "St. Petersburg Rays."

Later, Kriseman said he has always acted in the best interests of the Tampa Bay region: "Taking no action would have doomed the team to leave the region."

Baker is a prominent Republican who has attended several GOP fundraisers on his behalf. However, he has declined to say if he voted for President Donald Trump. When asked if the Trump administration's urban policies were good for the Sunshine City, he declined to answer unless given specific examples of programs.

When asked about federal community development block grants, housing programs and other urban programs on the chopping block, Baker said he opposed those cuts.

"I will fight anybody who's doing something that hurts our city," he said. "I don't care who or where they are. I'll be respectful about it, but I'm very firm in that."

Baker spent much of his time extolling the accomplishments of his tenure, saying his advocacy for public schools and partnerships with the private sector improved city schools.

He said his work in Midtown, bringing a health clinic, grocery store, bank, post office and other amenities brought jobs and services to the poor community.

"There's a reason why you see so many red and white signs there," he said, referring to his campaign signs.

Baker was less specific about the new pier, saying residents were tired of the delays (work finally started last week). He did offer a few concrete positions: he doesn't want to add a restaurant or other structures to the pier uplands: "You don't build on parkland."

Instead Spa Beach should be transformed into something like Dell Homes Park, he said, whose splash pads have brought the community together. Kriseman said splash pads are included in his plan, which also expands available parkland.

"He would know that if he read the plan," Kriseman said.

Baker summed up his campaign pitch thusly:

"The city needs to get back on the trajectory we should be on."

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

Comments
Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

TAMPA — During a showdown Friday in Florida’s most hotly contested state Senate race, Democratic challenger Janet Cruz launched fireworks at Dana Young over education funding, the environment and guns.Young, the Republican incumbent in District 18, r...
Published: 09/21/18
Confederate group banned from Temple Terrace country club, may take legal action

Confederate group banned from Temple Terrace country club, may take legal action

TEMPLE TERRACE — After complaints from city residents, the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club has notified the City Council that it will not rent space again to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for its annual banquet.The country clubȁ...
Published: 09/20/18
Carlton: Should felons who have done their time get to vote? Citizens of Florida, it’s in your hands

Carlton: Should felons who have done their time get to vote? Citizens of Florida, it’s in your hands

It’s not often that we citizens — busy with work, paying the bills, living our lives — find ourselves with the power to right a fundamental wrong.But here in Florida, we’re about to get that chance.On the November ballot — among all those candidates ...
Published: 09/20/18
Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

This has to be height of bureaucratic pettiness, especially for a city whose track record in promoting quality public art falls somewhere between stick figures and finger puppets.Richard Gonzmart is a community treasure. As the force behind a number ...
Published: 09/19/18
Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Two things you need to know about Florida’s prison budget:1. It was $2.3 billion this year.2. It was still not enough.Kind of staggering when you think of it that way, huh?We keep spending more and more on housing prisoners, and it’s like throwing mo...
Published: 09/18/18
Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he was willing to speak to a Senate panel to "refute" an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman while in high school, after his accuser said via her attorney that she was ready to testi...
Published: 09/17/18
California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in subu...
Published: 09/16/18
Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on em...
Published: 09/17/18
Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

His time in Tallahassee is coming to an end. Eight years of triumph or shambles, depending on your point of view. And yet, Rick Scott’s legacy may not be written until his final minute as governor.For several years, Scott has been plotting a judicial...
Published: 09/15/18
Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

WASHINGTON D.C.? — Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Donald Trump still called his defense secretary "Mad Dog" a nickname Jim Mattis detests ? the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with h...
Published: 09/15/18