New poll shows Rick Kriseman is popular, but could lose to Rick Baker in 2017

Two-and-a-half years into his mayoralty, voters in St. Petersburg are strongly supportive of Rick Kriseman.

Yet a new poll suggests that his re-election isn’t guaranteed, especially if former Mayor Rick Baker challenges him in 2017.

A St. Pete Polls survey conducted on Tuesday of 600 registered voters in the ‘Burg shows that Baker gets 37 percent support, with Kriseman at 36 percent, a statistical tie. An additional 27 percent are undecided.

Baker was a popular mayor of St. Petersburg from 2001-2009 before leaving office. Bill Foster succeeded him in 2009, but lost decisively to Kriseman in November of 2013. Baker has been mentioned for several different political positions since he left City Hall, but has chosen to remain in the private sector. He has not said whether he has any interest in challenging Kriseman next year.

The new survey shows that nearly half the electorate — 49 percent — approve of Kriseman’s performance, with 30 percent disapproving. An additional 20 percent were unsure.

As St. Pete continues its renaissance that began toward the end of the Baker era, Kriseman is reaping the benefits of the city’s success. A majority, 52 percent, say the city is going in the right direction, while 33 percent say it’s going in the wrong direction. Another 15 percent weren’t sure.

The City Council also gets high marks, though not as high as the mayor. When asked if they are doing a good job, 42 percent of those surveyed say they are, while 36 percent disagree. Another 23 percent are unsure.

One issue where the public is not pleased with the city is in the handling of the sewage system’s overflow problems. Heavy rains in early June forced St. Petersburg to pump nearly 10 million gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay. Storms during the summer of 2015 caused over 31 million gallons of treated and partially treated sewage to be spilled or dumped.

When asked how the city has coped with the situation, 55 percent say not very well. The rest of the public was divided on their reaction, with 23 percent supporting how the city has dealt with the storms, while another 23 percent were unsure.

Although the Tampa Bay Rays finally were allowed by city officials to negotiate with Hillsborough County officials about possibly relocating a new baseball park in that region earlier this year, Kriseman says that the current site where Tropicana Field sits remains the best location for a club to prosper in the future.

The poll shows that the public agrees with that attitude, with 43 percent supporting the idea of a new park built next to the current site. Another 34 percent say that want to make sure the park remains in Pinellas County. Not surprisingly, only 10 percent say the team playing their games in Hillsborough County. Another 13 percent were unsure.

This poll of 620 registered voters in St. Petersburg was conducted on June 28. The survey has a 3.9 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

Who’s who of Pinellas politics join Jeff Brandes for campaign kickoff in St. Pete

State Sen. Jeff Brandes is hosting a kickoff reception Wednesday evening for his re-election effort.

More than three dozen current and former local officials are on the host committee for the event, set for the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Host committee members include Republican Reps. Larry AhernChris Latvala, Kathleen PetersChris Sprowls and Dana Young, as well as former Reps. Frank Farkas, former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst, and former St. Petersburg Mayors Bill Foster and Rick Baker, among many others.

Brandes is currently unopposed in his re-election campaign, which due to new district maps in 2012 and 2016, will be his third Senate run in four years.

The newly redrawn SD 24 has a slim GOP edge, and narrowly voted for Obama four years ago, making it possible Brandes could face a Democratic challenger in the fall. Heading into April, the Pinellas County senator had raised about $184,000 for his re-election campaign and had about $59,000 of that money on hand.

Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. RSVP with Rick Porter at 407-849-1112 or

Ken Welch to launch fourth re-election campaign

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch is officially launching his re-election campaign next week. Welch will be meeting with supporters at the Hangar Restaurant located at 540 First Street SE Wednesday, February 10.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor will be on hand as a special guest, though an invitation sent to prospective donors makes clear she “is not asking for funds or donations” as per campaign finance rules.

