Less than three weeks before the election, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's closing argument is clear. He's making a nonpartisan race partisan by reminding voters former Mayor Rick Baker is a Republican and linking him to President Donald Trump. And he's making crime an issue when the real issue is his mishandling of the sewer crisis. This is an incumbent mayor trying to change the subject because he can't defend his record.
Partisanship has no place in the mayor's race. There should be no Democratic or Republican approaches to ensuring garbage is picked up, police respond when they're called and parks are maintained. Mayors have no control over foreign policy, immigration or social issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage. Political affiliations should not matter in City Hall like they do in the White House or the Governor's Mansion, or in Congress or the Legislature.
Yet Kriseman campaigns as though he's a Democrat running for state or federal office. He has four field staffers from the Florida Democratic Party. The state party is running television ads linking Baker to Trump, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Scott. And a political committee run by a Kriseman consultant has mailed fliers touting Kriseman's support of President Barack Obama and labeling Baker as a critic of the former president.
Baker has nothing to do with Trump, and partisanship has nothing to do with being mayor. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a Democrat, and he isn't nearly as partisan in tone or substance as Kriseman. Buckhorn has a working relationship with the Republican governor that has benefited Tampa International Airport, Port Tampa Bay and the city. Kriseman's campaign treats Scott as the enemy. With Republicans controlling Washington and Tallahassee, it's not smart for St. Petersburg's Democratic mayor to be so partisan, and it hurts the city in the long run.
When he's not playing partisan politics, Kriseman changes the subject to crime. He points out crime is down significantly since Baker was mayor in 2009. Of course, crime is also down nationally and in Florida since then. If he wants to talk about 2009, Kriseman should note there were fewer murders in St. Petersburg that year than in any of his first three years in office. His administration discounts its own statistics that show crime in the poor, black neighborhoods of Midtown was up substantially during the first quarter of 2017 over the same time last year.
The top issue in this election remains Kriseman's mishandling of the sewage crisis. It was a mistake to close the Albert Whitted sewage plant in 2015 before adding additional capacity. It was a mistake not to reopen that plant before the 2016 rainy season. And it was a mistake to seek a state loan to help pay for the project to convert sewage sludge into methane gas to run garbage trucks when the money should have been sought for sewer repairs. Voters cannot overlook nearly 200 million gallons of sewage that spilled into Tampa Bay and elsewhere.
It remains difficult to get straight answers about the cost of the Kriseman administration's miscalculations. Despite thoughtful questioning Thursday by City Council members Ed Montanari, Amy Foster and Charlie Gerdes, it was unclear how much the cost of the biofuels project has changed or how much money it might save. There was even less clarity about how much water and sewer rates will have to rise to pay for sewer improvements.
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St. Petersburg's mayoral election is not about party labels, and voters know Baker well enough to reach their own conclusions about him without being swayed by any ad linking him to Trump. The election is not about comparing crime statistics from different decades. It's about leadership and competence — and there is nothing partisan about that.