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For deal with the Rays and St. Pete, much rides on November elections

Published Jun. 6, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Minutes after another City Council workshop on the future of the Tampa Bay Rays ended last month without resolution, a frustrated Mayor Rick Kriseman looked ahead to Nov. 3.

That's Election Day, when three council seats occupied by "no" votes are in play. Term-limited members Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley step down and incumbent Steve Kornell seeks another term.

"We'll see what happens come November and whether there is an appetite to revisit it," Kriseman said. "I don't want to go back to the Rays and use my time and their time to try and negotiate something if there is not going to be support."

The deal, which would allow the team to explore stadium sites in Hillsborough County in exchange for compensating St. Petersburg, could be revived if voters in two of the three districts elect someone who supports it.

So far, that looks like a long shot in District 5, which covers many of the city's southwest neighborhoods and where Kornell hasn't drawn an opponent.

During the May 28 workshop, Kornell said he wanted the Rays to pay $55 million if they chose to leave Tropicana Field — about double the amount agreed to by Kriseman and the Rays.

He's heard some criticism from voters, he said, but others have applauded his stance.

"There is a mix of opinion," Kornell said Friday. "But it's not my money. I'm not going to give it away."

If someone emerges to challenge him in the qualifying period — from Tuesday through June 22 — because of his position, so be it, he said.

"I'm not going to change my mind because of politics," Kornell said.

Pinning down the other candidates on where they stand isn't as easy.

In District 7, which covers Midtown and other southern neighborhoods, Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Aaron Sharpe say they are undecided.

Wheeler-Brown has said in the past that she's inclined to support Kriseman in his search for a deal, but she said Tuesday that she hasn't made up her mind. On one hand, the Rays are an important economic driver for the city and the region, she said. On the other, she would like to see the taxpayers treated fairly.

"A lot of families could use those funds," she said. She cited after-school programs as an example.

Sharpe takes a similar position, saying he hasn't reached a final decision. But he talked tough in offering his nonopinion.

"I think we need to stop kissing the Rays' a- - and do what's best for the city," Sharpe said. "A lot of folks are saying we're not getting enough compensation."

In District 1, Ed Montanari is the only announced candidate to replace Dudley. He didn't return multiple calls, but has said in the past that he thinks the Rays need to pay more.

The Rays declined to comment on how the future makeup of the council might affect the chances of a deal.

Team officials have said they won't negotiate with the city during the season, which could last until November if the stars (and bats) align. The mayor has also said the deal rejected by the City Council in December and a revised version that made the rounds in March, but was never brought to a vote, are null and void. Any new deal would likely contain significant changes.

But if Kriseman can't find five votes — or two more than he got last year — the issue is all but politically dead.

The mayor says he won't engage with the Rays if compensation — or the lack of it — remains an issue. He has said repeatedly that the financial terms of the deal won't get any better.

"Even if after those elections, we're still hearing the money is not enough … " Kriseman said with a shrug.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.