TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan told his fellow commissioners Wednesday that he was going to be blunt in his remarks about his old political nemesis, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Then he pulled out a rhetorical switchblade, slicing at Kriseman’s stance against any further cross-bay talks between the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa and Hillsborough County.
First Hagan announced that “everyone knows” that St. Petersburg can’t support a baseball team after reciting a long list of depressing attendance figures from this season. Kriseman, for the better part of a decade, has consistently said he thinks Florida’s fifth-largest city is the best place for baseball in Tampa Bay.
Kriseman has shot down Hagan and County Administrator Mike Merrill’s attempts to talk with the Rays and has forbid his city attorneys from speaking with their Hillsborough County or Tampa counterparts, Hagan said.
Kriseman’s position that Hillsborough officials can’t talk with Rays executives about relocating the team until after his city’s use agreement with the team expires in 2027 is the same stance as Bill Foster, the Republican mayor that lost to Kriseman in 2013 and remains an occasional critic.
“The bottom line is he refuses to sit down and have a discussion,” Hagan said. “He’s using the same flawed excuse that Mayor Foster used to make that the agreement prevents the city or the Rays from speaking with us."
Hagan said he’s confident Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is closely aligned with his position that the city and county should design an entertainment district in Ybor City that would raise revenue for a stadium. He said Irwin Raij, a New York lawyer who is now working for the Tampa Sports Authority, will be visiting Castor with him next week. Raij will also brief county commissioners, Hagan said.
His brief update drew no reaction from his six fellow commissioners.
Kriseman’s office lost little time firing back.
“Hagan’s remarks are nonsensical,” Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby wrote in a text, "because the Rays have never asked St. Petersburg for a new agreement to let them talk to Tampa.'' “As Mayor Kriseman has suggested before, it’s time for Commissioner Hagan to be benched. He’s struck out wildly on this issue countless times.”
Kriseman will continue the regional approach and expects to hear from the Rays by Labor Day “more about the Rays’ future desires," Kirby wrote.
The Rays didn’t respond to a call for comment.
Castor’s spokeswoman, Ashley Bauman, said Hagan and Castor met a few weeks ago but haven’t communicated since.
“Mayor Castor has always been of the opinion that the Tampa Bay Rays should stay in the region and we’re too large to lose a professional sports team,” Bauman texted.
The Rays stadium saga has stretched for more than a decade now. Ever since former mayor Rick Baker declined to support Rays owner Stu Sternberg’s plans for a St. Petersburg waterfront ballpark and the deal fell apart in 2008-09 , the search for a new home has ping-ponged between the bay area’s largest cities.
Kriseman won a hard-fought agreement to let the team look in Hillsborough for three years. That agreement expired at the end of 2018, a few weeks after the Rays balked at a proposed deal that would have built a $1 billion state-of-the-art ballpark in Ybor City.
The Rays said they were disappointed in Hillsborough’s offer because it lacked detail. The use of new federal tax credit zones and other forms of not-tried-and-tested methods of ballpark financing was said to have soured the deal. Hillsborough officials vowed to keep trying.
Kriseman and Hagan also have a history. Hagan publicized news of the Ybor deal in the midst of Kriseman’s bitterly contested reelection race against Baker in 2017. Kriseman suggested Hagan might be criminally liable after a television report surfaced alleging Hagan was trading insider information on the site near Adamo Drive. Hagan then threatened to sue reporter Noah Pransky and his station 10NewsWTSP for defamation. Pransky eventually left the station and the matter subsided, though Kriseman never apologized for his accusation.
Just a few weeks ago, Hagan told another television reporter that Kriseman needed to let Hillsborough talk to the Rays, prompting the mayor to compare the 17-year commission veteran to an amnesiac “Florida Man.”