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Activists blasts Rick Baker’s ‘backward thinking’ on LGBT rights

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A day after Rick Baker announced he would run again for St. Petersburg mayor, a group of LGBT leaders is scheduled to blast his record on LGBT issues.

At a press conference set outside of City Hall, the activists are expected to note that during Baker’s tenure leading the city from 2001-2010, he banned the gay pride flag from flying at City Hall, refused to attend gay pride events around the city and “refused to offer any support for the LGBT community,” according to a press release sent out early Wednesday.

“St. Petersburg has moved forward the past 3 years. We can never go back to a time when discrimination was ok in the mayors’ office,” said Susan McGrath, organizer of the event and the chair of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee. “We will be discussing the stakes in this election, and the type of candidate our community cannot stand with in August. We can’t go back to a mayor who is uncomfortable with the LGBT community, or any other.”

Baker is well aware that his record on gay rights will be a topic during his campaign against incumbent Rick Kriseman. Near the conclusion of his 33-minute speech announcing his candidacy on Tuesday, Baker noted that the issue is sure to come up, but affirmed his belief that the LGBT community is “a vital and important part of our community,” and said he had LGBT staffers working for him when he was previously mayor.

“If you were to look at my administration, we had people from the LGBT community at every level of my government, through the cabinet level,” he said, adding that he “hated to talk about groups like that, but I have to, because I’m being called this.”

“I think St Pete is a very diverse, welcoming community and some of the policies in the past weren’t as welcoming,” Kriseman said in reaction to Baker’s entrance in the race on Tuesday. “We have tried to open our doors to everyone, make everyone feel comfortable here and recognize the importance that everyone plays as a resident of the city and in the community, and so some of the policies of the past belong to stay in the past.”

Update:

Rick Baker responded this afternoon, saying in a statement:

“To reiterate my statements yesterday, I want residents to know St. Petersburg is better and stronger today because of our LGBTQ community, and as Mayor I will seek and protect equality for all.  I’m proud of the fact that my administration included members of the LGBT community in every level of government up-to and including the cabinet level, that I actively supported the re-election of the first openly gay member of City Council, who Rick Kriseman opposed, and that Kriseman himself has defended me in the past saying, ‘I know from person conversations that the Mayor clearly recognizes the positive impact the LGBT community has had on St. Petersburg.’ (6/24/09) Today, in his campaign to divide our city with Washington style partisan politics and hate, he apparently has changed his mind.

“I want the LGBTQ community to know I stand with and for them, and that while I may not have the support of every member of that community, I support them.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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