Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Opinion

Nickens: How St. Petersburg’s most partisan mayor drove this Democrat away

Rick Baker has never met President Donald Trump. He has never contributed money to Trumpís campaign or attended a Trump campaign event. He didnít attend Trumpís inauguration, and he has not set foot inside the White House since Trump took office.

Yet St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Krisemanís campaign against the former mayor is centered on tying Trump around Bakerís neck. Never mind this is a nonpartisan race as defined by the city charter that Kriseman swore to uphold when he took office. Never mind there is nothing to tie Baker to Trump besides their Republican Party affiliation.

The Florida Democratic Party recently sent to my house a mailer with pictures of Trump and Baker ó and of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with his quote, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal.íí King led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Baker is supported by Sevell Brown, the longtime former president of the SCLC chapter in St. Petersburg. Baker decisively won the poor, black neighborhoods of Midtown in the primary. But the Kriseman campaign and the Democrats would rather cheapen a phrase from Kingís seminal speech against the Vietnam War than deal with reality.

Another Democratic Party mailer pictures Trump and Baker and warns, "The Republicans are trying to take St. Pete. Donít let them.íí There are nearly 47,000 registered Republicans living in St. Petersburg. Does Kriseman want them to move, or is he mayor for only Democrats?

This is not the best local strategy for a mayor claiming to be a regional player when Republicans control most county and state elected offices. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn takes pains to work with most everyone, including Gov. Rick Scott. But Kriseman canít defend his record and wants to make a name for himself in state and national circles by demonstrating Democrats can defeat Republicans by screaming Trumpís name and playing identity politics. He runs the most partisan, sharp-elbowed city administration since St. Petersburg adopted the strong mayor form of government nearly 25 years ago:

ē City Council member Jim Kennedy, a Democrat supporting Baker, has described how Kriseman has been vindictive and "removed council members from boards, blocked our ability to dialogue with city staff and cancelled meetings on unrelated topics because of past disagreements.íí

ē Deveron Gibbons, an African-American Republican and a member of the St. Petersburg College board of trustees, criticized the mayor at a meeting with black police officers early in Krisemanís tenure. Kriseman called then-SPC president Bill Law to complain.

ē Steve Marshall, who works in water resources, wrote the cityís human resources director last year that he was "in fear of losing my job due to retaliation for revealing information and supporting documents that are contrary to the story that is being presented by the administrationíí about the sewage crisis. The chief plant operator of the Northeast sewage plant sought federal whistle-blower protection.

ē Kriseman transferred his longtime secretary to an unposted job at the Fire Department after "tension" between her and chief of staff Kevin King. Later, King and others warned her that negative news affects Kriseman and asked her how the Times found out.

ē Chris Eaton, a Democrat and member of the LGBT community who once supported Kriseman, now supports Baker and attended Bakerís campaign announcement on the steps of City Hall. King, Krisemanís chief of staff, texted Eaton during the event and called him a sellout.

ē Helen Levine, a senior administrator at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, ate dinner with Baker and two Republican state senators this spring at a restaurant in Tallahassee. Levine is a Democrat who worked for Baker when he was mayor, and the dinner was mentioned on social media. Kriseman called USF president Judy Genshaft to complain.

ē Kanika Tomalin, the cityís African-American deputy mayor, accused a Central Avenue clothing store of racial profiling on Facebook over a dispute with a teenage clerk about a $5 gift card. The owner, who wasnít there, is a Republican who backs Baker. Even though Tomalin knows the owner, she complained on social media instead of calling her personally. Some of the first comments of support on Tomalinís Facebook post ó which was later deleted ó were from Krisemanís wife, Kerry, and Pinellas Democratic Party chair Susan McGrath.

ē Elihu Brayboy, a prominent African-American restaurant owner and a Republican, said city staffers canceled meetings and ignored his calls and emails about his development plans for a Midtown project after he endorsed Baker. The city contacted him after the Tampa Bay Timesí Charlie Frago began asking questions.

