Bill Foster Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Joe Henderson: Be wary of consultant’s report on St. Pete Pier project

The new St. Pete Pier – stop laughing – was originally supposed to cost around $45 million, give or take a couple of grouper. We know how that goes though. It’s kind of like when your cable company promises to provide a million channels for 99 cents, or something like that.

Then you get handed the bill.

Anyway, as the back-and-forth went on and cost estimates increased, former Mayor Bill Foster famously said, “For $50 million, the people will get a pier.”

That was in 2012.

That also may help explain why Foster is the “former” mayor, because the cost has risen to $66 million, except that the St. Pete City Council voted 5-3 recently to request $14 million in “enhancements” from a special taxing district that was supposed to go toward a transportation hub.

So, what’s a civic-minded, Pier-preachin’ group of elected officials to do when faced with a project carrying a sticker now approaching double the original cost?

Hey! I’ve got it! Let’s call a consultant!

The Lambert Advisory consulting firm produced a report that told St. Pete officials and residents not to worry (paraphrasing here) about the cost because the Pier and spin-off development will generate $80 million from eating, shopping and hotel nights.

Let’s see … 66 plus 14 … adding cost together, carry the 1 … hey, that’s $80 million!

The study says the income and the outgo will balance because of the 1.7 million visitors it estimates the Pier will attract in its first year.

Uh huh.

But, hey, these are professionals and the study says, the project, “is estimated to generate considerable expenditures directly within the Pier District, as well as off-Pier in the surrounding downtown area of approximately $30 million in food and beverage expenditures, $10 million in additional miscellaneous retail expenditures, and $15 million in annual hotel expenditure.”

It also ESTIMATES the Pier will generate, “1,080 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs within Pinellas County, creating $33 million in total direct and indirect wages.”

Go on …

Well, there is this qualifier: The study estimates the POTENTIAL annual demand for 102,000 hotel room nights from the Pier. In sports, there is a saying that “potential” is just “production” that hasn’t happened.

What could go wrong?

A lot of things.

Just look a few miles to the east at the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. Built in the mid-1990s, it never came close to meeting original projections of attendance of 1.8 million the first year. Consultants also said it would make about a $3 million profit that first year.

Instead, it lost money – and kept losing money.

It took decades and millions of extra dollars to turn the Aquarium – derided locally as a glorified fish tank – into something people actually wanted to see.

Then again, consultants always have a get out of jail free card when their ESTIMATES go sour. They can blame a changing economy, bad weather, or Donald Trump. Without trying to disparage the noble profession of consulting, in the end, they are playing with other people’s money and producing glorified guesses subject to human nature.

How can anyone say people who were planning a trip to the Grand Canyon decided to change course because St. Pete spent millions on a Pier. Maybe they were coming to St. Pete anyway to visit grandma. If so, they might drop by the Pier. And how many of those 102,000 hotel room nights would have been filled anyway because of an improving economy and the fact that St. Pete has a lovely beach and other attributes?

I am not against the Pier. If St. Petersburg is determined to build a Pier, then officials should do it because they think it will make the city better.

But if those same officials think of it as a something that will send visitors stampeding downtown waving their platinum gold cards in the air, proceed with caution.

Police union leader says morale has improved during Rick Kriseman’s tenure

Although the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association endorsed Rick Kriseman re-election two months ago, a formal press conference touting its backing didn’t take place until Friday – three days after former mayor Rick Baker announced he was challenging the incumbent.

“Senior leadership under the previous administration was one of the main causes of the low morale and tension in the community that we had between some of the police officers and the people that we serve,” said George Lofton, the president of the Suncoast PBA at a press conference at Bartlett Park. “Today under Mayor Kriseman’s administration, we’ve got a renewed vigor in the St. Petersburg’s Police Dept. Our relations with the community are definitely getting stronger and they’re growing everyday.”

Lofton attributed much of the improvement in moral to the selection of Police Chief Tony Holloway, who Kriseman hired as one of his first major decisions.

In his campaign against Bill Foster, Kriseman promised  he would bring back community policing, something that Holloway immediately implemented with his “Park, Walk and Talk” program which designed to get officers more engaged with their beats.

District 7 Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said before Holloway took the reigns of theSPPD, there were serious trust issues between the Midtown community and the police.

“We would see the police riding in our area, windows right up tight,” she said. “Now we have a visual of police officers walking in our neighborhood, speaking to us so that when residents see that, when the police officers come up and talk to them and say ‘Hi,’ that’s relationship building.”

