TO: Allison Tant, Chair of the Democratic Party of Florida
Re: An Opportunity
Ms. Tant, somewhere on your desk is a grievance filed by a Democratic Party official in Pasco County. While the charges of the “official grievance” are baseless, and the contents of the communication to you scurrilous, it may provide you an opportunity. Never mind why a party official in an entirely different county would care so much about the mayoral race in St. Petersburg.
Your response to this communication from Clay G. Colson should be an email to every Democrat on your list. The subject line ought to state: This is not how Democrats behave.
The grievance apparently claims that the state party supported Rick Kriseman’s candidacy for mayor to the tune of $30,000 for staff and expenses without giving rival candidate Kathleen Ford money as well. To this you might respond:
“Indeed, the Democratic Party supports candidates and officials who have been active in the Democratic Party in the past, have run as Democrats in the past, and uphold the ideals of the Democratic Party. Even in non-partisan races, such as the race for Mayor of St. Petersburg, the Democratic Party sees in Rick Kriseman a supporter of the ideals not that make our party great, but that would benefit all the people of St. Petersburg, and Florida.”
You might go on to say: “We do not support candidates who offer time to the Republican Liberty Caucus of Tampa Bay, but shirk open forums and opportunities to campaign vigorously with their competitors.”
You might further point out to Mr. Colson that given Ms. Ford’s laughably poor performance in the primary — including not winning a single precinct — as well as her tone-deaf (at best) responses to traditionally Democratic voters it was a lock that this race was never going to be between two Democrats.
It would help, by the way, to point out to others suggesting Mr. Kriseman has made this race “too political” that Mayor Foster took a larger percentage of Republicans in the primary than Kriseman did Democrats. Yet Foster and Kriseman emerged from the primary in a tie. Thus, it is Kriseman’s message which resonates with more kinds of voters across party lines than does Foster’s. It is a message that crosses party lines — proven when Rick Kriseman received the endorsements of our friends across the political aisle: County Commissioner Susan Latvala, City Councilperson Leslie Curran, and former State Senator Paula Dockery.
Frankly, Ms. Tant, responding to the nonsense of the official grievance is the easy part.
In the world of politics, it is an article of faith that staffers are exclusively off-limits from attacks by the candidates. To attack a campaign volunteer would be beyond unheard of — it would breach a taboo political threshold from which there is no returning. This is why Ms. Ford’s employing this kind of proxy attack against Mr. Kriseman in public is beyond shameful. Mr. Colson using it in his communication to you is scurrilous, and though I am over combating one mug shot with another, if anyone should know better, it is him.
Finally, you should point out that too often the political fights we find ourselves in during the heat of a campaign can obscure the real issues, which in this case is Rick Kriseman and his vision for St. Petersburg. It is a vision that is clearly resonating with voters. Whether it is what to do on the Pier, or public safety, economic development or helping neighborhoods, government accountability or education, what Rick is telling voters is clicking.
The message is working, it is resonating. Perhaps, too, it is no mistake, no strange coincidence that the man who tied the incumbent mayor coming out of the primary had the backing of the Democratic Party of Florida, and yes, a good team behind him as well.
Send the email, Ms. Tant. Don’t ask for donations. Don’t solicit support. Simply make the statement: We back good candidates. And attacks on staff and volunteers will not be tolerated.
Tell us this, Ms. Tant. Because we obviously need to hear it.
Thank you for your leadership.
Benjamin J. Kirby published the Spencerian, a political blog covering national and local politics, for eight years. He spent twenty years serving in national and local government as well as the non-profit sector. A contributor to Context Florida, he is currently the principal of Typeset Media Strategies, providing writing services, social media content, and communications strategy for non-profits, political leaders, and drivers of community conversations.