Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Editorials

Times recommends: Rick Baker for mayor of St. Petersburg

The November election for mayor of St. Petersburg may be as close as the August primary, when Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker each won more than 48 percent of the vote. The reasons are obvious: Both men have long records of public service, deep roots in the community and are well known to voters. Baker remains the better choice to meet St. Petersburg's challenges and ensure the city continues to thrive.

Baker, 61, served as mayor from 2001 to 2010 and helped improve low-income neighborhoods in Midtown, set the stage for downtown's renewal and generated support for public schools. He remains St. Petersburg's best strong mayor since voters adopted this form of government nearly 25 years ago. While Baker emphasized his past accomplishments before the primary election, he has smartly reintroduced himself to voters and focused more on the future.

Kriseman, 55, won the primary election by 70 votes and can count some significant accomplishments. He negotiated a reasonable agreement to let the Tampa Bay Rays look in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a new stadium site. He brought curbside recycling and restarted projects that had been stalled, such as a new Pier and a new police station. The city also is reinvesting in areas such as the arts and affordable housing.

But Kriseman's successes are overshadowed by poor decisions that erode our confidence in his judgment. Chief among those failures: About 200 million gallons in sewage spills that were largely the result of mismanagement and misjudgments; excessive spending on projects and personnel; and poor choices for key managers who have not served the mayor or the city well.

Here are five reasons it's time for a change in the mayor's office:

• Baker is a better steward of the public's resources. He would reduce spending on the Pier project, eliminate some positions created by Kriseman and hire fewer consultants. Under Kriseman, the new police station and firing range will cost $85 million and the new Pier project almost $80 million. A $90,000-a-year spokesman for sewers was hired, and more than $650,000 in public money was just distributed to private businesses to improve their properties in a Community Redevelopment Area. The city also has taken money from reserves to help pay for infrastructure, and that money will be repaid with borrowed money. It's all too much.

• Baker is a better advocate for public schools. He would enhance and restore his programs to offer scholarships to low-income students, build business partnerships with schools and reward teachers and principals. Kriseman talks a good game, but helping the schools has not been among his most visible priorities.

• Baker is better positioned to revitalize Midtown. As mayor, he helped bring Midtown a grocery store, credit union, health clinic and St. Petersburg College campus. Under Kriseman, Midtown has floundered. The grocery store and a drugstore closed. He has not won community support for a new restaurant in the historic Manhattan Casino. Baker has stronger connections with Midtown residents and handily won those neighborhoods in the primary election.

• Baker is a better manager. His hands-on approach is needed to ensure the sewers get fixed, spending is controlled and City Hall is cleaned out. Kriseman's big-picture leadership has not worked because his team has fallen short. The mayor's relationship with too many council members often has been rocky, his chief of staff is divisive and his public works administrator lacks credibility.

• Baker is a better dealmaker. His track record in both the public and private sectors is strong. As mayor, he helped make happen the new Salvador Dalí Museum and bring the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. After he left office, he helped transform the fading BayWalk into upscale Sundial. He has the better skills and broader vision to recruit business and oversee the redevelopment of Tropicana Field's 85 acres.

Kriseman injected partisanship into this nonpartisan race and has made it about President Donald Trump, climate change, social issues — anything but running the city. The mayor's race is not about political parties or national issues. It's about the leadership, judgment and competency needed to maintain the city's momentum. In the Nov. 7 election for mayor of St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Rick Baker.

Comments
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18