Saturday, June 23, 2018
Politics

Looking ahead to Kriseman vs. Baker

ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Edwards Group president Rick Baker spoke to the Tampa Bay Tiger Bay Club luncheon last week, promoting Tuesday's election asking voters to let city leaders negotiate a long-term lease for an expanded waterfront stadium if the Tampa Bay Rowdies become a Major League Soccer franchise.

The former mayor would not bite on questions about running for mayor again, but he is receiving loads of encouragement and many of his allies expect he will decide to take on incumbent Rick Kriseman.

So what would that race look like? Normally, an incumbent mayor leading a city widely seen as heading in the right direction should be in good shape for re-election. But Baker is no normal challenger, and Kriseman has managed to antagonize and/or disappoint groups and people, from fellow Democratic elected officials in City Hall to arts activists to business leaders in Midtown, who should be natural allies.

Here are seven things to watch in a Kriseman vs. Baker matchup that could be tight, unpredictable and possibly wrapped up in the "primary" election Aug. 29.

1. Partisanship. This is the biggie. The municipal election is officially nonpartisan, and the ballots won't even list the candidates' party affiliation. But you can count on Kriseman to make sure every voter knows that he is an ardent Democrat and that Baker is a die-hard Republican.

St. Petersburg has elected many Republican mayors over its history, but St. Pete is still an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, and Kriseman will do all he can to remind city residents that Baker worked to defeat Barack Obama and was a cheerleader for Herman Cain and Sarah Palin.

Donald Trump narrowly won Pinellas County, but Hillary Clinton clobbered him in St. Petersburg, winning nearly six in 10 votes. Baker kept his distance from Trump in 2016, but his presidency has energized Democrats in a way that is bound to help Kriseman.

Meanwhile, the Florida GOP will be eager to pick off a Democratic mayor in a key battleground area, but the state party's involvement could backfire if it helps Kriseman's argument that it is a partisan contest.

2. The black vote. This will decide the mayor's race. African-Americans are expected to make up about 18 percent of the electorate, and Baker has deeper and wider ties to the community than Kriseman. That's a big reason why Baker has transcended partisan considerations in the past and the biggest reason Kriseman should worry.

Baker will talk about the tangible improvements Midtown saw under his watch — a (since-closed) grocery store, a new bank and a post office. Kriseman will say investing in "people" is more sustainable and important than bricks and mortar, which may sound odd as he touts plans for a new $86 million police building.

3. Spending. A $90,000-a-year public works spokesman, $300 million for sewer repairs, the police headquarters and another $14 million for a new pier that many residents view as unneeded or unwelcome. Kriseman will say most of his campaign promises — progress on the pier, police station and a new stadium for the Rays — have been met. But count on Baker to question the spending, discipline and overall competence.

4. Bill Edwards. The super-rich Rowdies owner, Sundial developer, Mahaffey Theater operator, former mortgage seller and Baker boss could single-handedly bankroll Baker's campaign. He also could cause problems for Baker if it appears that one deep-pocketed backer (facing a pending whistleblower lawsuit accusing him of cheating veterans and taxpayers on VA loans) wields excessive influence.

5. Equality politics. St. Petersburg is a much more progressive city today than when Baker left office seven years ago, and that includes a stronger and politically active gay community. As mayor, Baker did not hide his uneasiness with gay residents, declining to attend or even sign proclamations for St. Pete Pride, the state's biggest gay-pride festival. This will be an issue.

On the other hand, it was Kriseman who seemed eager to oust the city's first openly gay City Council member, Steve Kornell, two years ago because they disagreed about the Rays stadium.

6. Sewer politics. The biggest albatross around Kriseman's re-election prospects is the roughly 200 million gallons of sewage spilled and dumped in 2015 and 2016, and the Kriseman administration's difficulty communicating candidly with the public. One of the fiercest debates between Kriseman and Baker would be how much responsibility does Kriseman bear and how much does Baker, for not having done more to fix the system when he was in charge.

7. Mail ballots. No Florida county is more conditioned to voting by mail, instead of in person, than Pinellas. Because so many residents are signed up to automatically receive mail ballots, thousands of St. Petersburg residents who normally only vote in presidential elections — Democrats, mostly — will receive ballots in the mail this summer. That could be an important opportunity for Kriseman.

Baker has played Hamlet many times before, flirting with runs for Congress, governor, chief financial officer and attorney general before deciding against it. That could happen again this year.

If it does, Kriseman will be the luckiest man in Florida politics.

Comments
Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six local candidates across Tampa Bay — all county commissioners and city council members — effectively won their elections Friday by default: No one qualified to run against them.The rest still have a fight.Some will square off in an Aug. 28 primary...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Published: 06/22/18
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18