There are other examples of such intimidation inside and outside City Hall. Krisemanís partisan pressuring. Kingís bullying of City Council members, staff and reporters. Tomalinís outbursts in person and on Facebook. But the targets fear going public because they donít want to jeopardize their jobs, political futures or private projects.

This is not a defense of Trump, who remains stunningly unfit for the presidency. And partisan campaigns can be defensible if they stick to the facts in races for the Legislature or Congress. But Krisemanís behavior is exactly what many feared when St. Petersburg switched from a city manager form of government to a strong mayor in 1993. And itís why I recently switched my party affiliation of more than 30 years from Democrat to No Party Affiliation. St. Petersburgís most partisan mayor and his allies helped me see the light, and perhaps I should thank them for that.

Now quit sending to my house mailers that demean Kingís legacy and unfairly link an unfit president to St. Petersburgís best mayor.

   
Comments
Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

In one of the most surreal news conferences of our time, President Donald Trump actually stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday and called the federal investigation into Russiaís meddling into the 2016 election "a disaster for our coun...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

The St. Petersburg City Council made the appropriate but difficult decision to reject a contract with renowned artist Janet Echelman for one of her aerial sculptures. It would be wonderful for the city to have one of her signature works, but Spa Beac...
Published: 07/13/18

ĎEverybody needed to know what happenedí

The brutal murder of Emmett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mississippi nearly 63 years ago went unpunished, but not forgotten. A decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to allow an open casket at Emmettís Chicago funeral represented an act of def...
Published: 07/13/18
Editorial: Personal bias taints Floridaís clemency system

Editorial: Personal bias taints Floridaís clemency system

A recent exchange between the governor and Cabinet and a felon seeking to have his civil rights restored underscores the arbitrary unfairness of Floridaís clemency system. A long waiting period, a ridiculous backlog of cases and elected officials who...
Published: 07/11/18
Updated: 07/13/18

Trump should work with Congress on immigration

Donald Trumpís resounding victory in the 2016 presidential election came at least in part because the New York businessman grasped the disconnect between how millions of Americans and the political establishments of both parties felt about immigratio...
Published: 07/11/18
Updated: 07/13/18
Editorial: Trumpís trade war hurts American consumers

Editorial: Trumpís trade war hurts American consumers

Voters who looked to Donald Trump to make America great might want to look at their wallets. The president escalated his global trade war this week, threatening new tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports ó everything from seafood, beef and ...
Published: 07/11/18
Updated: 07/12/18
Editorial: Rays stadium cost should be fairly shared

Editorial: Rays stadium cost should be fairly shared

The imaginative Ybor City ballpark proposed by the Tampa Bay Rays fits nicely into the 21st century vision of a sophisticated city and would secure major league baseballís future for the entire region. It also carries an eye-catching cost that will h...
Published: 07/11/18
Updated: 07/12/18
Editorial: Supreme Court pick qualified, but confirmation process should be vigorous

Editorial: Supreme Court pick qualified, but confirmation process should be vigorous

For the second time in less than 18 months, President Donald Trump has nominated a well-qualified, conservative federal appeals court judge to the U.S. Supreme Court. That does not mean Judge Brett Kavanaugh should get an easy pass through Senate con...
Published: 07/10/18
Updated: 07/11/18
Editorial: Nobody uses fireworks to scare off birds

Editorial: Nobody uses fireworks to scare off birds

Americans are accustomed to celebrating the nationís birthday by blowing up Chinese fireworks for days ó a rite of recklessness that kills seven people a year and sends another 13,000 to hospital emergency rooms. The tragic toll struck close to home ...
Published: 07/09/18
Updated: 07/13/18
Editorial: Let local governments regulate short-term rentals

Editorial: Let local governments regulate short-term rentals

The Florida Legislatureís meddling in local issues has created another mess for neighborhoods across the state. No family should have to put up with a short-term rental next door that overwhelms their street with constant visitors, traffic and noise ...
Published: 07/09/18
Updated: 07/10/18