Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Politics

The Buzz: Baker may run against Kriseman for mayor; residents to vote on Al Lang Stadium expansion

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker still may be flirting with a run for governor — and he has talked to Gov. Rick Scott about an attorney general appointment — but increasingly politicos around Tampa Bay see Baker as moving toward taking on current Mayor Rick Kriseman on Aug. 29.

Baker wouldn't talk to us, and we've heard nobody suggest it's a done deal. But Kriseman assumes it's more likely than not. The mayor raised $200,000 in the first month since he announced his re-election kickoff and will need to maintain strong money-raising if Baker does jump in. St. Pete's mayor from 2001 to 2010 is the toughest candidate Kriseman could face.

Before the mayor's race kicks into gear, however, city residents will head to the polls May 2 to decide whether to approve a long-term lease and big expansion of Al Lang Stadium. It would be privately funded through businessman Bill Edwards, who owns the Rowdies soccer team, which he wants to turn into a Major League Soccer franchise.

And here's where things could get awkward. Baker is president of the Edwards Group and one of Edwards' top advisers. Edwards has the support of Kriseman and City Hall in the MLS quest, but can't afford for relations to sour amid a brewing political rivalry between Baker and Kriseman.

"Soccer's not a political thing. Soccer's soccer. It's clean of politics," Edwards said, dismissing that concern. "It's about a new stadium with private funding and bringing Major League Soccer into downtown for the fans."

Edwards said he has "no knowledge of any office (Baker) is running for." Asked about Kriseman's performance as mayor, Baker's boss sounded ready to conclude the conversation.

"He's doing fine. We're getting along fine. Everything is good," Edwards said. "At this moment I've got no complaints."

Should Baker wind up challenging Kriseman, the current mayor would bear some responsibility for practically goading him into it. Kriseman keeps suggesting previous mayors bear much of the blame for the city's recent sewage and stormwater problems.

"Politicians like to put their names on plaques — on nice buildings and rec centers and libraries," Kriseman, 54, said of the city's decaying infrastructure at a meet-and-greet last week hosted by Tony and Carrie Gibbons, a few doors down from Edwards' Snell Isle home.

"Those things are all important, but when it came to prioritizing, those things were given priority over sewers and pipes and things that you can't see and don't get to cut a ribbon on," Kriseman said. "So we find ourselves in a place where we've got pipes that are aging, we've got manholes that are leaking."

Baker, 60, has plenty of options if he decides to return to politics. He has spoken to Gov. Scott about the attorney general's office, which Pam Bondi is expected to vacate this year for a job in the Trump administration. The name most often mentioned for that appointment, however, is Republican state Rep. Jose Felix "Pepi" Diaz of Miami.

'Alligator Ron' mulls gubernatorial run

One of the more colorful business leaders in Florida, Alligator Ron" Bergeron, tells the Buzz he is considering — "reasonably seriously" — running for governor in 2018. "I've had an awful lot of people approach me," said Bergeron, 73, a rodeo champ, alligator wrestler and eighth-generation Floridian who grew up swimming in the Everglades and made a fortune in the development, road construction and cattle business. "I think I have to first of all look at my family and how it would affect my family and make the decision after that."

A Republican who describes himself as a "moderate conservative," Bergeron says private sector experience is critical in government, as is building consensus, listening and bringing people together. He is a big fan of Gov. Scott, but also is complimentary of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and likely Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam.

"We'd have to have a hitchin' post at the governor's mansion for my horse," mused Bergeron, who expects to make a decision within four months or so.

Asked if he would be capable of spending as much money as Scott did in 2010 — about $75 million — Bergeron said, "I could," but he has made no decision.

"Getting the support of the people of Florida. I think that's probably more important than financing your own campaign," said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commissioner who drives a gold-plated Hummer.

Democratic personal injury lawyer John Morgan versus Ron Bergeron for governor: a political writer's dream.

Gloria Allred co-hosts Crist fundraiser

As a Republican running for and serving as Florida governor, Charlie Crist attended multiple fundraisers hosted by Donald Trump. How the world changes.

On Feb. 22, Democratic U.S. Rep. Crist is scheduled to be in Beverly Hills for a fundraising reception whose hosts include ubiquitous lawyer Gloria Allred, representing a former contestant on The Apprentice who accused Trump of sexual assault during the presidential race and last month sued Trump, saying the president defamed her when he claimed that she had made up the assault claims.

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