Welch has already built an impressive host committee consisting of several current and former mayors. Rick Kriseman from St. Pete, Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn and Gulfport’s Sam Henderson are supporting Welch. So too is former Mayor Bill Foster. While Kriseman, Buckhorn and Henderson are all Democrats Foster is a Republican.

Former Governor and current Congressional candidate Charlie Crist and former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Alex Sink have also joined Welch’s host committee as well as St. Pete City Councilors Darden Rice, Karl Nurse, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes.

Welch is also drawing support from School Board member Rene Flowers, Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman, former Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart and PSTA citizen board member Ben Diamond.

Several high-profile community activists and leaders have also joined on including Jeff Copeland, Martha Lenderman, Johnny Bardine, Scott Wagman, Ray Neri, Craig Sher, Bob Devin Jones, Gwendolyn Reese, Watson Haynes, Clarence Williams, Kenny Irby and John Evans.

First elected to the County Commission in 2000, Welch is currently serving his fourth four-year term.

Welch is a former accounting, Information Technology, and Financial Systems Administration specialist for Florida Power, now Duke Energy. He also served as Technology Manager for Welch Accounting & Tax Services, a family-owned business.

Welch is a lifelong St. Pete resident. He graduated from Lakewood High School and went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of South Florida. Welch also earned a master’s in business administration from Florida A&M University.

In addition to serving residents of Pinellas County as a County Commissioner, Welch also serves on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the county’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, the Business Technology Services Board, Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization and the advisory committee for Pinellas Transportation, among other services.

Welch is facing an opponent this year. Retired St. Petersburg College worker Sharon McManus filed to run against him as an independent candidate. It’s possible another challenger could jump in the race. Republicans have made regaining a majority on the commission a top 2016 priority.

They’ve already pitted Mike Mikurak against Democrat Charlie Justice. Janet Long, also a Democrat up for re-election this year, has not drawn a challenger yet. According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website, the qualifying period for the election is June 20-24.

Subtle MOU provision means Rays might play “home” games outside of Tampa Bay area

A provision of the Memorandum of Understanding approved by City Council Thursday evening means the Rays could eventually play outside of Tropicana Field before they’ve technically abandoned the Dome, but only if they’ve already entered into a termination agreement with the city.

The MOU allowing the team to begin immediately exploring alternative stadium sites outside of St. Petersburg in Pinellas or Hillsborough counties includes a provision allowing the Rays to play up to 10 home games outside of Tropicana Field under a section defining “excused games.”

WTSP Reporter Noah Pransky quoted former Mayor Bill Foster raising the specter that the approved MOU weakens the city’s “original agreement so much that you’re setting a measure of damages allowing them to leave the region prior to 2027.”

Pransky explained Foster’s interpretation was that “the failure to require a long-term commitment from the Rays might open the door for the team to use the 10 “home” games to test the waters of other potential MLB markets while still playing the majority of their games in a temporary location elsewhere in Hillsborough or Pinellas County.”

What’s not mentioned is that the Rays would only be excused from 10 games a season once they entered into a termination agreement with the city. Under that scenario, the Rays playing baseball outside of St. Pete would be imminent.

If they were playing home games above and beyond the 10 excused games at a “temporary” site in Pinellas or Hillsborough, that would mean the Rays would have already vacated Tropicana Field.

The section Foster referenced refers to the period of limbo when the Rays would be preparing to move to a new stadium location, but still playing at Tropicana Field. If they played at an alternative site during that period for what would otherwise be a home game that would count against the 10 excused games.

Although Foster is not the only critic of the latest MOU and the previous versions that weren’t approved, Rick Kriseman and his administration continue to maintain the deal is intended as the best way to ensure the team does stay in St. Pete.

Kriseman and his allies argue forcing the Rays to stick strictly to the current Use Agreement through 2027 is the best way to ensure the team leaves the entire region after the term expires. Instead, they say allowing the team to look outside the city in areas throughout the region will show the Rays there is better value in a St. Pete stadium than elsewhere. And, worst case scenario, they at least stay in the region.