Wheeler-Bowman is backing Kriseman’s bid for a second term and stressed what is becoming a theme of his campaign – that going back to the future with Baker would be a return to when St. Petersburg’s quality of life wasn’t so good, at least for residents in Midtown.

“We can’t go backwards to a City Hall that has not invested in strengthening our police department,” she said. “We can’t go backwards (to an era) that didn’t care if the police and the community worked together to solve crimes and to make everyone safer.”

Since Kriseman took over in January of 2014, crime has decreased by 6 percent, and violent crime dropped by 26 percent. That’s in sync with a national reduction in crime over the past two decades, though the last available report from the St. Petersburg Police Dept. for the first quarter of FY2017 shows a 21 percent increase in crimes from the previous quarter, and a 12 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal year 2016.

Perhaps that’s why Baker told SPB on Tuesday that in his dozens of meetings with neighborhood associations over the past few months, “I’m hearing about the police reports … about the spike in crime going on in the city.”

“You’re going to have fluctuations on a month-to-month basis,” Kriseman said on Friday, but stood behind the overall reduction in crime since he took office.

“We still have a lot of work to do, obviously,” the mayor admitted, but said that it’s not just the enforcement of crime that his administration is working on, but the prevention as well. “We’re doing a lot of things in the community to try to lift people up to reduce poverty, to work on education issues, make sure there are jobs that pay living wages, so that there’s alternatives to crime.”

Chuck Harmon was the Police Chief in St. Petersburg for almost the entire of Baker’s two terms in office. The PBA’s Lofton said that he was the problem that led to such poor morale within the department.

“The previous administration and some of the senior management had their own agenda, and it wasn’t a healthy agenda for the city of St Petersburg as a whole, and it wasn’t  a healthy agenda for the SPPD and that’s what trickled out into the relations between the police Dept. and the community,” said Lofton. He praised Holloway for being a “street cop” who hasn’t forgotten from where he came from.

“He doesn’t sit up in the chief’s office and forget that,” said Lofton. “The morale is better because the relationship between the senior staff and the 911 responders is open and 911 responders see the senior administration and especially the chief and the assistant chiefs now as cops.”

Former police chief Goliath “Go” Davis co-hosting Rick Baker’s first campaign event this weekend

Former St. Petersburg Police Chief Goliath Davis is among the hosts of Rick Baker‘s first campaign event set for Saturday.

The event includes a picnic at Lake Maggiore Park between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Baker announced Tuesday he is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman to win back the job he held from 2001-2010.

Other officials listed on a promotional flier include a host of retired and present black officers who were part of a generation who served at a time of improved race relations at the agency.

They include Al White, Cedric Gordon, Donnie Williams, Reggie Oliver, Mike Hawkins and Hope Crews.

The black vote is considered crucial to any citywide candidate’s chances of being elected in St. Petersburg. Davis’ endorsement, in particular, is newsworthy.

At Tuesday’s campaign announcement at City Hall, Davis told SPB that, “I’ve always been a Baker guy.”

When asked about the fact that he endorsed Kriseman against Bill Foster in 2013, Davis said simply, “I’m not excited about what has occurred.”

Davis had an infamous falling out with Foster in 2011 when he was serving as a city administrator after Davis opted not to attend the funerals of three police officers who were killed in the line of duty. Davis’ subsequent support for Kriseman against Foster (as well as Kathleen Ford) helped boost his stock in Midtown in 2013.

In a post published in the Weekly Challenger in February, Davis defended Baker and criticized Kriseman and Foster after the announcement that Wal-Mart would be abandoning its store on 22nd Street South, writing, “As we progressed with the implementation of the Midtown Strategic Plan, feedback from Midtown residents was encouraging. Especially pleasing was feedback from Midtown residents who moved away and returned to what they described as an ‘improved revitalized community.’ The Baker Administration listened, responded and delivered the grocery stores. Subsequent administrations lost them.”

In 2000, Baker hired Davis, the city’s first black police chief, as deputy mayor in charge of Midtown. According to Governing Magazine, both Davis and Baker had worked to improve the neighborhood with a new library, theater, post office, health center and college campus, spurring shopping centers and privately owned retail chains. Businesses began to move in and violent crime dropped, despite persistent poverty and drug abuse.

Announcing another bid for St. Pete mayor, Rick Baker savages Rick Kriseman

Speaking in impassioned tones Tuesday, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is ready to tangle head on against incumbent Rick Kriseman.

