Thursday, June 21, 2018
Politics

The Buzz: Rick Baker as hipster and other developments in the St. Petersburg mayoral race ...

Rick Baker hasn't gone full hipster yet, but before St. Pete's mayoral race ends we won't be entirely shocked to see Mayor Rick Kriseman's challenger sporting a man bun, nerdy glasses and forearm loaded with tats (tattoos, for those of you in Baker's generation).

Look at the ex-mayor's latest TV ads and his sharp new "Baker Blueprint" website, bakerstpete.com, and you'll see what we mean. The site features an image of Baker, purple shirt untucked beneath his dark jacket and sneakers peeking out below his black jeans.

His latest TV ads, one filmed at the Chattaway restaurant and the other at Bananas Music, feature Baker variously sporting a white T-shirt and dark shades and a black T and dark shades. The more clever of the two, at Bananas, has the shades-wearing Baker dropping off vinyl records with a guitar slung over his shoulder. Rick Baker, rock 'n' roll outlaw.

Baker's big time mid-life crisis? A cry for help?

Nah. More likely it's Rick Baker and his team realizing after his narrow primary loss to Kriseman that he needs to show and/or remind voters that he has a sense of humor (and an agenda going forward and long list of accomplishments when he last served as mayor).

To me, the ads by St. Petersburg's Adam Goodman are fun, memorable and presumably not intended to be taken too seriously. After running for months sounding angry and suggesting St. Pete is a disaster, Baker is well served showing voters that he is not just an old scold shouting at voters to get off his lawn.

But I reached out to someone far hipper and well versed in design than I am, Richard Hughes, the chief creative officer of St. Petersburg-based ClearpH Design Firm. What's his take on the Baker reboot?

Hughes, who knows both candidates and is undecided as a voter, gave a thumbs up to the new website design and Baker's new "fun and more memorable" campaign logo. He also liked the "very clever" Bananas spot.

Baker in shades? Not so much.

"The sunglasses almost make me cringe," said Hughes, noting that his younger designers were especially turned off by that and the ads could actually turn off younger voters.

Baker last week wore his new purple shirt to a City Hall debate against Kriseman (where Baker again forgot how to smile), but he chuckled when asked about his image afterward.

"You've seen me at Saturday Morning Market. You've seen me play with the Marshall Tucker Band. I've been cool for years," quipped Baker, who regularly plays guitar at the market and has joined the southern rock band several times on stage in Tampa Bay.

Truth be told, Baker with his guitar has always evoked fun church youth group leader more than hip, edgy musician, but we get his point.

So does the Kriseman campaign, which remains determined to cast him as a relic of the past who is BFFs with Donald Trump.

"Rick Baker Re-brand: Hipster Logos Can't Hide Failed GOP Policies & Trump Cash," was the headline of a Florida Democratic Party release noting a new online campaign ad depicting Baker as a member the world's least-hip boy band also featuring Trump, Mike Pence, Rick Scott and Adam Putnam.

The Democrats' latest TV ad sounds a similar theme: "Rick Baker has sided with climate change deniers like Donald Trump and is afraid to stand up to Trump," the narrator intones. "Rick Baker is stuck in the past. Baker is just backwards."

An onslaught of ads is about to start for the final month of the neck-and-neck campaign that could go either way. Baker's political committee receiving $25,000 from billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn, the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, will make Baker's protestations that partisanship has nothing to do with the race more futile than it already was.

That and Baker's attacks on Kriseman and message of competence weren't enough for the primary in Tampa Bay's hippest city. So show some sympathy if Baker in the next weeks adds a new beard to his already mustached face, goes full skinny jean, and starts carrying around a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

 
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