However, critics worry the city is offering too many concessions to the team whose iron-clad contract bars them from considering other stadium sites during its term.

While there are reasonable arguments on either side, the latest controversy over an “excused game” provision appears moot. It would not allow the team to play home games outside of the Trop during its term unless they already entered a termination agreement. That would mean the city would be set to collect the monetary compensation set forth in the MOU of up to $24 million depending on when the team left.

Where Foster’s speculation holds some weight is in his assertion that the team could, under the new contract, payout the $24 million required by contract to begin playing baseball in a temporary location within Pinellas or Hillsborough and then play ten “home” games in other markets. Montreal and Mexico City have been batted around as potential contenders.

What isn’t immediately clear in the MOU and would likely be up for interpretation is whether or not the Rays would be subject to the 2027 timeline and be tied to the region after they leave Tropicana Field. The question would then become — what does a contract look like to play at another site.

What is clear is the Rays are still be contractually obligated to play all home games at Tropicana Field while exploring alternative sites, and if they decided to stay in St Pete through or beyond their contract, the provision would not be applicable.

The Rays play about 80 home games a season.

St. Pete looks to replace racist mural 50-years gone with culturally significant art

The city of St. Pete is budgeting $10,000 for a mural that would cover the long blank wall on the left landing of the main stairs in City Hall. The wall was once shrouded in a racist mural created in the 1940’s after City Hall was erected in 1939 using New Deal funds.

In an act of civil disobedience, a young African-American activist named Joe Waller tore the mural down in 1966 after the city refused multiple attempts to remove it. Waller, who now goes by the name of Omali Yeshitela and heads the international Uhuru group based in St. Pete, ultimately spent more than two years in jail for the act.

This isn’t the first time the city has sought to replace the mural. Because of tension involving the history of that space and racial sensitivities, the city has been unsuccessful in gaining majority consent for a new display.

In 1998 a group called the Concerned Citizens Action committee successfully petitioned the city to adopt a resolution directing staff to commission a plaque as an expression of apology to both the African-American community and Yeshitela.

However, dissent among council led to questions of the appropriateness of such a move. Bea Griswold, a City Council member at the time, asked for a more broad conversation about whether or not an apology needed to be directed at Yeshitela. She also thought such a plaque should not be placed in such a prominent location.

Former Mayor Bill Foster who was a City Council member at that time also had reservations. Another council member at the time though, Frank Peterman accused naysayers of playing with semantics” and argued they merely took issue with Yeshitela’s affiliation with the controversial Uhuru group.

The mural depicted a jovial scene set at Pass-a-grille Beach where white park-goers were enjoying music played by black artists who were collecting spare change. Not only did the image depict the African-American music players and dancers as subservient to whites, they were also depicted in the racist stereotype known as black face minstrel.

There faces were so dark features could not be noticed. Only their eyes and lips were lightened. Historically, black face was a depiction in shows in Northern states of African-Americans.

The 50th anniversary of the mural being torn down is this year.

Now the city finally appears to be taking action to remedy to blank scar at City Hall that serves as a reminder to so many of what once covered that space.

“The art must respect the event(s) that caused the still-vacant space where the mural once hung while honoring and celebrating the advances in civil rights and inclusivity in the city today,” the city’s call to artists reads on its website.

The city does not offer any further specifics on design specifications other than the size of the space that must be filled. The mural will occupy a 7-foot by 10-foot section of the stairway.

The selection process is open to professional artists and students. Professional artists must have completed other public commissions, received awards, grants or fellowships within the last five years, have works that appear in major private, corporate of museum collections and have exhibited art in a museum or gallery.

Student artists are not subject to those requirements.

Applications and all pertinent documents listed on the city’s website are due by February 8. Those applications can be hand delivered to City Hall by 5 p.m. on the deadline. Otherwise, they must be postmarked by the deadline.

Rick Kriseman and Bob Buckhorn share the love at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club

The appearance of two of the most important public officials in the Tampa Bay Area – Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman – brought out a large audience to the St. Petersburg Yacht Club on Friday afternoon in an event sponsored by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club event.

