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  1. Florida Politics

Kriseman's door-to-door effort targets citizens who have never voted for St. Pete mayor

Vince Cocks and his wife Robin talk to Wilson Rene about voting for incumbent candidate Mayor Rick Kriseman on Saturday, June 3, 2017 in St. Petersburg. Vince Cocks and his wife Robin spent time on Saturday going to door to door talking to potential voters. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
Vince Cocks and his wife Robin talk to Wilson Rene about voting for incumbent candidate Mayor Rick Kriseman on Saturday, June 3, 2017 in St. Petersburg. Vince Cocks and his wife Robin spent time on Saturday going to door to door talking to potential voters. EVE EDELHEIT | Times
Published Jun. 5, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Vince Cocks doesn't give up easily.

No one answers the door? Peer over the fence to talk about why Mayor Rick Kriseman needs to be re-elected.

Never heard of Kriseman? Few potential voters in the Pinellas Point neighborhood immediately south of Lake Vista Recreation Center on Saturday morning fell into that category, but he remain undaunted.

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race

Cocks rattles off the mayor's accomplishments: a new police headquarters on the way, progress on the Pier, a falling crime rate.

On Saturday, Cocks, one of Kriseman's first volunteers in his 2013 campaign, and his wife, Robin, showed up at the mayor's re-election headquarters at 1638 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N to participate in the mayor's official kickoff of a door-knocking, grass roots canvassing effort.

Volunteers received a clipboard filled with the names, ages and party affiliation of about 50 residents who had never voted in a municipal election before in neighborhoods near the north side headquarters and the southern Pinellas Point neighborhood.

Kriseman faces a tough battle against a popular two-term former mayor, Rick Baker, who presided over mostly good times from 2001 to 2010 and recently spearheaded a blow-out win in a voter referendum related to the Tampa Bay Rowdies bid to join Major League Soccer.

Baker is a Republican, and although he argues the mayor's job is non-partisan, the Kriseman campaign is eager to remind voters in a Democratic city that Baker belongs to the party of Trump.

"This is a Democratic city," said Kriseman's campaign manager, Jacob Smith.

The campaign's goal is to get the highest turnout for the Aug. 29 primary since the city switched to a strong-mayor system nearly a quarter-century ago. The previous primary high was just over 50,000, in the 2013 race.

The strategy is to identify voters who have never voted in a city election and convince them to come to the polls.

Persuading someone who has never cast a ballot for mayor to do so is a time-honored and rarely achieved grass roots organizing goal. But Smith sees a difference in motivation this year: the Trump Effect.

"I've spoken to many people who didn't vote in November and who now understand the consequence of not voting," Smith said.

Baker has criticized Kriseman's attempt to bring national politics into a mayoral race. Last week at a fundraiser, he repeated his belief that the mayor was doing so out of weakness: "He's got a really poor record to run on so he's going to make this a partisan race."

As Vince and Robin Cocks made their way along 62nd Place S, they avoided talk of national politics. Trump didn't come up once. Instead, Vince Cocks complimented lawns and flowers while Robin held the clipboard, gauging whether the potential voter was a Kriseman or Baker supporter.

Micah Reedy was blunt.

"If I vote for Rick, I might get put out," Reedy said, adding that he has a family member involved in Baker's campaign. Reedy voted for Kriseman in 2013. Not this time.

Cocks moved on to a couple of houses where the owners hadn't heard of Kriseman and didn't seem too interested in finding out more.

Then Vince peered over the fence into Bill Boots' back yard where the 66-year-old was busy doing yard work. Boots said he supported Kriseman.

"Yes," Cocks said, walking down Boots' driveway, pumping his fist.

Wilson Rene, 87, had heard Kriseman's name, but didn't know much about the mayor. Cocks made his pitch, and Rene said he was convinced.

"I'll vote for him," Rene said.

They were on a roll. Then Cocks met Madlyne Scott, 70. Scott said she cared little about the Pier or the Rays. She wanted more affordable housing andworried about her utility bill.

Kriseman's television commercials haven't impressed her.

"Everything this man talks about, I'm not interested," she said. "Blah, blah, blah."

Cocks didn't fold. He said he would relay her concerns to the campaign.

"The mayor will hear about this," he promised.

Scott remained skeptical. But Baker hadn't impressed her either.

"I'll give him another chance," Scott finally said, warily.

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