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Rick Baker supporters make big push in Midtown on final weekend of primary campaign

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Supporters of Rick Baker canvassed neighborhoods in St. Petersburg’s Midtown three days before voters, at least the ones who have not already voted, head to polls to determine who will be mayor for the next four years.

According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, 33,896 residents have already voted in the race pitting Baker versus incumbent Rick Kriseman.

The latest survey from St. Pete Polls has Baker up by seven points, 47 percent to 40 percent.

“I think we can definitely win it on the 29th, but if not, we’re definitely ready to take it into November,” said Lakewood Estates resident April Leshore, who has been volunteering for the Baker campaign for the past month and a half.

“I really value his education plan, and his goal to build up the community in Midtown,” she said, adding that she’s seen Baker often visit the Southside. “He’s talking to people about what change he can achieve so that people can have peace in South St. Petersburg.”

Meanwhile, the Kriseman campaign continues to attempt to link Baker to Donald Trump, but that effort stalled this past week because of the negative fallout from the mayor’s decision to select the Callaloo Group to anchor a restoration of the historic Manhattan Casino.

“I think it was a slap in the African-American community’s face not to consult with certain folks to see how they felt about it, ” says former St. Petersburg assistant police chief Cedric Gordon, a key Baker ally. Gordon said it reflected Kriseman’s lack of understanding of the black community. “Anyone else would have known that you can get this kind of pushback, and so when you’re out of touch with the African-American community, this is what happens.”

Childs Park resident Joshua Johnson, 23, says that Kriseman isn’t popular with his friends “because of what he did to Clam Bayou,” referring to the sewage problems from a year ago that have hung like an albatross around the mayor’s neck throughout the campaign.

Johnson says he first grew to appreciate Baker about a decade ago when, as part of the Midtown Initiative, the city renovated and reopened the Royal Theater as the Boys and Girls Club Royal Theater. Johnson attended summer camp there and it inspired him to become a muralist.

An uncertain factor heading into the final days of the campaign was Barack Obama’s surprise endorsement of Kriseman. Gordon acknowledges that he’s not certain how will that will play out with the electorate in Midtown, but believes that the majority of the black community is behind Baker.

“They know his passion, they know his commitment, and they know his love, and they actually can see the results of what he did when he was in office,” Gordon said. “They have to compare his significant achievements with what Kriseman has done, or hasn’t done, and I don’t think there’s any comparison.”

Kriseman had his own meeting with campaign supporters earlier on Saturday at his campaign headquarters, with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist making an appearance.

“This (Obama’s endorsement) is a big lift at a crucial time,” Crist said. “The former president that everybody misses … that’s a tremendous lift and the timing couldn’t be better.”

Baker and his supporters hope he can close out the election by winning an outright majority among the six candidates on the ballot on Tuesday. If not, the race continues into November.

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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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