To no one’s surprise, it was a bit of a lovefest, as the two men have been friends since the 1990’s, and have often been on the same ideological wavelength.

As Buckhorn noted, the two were charter members of the Democratic Leadership Conference, the centrist-leaning political group formed in the 1980’s in part as a reaction to the Democratic Party’s leftward excesses of  the 60’s and 70’s. And though both consider themselves “Clinton Democrats” (they both have endorsed Hillary Clinton for president this  year),  Kriseman has shown himself on some issues to be more ideologically progressive during his time in the Legislature and as mayor.

One obvious policy disagreement  between the two men is in regards to Cuba. Buckhorn is an old-school Cold Warrior on the subject, and has distanced himself from the rest of the Tampa political and business establishment which has mostly embraced the idea of  creating closer ties to the island nation. So on the subject of wanting to recruit a Cuba consulate, Kriseman has been the aggressor in trying to lure that to his home town.

“Clearly, the challenges that Mayor Buckhorn faces are not challenges that we face here in St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said, referring to the historical links that Tampa and Cuba share and the fact that there are still a number of anti-Castro Cuban exiles who live in Tampa.

Although the question asked (by Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam C. Smith, who later was awarded the “Fang & Claw,” for asking the best question, and meant sharing a photo with the mayors as seen above) was about hosting a Cuban consulate, Buckhorn responded by saying that he hasn’t interfered with other people going to Cuba (though it’s not really clear how he could), but emphasized he won’t be visiting Havana anytime soon.

“If St. Pete gets the consulate, or if it’s decided that it’s coming to Tampa, I will abide by the law, but I’m not going,” he said.

When asked by Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch what would be their top wish if they were “King for a Day,” Buckhorn went with an improved transportation system. “We hope we’ll have a referendum in 2016,” he said. “That has got to pass in our community.”

That’s a big if, though, considering that the region’s recent track record on transit referendums. And it won’t be known for another month at a minimum whether the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners will actually vote to put a proposed half-cent sales tax on the ballot.

Kriseman mused that he’d like the Legislature to pass a law that would allow cities like St. Pete and Tampa to have the ability to put their own referendums on the ballot, as current state law only allows counties to do so. Mayor Buckhorn attempted to lobby the majority GOP Bay Area Legislative delegation a few years ago, with no success.

Kriseman also put in another plug for his pet project that appears to have overwhelming support – that being a ferry service that would run between the two cities and which he has begun going to various local governments hat in hand to ask for an earmark of $350,000 to begin negotiations with HMS Ferries later this year. “We can definitely connect our cities together with a ferry service,” he said.

Regarding the latest in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium saga, where the status quo is in danger of being interrupted next week if the St. Pete City Council opts to vote to allow the team to explore options in Hillsborough County, Mayor Kriseman was resolute that at the end of the day, the Rays will ultimately choose to remain in St. Pete, though he may be the only one who truly believes that.

Acting as the respectful guest, Buckhorn said that he has tried to stay away from talking much about the subject since being elected nearly five years ago, and certainly wasn’t eager to talk speculatively in a subject that certain remains sensitive to many St. Pete residents. “That is a decision that you have to resolve between this city and this mayor and this organization, and until that’s decided, I’m staying out of it.”

One hot topic that has landed squarely on Kriseman’s lap in the past week is the controversy over Jamal Bryant, the keynote speaker at the 30th annual MLK Leadership Awards Breakfast.

Bryant is a nationally known black pastor who has made incendiary remarks about gays in the past, and it’s been reported that the Kriseman administration has reacted upon learning of his views by not awarding him a symbolic key to the city. That’s led to the St. Pete Chapter of the NAACP to make a statement criticizing the mayor.

“I find his comments and the things that he has said not in line with who we are as a city and the vision of who we want to be as a city,” Kriseman said when asked about the issue.

He disputed reports that said the city is not giving him a key because of his disdain for the comments, and said it’s actually a new city policy regarding of keys.

