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Joe Henderson: Stench from St. Pete sewage spill last year hangs over Rick Kriseman campaign

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

If I’m St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the results of a new poll in his re-election bid against Republican Rick Baker might keep me up at night.

I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to early surveys in political races but this one by St. Pete Polls, conducted for FloridaPolitics.com, is different. It shows how steep a hill Kriseman has to climb.

It’s not just that the overall poll shows him trailing Baker 46-33, although that’s a significant number. Twenty percent are undecided.

His biggest problem may be that while 73 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of Baker (which would be expected), nearly half of Democrats (49 percent) and 57 percent of independents feel the same way.

And if Kriseman thought the smell from last year’s massive sewage spill would go away in time, it’s clear that was wishful thinking; 44 percent say last year’s sewage problem remains a big deal. Kriseman was widely criticized for the way he mishandled it.

He first tried to deflect blame onto some now-former members of his senior staff, and then faced an extended grilling at a City Council meeting.  Chairwoman Darden Rice, a Democrat, pounded Kriseman on the lack of transparency over this problem and even suggested she might call for a special investigation if things didn’t get better.

Although there are about 3 ½ months until the Aug. 29 Election Day, Kriseman clearly has significant obstacles standing in the way of a second term.

Baker consistently has been ahead by double-digits in these polls, even before he officially announced his candidacy earlier this month. In local elections, people tend to already have an opinion locked in on the candidates and it’s hard to change hearts and minds.

What can Kriseman do?

He does have more than $400,000 in the bank, a goodly amount for a local election. He’ll try to chip away by linking Baker to Donald Trump and so on, but that seems like a Hail Mary play to me.

The high favorable percentage Baker enjoys from Democrats shows people remember his performance as St. Pete’s mayor from 2001-2010 and they wouldn’t mind more of the same, so long as sewage doesn’t spill into the streets. I don’t think party affiliation will count for much, except maybe with liberal newcomers to the city who spit on the ground at the mention of President Trump’s name.

As this poll shows, Kriseman will need much more than that.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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