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Recycling could become the latest issue dividing the two Ricks in tonight's St. Pete mayoral debate

ST. PETERSBURG — When Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker go head-to-head in tonight's televised debate, they'll likely tangle over the city's sewage crisis.

Baker will almost certainly mention the recent Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission draft report, which places much of the blame for the city's sewage woes on the Kriseman administration.

LIVE FROM ST. PETE: Rick Kriseman, Rick Baker square off in TV debate sponsored by Tampa Bay Times and broadcast by partner Bay News 9.

Kriseman will probably highlight Baker's stance on climate change, which is that man plays a role in a changing climate but no one knows how much (scientists would undoubtedly disagree). Baker, however, said he favors reducing carbon emissions regardless.

But one issue dear to many environmentalists' hasn't gotten much of a hearing in the over-heating mayoral race yet: recycling.

Yet it is an issue that divides the records of Baker and Kriseman more so than anything else.

Baker, who served from 2001-10, fought efforts to implement curbside recycling. Kriseman made such a program a priority and the city launched its recycling effort for single-family homes in June 2015.

So five years after he last served, with recycling already online, what is Baker's view now?

"I supported voluntary curbside recycling in the past," Baker said in a statement last week, "but did not support mandatory curbside recycling as it is a very regressive tax on the poorest people in our community. I will evaluate the program's effectiveness after taking office. My present intention is to continue it going forward."

Kriseman said when he served on City Council, he remembers Baker opposed voluntary recycling, too.

"He fought us on it the whole time," Kriseman said. "He had no interest."

The Sierra Club's Suncoast Group endorsed Kriseman earlier this month. Part of the reason was Kriseman's ability to finally bring recycling to the city. Until 2015, St. Petersburg was the largest city in the state without a citywide program.

"It was definitely a positive side of the ledger for Kriseman," said the chapter's political committee chair, David Harbeitner. "We would love to see it go to the next level."

The next level is to implement recycling for commercial sites and multi-family housing. The city's recycling processor doesn't have sufficient capacity to handle the increased load, Kriseman said last week.

Still, he said recycling is an important issue for a place that bills itself as the "Sunshine City."

"It goes to the overall issue of who's looking out for the long term impacts to the city from an environmental standpoint," Kriseman said.

Tonight, recycling could finally debut as a campaign issue during #stpetemayor2017.

The Bay News 9 broadcast of the hour-long debate begins at 7 p.m.

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