“I will go and I will talk about, and hopefully educate him about our community and who we are in St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said.

Buckhorn didn’t speak specifically of the incident, but said that one thing that he’s always admired in Kriseman is “his recognition that in a community’s diversity, in all of its shades, ethnicities, orientations and genders, that you were stronger and that you were better. That was not the case previously,” he said, a reference to St. Pete’s last two mayors – Bill Foster and Rick Baker – who were reluctant to support LGBT rights.

Mayor Buckhorn also reiterated his current stance when asked about any gubernatorial ambitions in 2018, which is that he’s still contemplating the possibility.

“I’m going to look at it,” he said. “I can’t tell you that I’m going to do it. It’s a huge undertaking and a big, big decision for my family,” which include two daughters. “Four years ago, when they said I couldn’t win, I said I had an obligation to those two kids to leave my city in better shape than it was given to me. We also have that same obligation as parents to leave our state, better than it was given to us. So we’ll see.”

Former mayor Bill Foster, beer entrepreneur Nathan Stonecipher named to St. Pete College Board of Trustees

Governor Rick Scott announced the appointments of Bill Foster and Nathan Stonecipher to the St. Petersburg College District Board of Trustees.

Foster, 52, of St. Petersburg, is an attorney and shareholder at Foster and Foster PA. He previously served as mayor of the City of St. Petersburg.

He succeeds Bridgette Mill and is appointed for a term beginning December 18, 2015, and ending May 31, 2019.

Stonecipher, 34, of St. Petersburg, is the owner of Green Bench Brewing Co and currently serves as a member on the Board of Directors of the EDGE Business District Association. He was previously the vice president of Directed Capital Resources, LLC and an assistant bond trader with Raymond James Financial.

He succeeds Robert Fine and is appointed for a term beginning December 18, 2015, and ending May 31, 2018.

The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Mitch Perry Report for 7.9.15 — Pier politics returns yet again in St. Pete

You’ve gotta love Tom Lambdon.

Well, let me take that back. You don’t have to love anybody. In fact, there are many people in St. Petersburg who would hope to never hear this man’s name mentioned in polite company ever again.

But civic activists like Lambdon wouldn’t get anywhere if they weren’t representing others who need someone to lead them.

I mention the Safety Harbor resident because the St. Pete City Council is meeting today to consider contracts for Pier Park, the recently chosen successor to replace the inverted pyramid structure along the waterfront.

But just as it seems the city is (finally) united in moving forward, back comes Lambdon to piss on the new parade. Lambdon is collecting signatures via his website,, hoping to get another referendum in front of city voters, as he was ultimately able to do two summers ago (a referendum drive that was first reported by SPB’s Janelle Irwin back in March). This referendum would be to amend the city’s charter.

That vote, you might recall, killed The Lens, the previously consensus choice that survived the labyrinth political process and was supposed to replace the iconic 1973 structure.

Lambdon is a character, to say the least. I learned that when I profiled him for a piece in Creative Loafing more than four years ago. I also learned in the subsequent years of reporting on the story that the Pier has an emotional hold on some people that a lot of people don’t get– but it’s very real.

And while I’m sure that Rick Kriseman’s team already knows this,  let me just spell it out again — this guy is somebody not to be toyed with. In retrospect, I’d dare say that Bill Foster might say he didn’t take him as seriously as he might have. Bill who, you ask?  You remember, the guy who some people say was not re-elected two years ago in part because of his indecisiveness.

In other news..

He’s trolling us all. Alan Grayson will announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate today.

You may never have heard of Todd Wilcox before yesterday. Then again, you might have gone to high school with him in Tampa (he’s a Robinson High grad). He’s the newest entrant in the GOP Senate contest.

Even before the events of the past 24 hours, the National Republican Senate Committee was already touting the GOP’s chances to hold on to the Florida U.S. Senate seat next year.

Marco Rubio penned an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times criticizing President Obama for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, and Times readers responded to Rubio.

