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Ex-candidate gives Baker support

Retired Army Gen. Bill Klein, who lost in the last mayoral race, characterizes Rick Baker as a consensus builder.

Kathleen Ford may be the mayoral candidate most willing to shake up St. Petersburg City Hall, but on Monday the city's last anti-City Hall candidate, retired Army Gen. Bill Klein, threw his endorsement to Rick Baker.

"He can build consensus. He can bring people along and get the job done," Klein told about three dozen spectators at a St. Petersburg Junior College candidates forum Monday afternoon, including several students from Klein's American government class.

Baker worked to help Mayor David Fischer beat Klein four years ago, but Klein said Baker assured him he had nothing to do with circulating last-minute fliers among black voters bashing Klein. Klein initially supported City Council member Larry Williams, but said the choice was easy after Williams lost the primary.

"Kathleen's way too divisive," he said. "She has demonstrated that on the City Council. St. Petersburg's City Council is a joke across the country."

Ford shrugged off the endorsement, and wondered whether SPJC's tax-exempt status could be in jeopardy because of a teacher exhorting students to vote for a certain candidate.

The candidates continued to highlight the differences in their management credentials for leading an organization with more than 3,300 employees that spends well over $400-million per year.

At Monday night's Holiday Park neighborhood association forum, Baker, president of a law firm, said he's advised businesses on affairs as a mergers and acquisitions attorney with a "collaborative" leadership style.

"My opponent's background in management is very easy to describe," Baker said. "She has none. There is a difference between sitting on a council of eight people and taking shots at management and managing and leading an organization."

Ford said her four-year term as a City Council member gives her government experience that Baker, who has never held office, lacks. She said his responses to questionnaires show a lack of depth, while she has spent her time as a council member developing expertise on issues such as water and public safety.

"It's easy to give sweeping, global answers," she said.

Ford, who is an attorney and a registered nurse, said she once managed a clinic, which makes her good at triage, or calmly setting priorities in times of crisis.