Rick Kriseman should wrap that sewage quote around Rick Baker’s neck

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

I’m not ready to predict that incumbent mayor Rick Kriseman will lose to former mayor Rick Baker.

Then again, I don’t believe the race is as close as the last St. Pete Polls survey (Baker +5) because those numbers are based on a sample of registered, not likely, voters. If the recently passed referendum to expand Al Lang Stadium taught us one thing, it’s that the Baker machine knows how to over-perform.

Still, if you assume Baker is in the driver’s seat, Kriseman must do something soon to change the trajectory of the race. 

This past two weeks, he’s tried to ribbon-cut his way ahead of Baker, so much so that Baker needled him about it during a candidate forum at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.

“You know, there’s nothing like a political campaign to see a lot of ground breaking,” Baker said.

Loading Kriseman’s schedule with a flurry of ground breakings is not an ineffective strategy. Especially since it reinforces what I believe is one of Kriseman’s sleeper strengths: the argument for keeping the good times rollin’. But, for Kriseman to win, he’s gonna have to take Baker down a notch (or several).

To do that, Kriseman needs to double-down on a recent criticism he made of Baker.

At a press conference last week, Kriseman presented a map from 2002 which laid out a timeline going back to Baker’s first year as mayor and said that Baker commissioned a study in 2002 to close the Albert Whitted airport and the adjoining sewage plant. Kriseman said Baker did that while the city was under a consent order from the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection to upgrade the sewer system, “yet he’s talking about tearing down the plant to build high-priced condos or town homes.

Kriseman then quoted a passage he says is out of Baker memoir, “The Seamless City,” in which the former mayor writes, “discharging wastewater into Tampa Bay is a better option, than allowing to backup into homes and businesses.”

“He clearly wrote this … before he decided to run for a third term as mayor … before he decided to criticize me for doing exactly he said in his book what he would do,” Kriseman quipped.

For the record, what Kriseman said Baker wrote and what Baker actually wrote are two different things. This is the actual quote taken from Seamless City: “The city’s alternative to discharging into the bay would have been to allow the untreated sewerage to back up in the homes and business of the city – not a good option”

By highlighting this quote, Kriseman is trying to cover Baker in the same sewage he’s covered in. And Kriseman’s plan could work.

Regardless of whether the quote out of context (it is) or whether Baker would have made different, better decisions than Kriseman (impossible to know), Kriseman should wrap that quote around Baker’s neck.

Fifty-five percent of St. Pete voters disapprove of the job the city’s handling of the sewage system’s overflow problems. That means they essentially disapprove of Kriseman’s handling of the situation. For Kriseman, there’s really no undoing that damage.

But he could drag Baker down into the gutter with him.

The script is simple. A black-and-white image of Baker next to stock video of a sewer overflowing. “St. Pete has had more than its fair share of sewer problems … millions of gallons of wastewater dumped into our Tampa Bay … and Rick Baker says that’s the “better option.”

Fade to black.

No context for Baker’s quote. No discussion of the Kriseman plan to fix the system. (Undoubtedly the Kriseman campaign would have to say something like, “Maybe that’s why Baker’s silent on climate change.”)

Just dirty up Baker with his own words.

Yes, it would be a misleading ad. But those are sometimes the most effective ones.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.