JPMorgan Chase got busted again. The financial giant reached a financial settlement with Florida and 46 other states yesterday regarding its collection and sale of credit-card debt. Over $15 million will go to various nonprofits to teach financial literacy around the state.

The TampaBay area Sierra Club is saying no to the proposed half-cent transit tax proposed by the Hillsborough County Policy Leadership Group.

The Hillsborough County Charter Review Board said “adios” Tuesday night to the possibility of adding two county commissioners on the Hillsborough Board.

Ed Montanari likely to win City Council seat unopposed

If no one emerges by 5 p.m. Monday evening as a qualified candidate for St. Pete City Council District 3, Ed Montanari will emerge as the council member-elect to replace outgoing Bill Dudley.

As of Monday afternoon Montanari seems to have it in the bag. No one has filed paperwork to run against him and there hasn’t been a single whisper of potential challengers.

Local Democrats have been rumored to be looking, but appear to have come up empty-handed in finding a willing and viable opponent to take on the well funded and popularly backed Montanari.

If a brave challenger were to emerge in the final hours of qualifying Monday, they would face an uphill battle.

Montanari has reportedly accrued more than $45,000 and those numbers were leaked to SaintPetersblog nearly one month ago. The figure is likely to be much higher by now.

Montanari has not yet filed a treasurer’s report with the City Clerk’s office.

He also has a wide berth of support from the community. Two former mayors are behind him – Bill Foster and Rick Baker. City Council member Amy Foster endorsed him and serves on his host committee despite the fact that she’s a Democrat and he’s a Republican.

The council member Montanari will likely replace has also endorsed him despite Dudley defeating Montanari eight years ago.

St. Petersburg state Rep. Kathleen Peters is backing Montanari, as is St. Pete Free Clinic CEO Beth Haughton.

Montanari also nabbed a key endorsement from the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

With that kind of head start on campaigning it seems too daunting a task for someone to battle against at this point. But, then, you never know.

Ed Montanari pulls down record-breaking fundraising numbers

St. Pete City Council candidate Ed Montanari has raised more than $45,000, according to sources close to his campaign. The total so far comes from more than 175 contributors.

Montanari has not posted First Quarter treasurer reports, but if the numbers reported to SaintPetersblog are accurate, it puts Montanari at already unprecedented fundraising levels and he still has about a month before reporting figures to the City Clerk.

To put it into perspective, City Council member Steve Kornell, who is seeking re-election to his District 5 seat and so far unopposed, has raised just under $27,000 as of the end of March.

District 7 candidate Lisa Wheeler Brown, who has drawn one challenger so far has raised just under $14,000.

Montanari’s contributions break every First Quarter report by any other candidate going back to 2009. Campaign reports prior to that are unavailable on the city’s website.

Even more historic, Montanari’s fundraising so far exceeds that of entire campaigns of everyone in recent campaigns except for City Council member Darden Rice, who raised nearly $120,000. Rice’s First Quarter brought in about $25,000.

If Montanari continues as strongly as he began, he’s on track to exceed Rice’s fundraising from 2013.

Without a treasurer report filed, it’s unclear how much of his booty Montanari has spent. However, without an opponent it’s likely his campaign is holding on to most of the funding until they have a challenger.

So far no other candidate has announced or even expressed interest in running against Montanari. Qualifying for the District 3 race begins June 9 and runs through June 22.

In addition to what appears to be record-breaking First Quarter fundraising numbers, Montanari has also gathered a strong showing of bipartisan support from the community. The incumbent for the seat he seeks, Bill Dudley, has endorsed Montanari. Dudley defeated Montanari narrowly eight years ago.

Montanari also has City Council vice chair Amy Foster backing him, as well as former Mayors Bill Foster and Rick Baker. Recently he earned support from State Rep. Kathleen Peters as well as St. Petersburg Free Clinic CEO Beth Houghton.

The local Police Benevolent Association has also endorsed Montanari.