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  1. Florida Politics

Rick Kriseman says management style is his strength, rival Rick Baker's weakness

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman spoke to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Wednesday and made the case for why he should be re-elected to office. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman spoke to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Wednesday and made the case for why he should be re-elected to office. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Jul. 13, 2017

Editor's Note: St. Petersburg Mayoral candidate Rick Baker is scheduled to speak to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Thursday.

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman made his case for a second term on Wednesday, saying the city's historic upswing under his tenure has captured the attention of the region, the state and even the nation.

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

The mayor attributed much of that success to his leadership style, which he said has helped the city break the logjam on previously intractable issues: building a new police headquarters, a new pier and settling the future of the Tampa Bay Rays

Voters should give him a second term, he told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, so he can guide those efforts to fruition.

"That should speak volumes," he said when asked why he was the right leader to lead redevelopment efforts on Tropicana Field's 85 acres — a project that could transform the city.

It also wouldn't be possible, the mayor noted, had he not negotiated the 2016 deal that gave the Rays three years to look for a new home — and to look in Tampa — freeing the prime urban parcel for redevelopment.

Kriseman said his management style has been to hire bright people while taking the "30,000-foot" big-picture view, preferring to delegate to his chosen team.

He said his foe in the Aug. 29 primary, former mayor Rick Baker, is the exact opposite.

"Big difference, Kriseman said. "Big difference in leadership style.

"I'm not a micromanager. I don't try and manage by intimidation or fear."

Kriseman said that's the impression he got of Baker's management style from city employees who served when Baker was mayor from 2001-10.

Baker's campaign said Kriseman's record speaks for itself.

"Nobody under Rick Baker's leadership had to file for whistle blower protection. Baker had an open and inclusive style of leadership," campaign spokeswoman Brigitta Shouppe said.

During the city's sewage crisis, wastewater plant operator Craven Askew asked for whistleblower protection when he alerted the public to previously undisclosed aspects of the release of tens of millions of gallons of waste in 2016.

Kriseman has hit other rough spots with his employees. Sanitation workers have complained repeatedly about cameras recording them while they drive garbage trucks. The Water Resource Department, which handles the city's water and sewer systems, has been riven with racial tension and factionalism. The city also tried to implement a policy last year that would have allowed workers who spoke to the media without permission to be fired.

It went into effect shortly before Askew went public. Kriseman later changed it back.

Kriseman still doesn't have the endorsement of the union representing city employees, which strongly criticized the mayor on that policy. He says he's working toward securing it.

The mayor has been endorsed by the police union, but not the firefighters' union.

So far, Kriseman trails Baker in local polling and fundraising. Seven candidates will appear on the ballot, including Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter, a longtime community activist, Paul "The Truth" Congemi and Anthony Cates III, perennial fringe candidates and Uhuru-associated Jesse Nevel. Votes for first-time candidate Ernisa Barnwell won't be counted after she was disqualified for not paying her qualifying fee. She is challenging that decision.

For most of the hour-long interview, Kriseman focused on the positive, touting the city's impressive economic renaissance, including areas outside of the booming downtown.

Kriseman said development west along Central Avenue and south along 34th Street in the Skyway Marina District was the result of his administration's vision and a close partnership with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It feels like for the first time the city and the chamber are moving in the exact same direction in lockstep," Kriseman said.

He also addressed the sewage crisis. Kriseman said he was taking the necessary steps to fix the city's sewers. He said he regretted the mishaps that took place explaining the scale of the problems to residents, especially when 58 million gallons of waste was released in West St. Petersburg neighborhoods. The city posted warning signs but didn't otherwise alert residents.

"That was a big mistake," he said. "No question about it."

Kriseman again apologized for his handling of the situation — but also blamed ex-Public Works Administrator Mike Connors.

Kriseman said Connors, who abruptly retired in August 2015, gave him bad advice and misled him about the state of the city's sewers at the start of the crisis.

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

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