“You’re going to hear a lot about Republicans and Democrats over the next few months,” Baker said as he formally announced his bid for mayor on the steps of St. Pete City Hall. “Because that’s that’s the only thing they have.”

Baker was referring to earlier statements from Kriseman’s campaign manager about Baker’s support for Republicans like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Herman Cain in what has become a very Democratic city.

“They have no record that they can run on. They have no successes,” Baker added, before blasting Kriseman for failing to build a new Pier.

Surrounded by former mayors Bill Foster, David Fisher and Bob Ulrich, as well as former and current City Council members Wengay Newton, Leslie Curran, Bill Dudley and Jim Kennedy, Baker said that it was never his intention to run again for City Hall after two successful terms from 2001-2010.

But Baker heard too many critical things about the city he loves while on the campaign trail for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in recent months. That, he said, motivated him to get back into electoral politics.

Curran endorsed Kriseman for mayor in 2013, but since, she said she has become increasingly disappointed.

“Rick (Kriseman) ran on a platform of leadership, and I have seen none of that,” she said, endorsing Baker’s “proven leadership.”

The first part of Baker’s 36-minute speech was a nostalgia-filled recital of programs and initiatives accomplished during his two terms at the beginning of this century, parts of which he practiced talking about in recent months while campaigning for last week’s referendum expanding Al Lang Stadium for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. It was a part of his effort in working with Rowdies owner and St. Pete entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

About halfway through, however, he pivoted sharply into a detailed and brutal attack on the Kriseman administration.

He began by blasting Kriseman for hiring a chief of staff, a public information officer, and a neighborhood liaison; all those positions Baker said he didn’t need because he was in charge when running City Hall from 2001-2010.

“We have a chief of staff (Kevin King) now, that I think a lot of people wonder, who’s running the city now, right?  Baker said. “A lot of people wonder that.”

“Did anybody wonder that when I was running the city?”

Baker accused Kriseman of dividing the city, and the results have been “disastrous,” specifically referring to how Midtown is doing these days. He brought up the recent departure of Wal-Mart there, leaving the area to become a food dessert.

“We worked so hard in Midtown,” he said. “We put so much effort into Midtown, and we did it because it was the right thing to do.”

While undoubtedly Team Kriseman will contest that, among those in attendance at the news conference was former Police Chief Goliath Davis, who endorsed Kriseman in 2013 but has also backed Baker in his earlier runs. He’s with Baker this time around.

“I’ve always been a Baker guy,” he said. On Kriseman, he simply said: “I’m not excited about what has occurred.”

One of Kriseman’s lowest moments as mayor occurred late last summer when heavy rains brought massive sewage dumps. Over 200 million gallons made way into local waterways.

Baker contested Kriseman’s charge that previous administrations ignored infrastructure issues in the city. At the time, he had spent $160 million on water and sewer capital improvements, he said, claiming the city was named the state’s best big city sewer system in 2010.

Sewage came back up when Baker stated that Kriseman would talk a lot about the past versus the future. “Backward is dumping 200 million gallons into the Bay,” he said.

Baker insisted he’s not been somnolent in the years since leaving City Hall, referring to his work with the Rowdies as well as helping the people in the Warehouse Arts District.

He also prominently discussed his involvement in local schools, criticizing Kriseman for not taking the same initiative.

As for problems depicted last year in South St. Pete schools dubbed “failure factories,” Baker didn’t blame the current mayor for that situation but wondered where his passion was in trying to ease the problems.

“Where is the involvement? Where’s the plan? Where is the all in response? I promise you, I will give a response. I will go into the schools and work with the school system, and work with the school board.”

At the end of his speech, Baker spoke to the LGBT community.

Over the years, the former mayor’s refusal to attend Pride events became an issue when he was in office. Baker knows, undoubtedly, it will be brought up again this year, with a City Council that includes three members of that community.

“I believe that the LGBT community, is a vital part of our community,” he said, noting that while in office, he had LGBT staffers at City Hall.

Before the speech, a crowd of a few dozen protesters held anti-Baker signs across the street from City Hall.

Pinellas County Democrat Bill Bucolo said he wasn’t there as a Kriseman supporter but as a Baker detractor.

“When he was mayor, we were known as being a very mean place. I think ‘mean’ is bad for business,” Bucolo said, specifically citing the incident where St. Pete Police officers ripped the tents of the homeless. “St. Pete’s not known for being a mean city anymore.”

(Rick Kriseman responds).

Rick Kriseman launches first TV ad for re-election campaign

After announcing this week that he has raised more than $400,000 for his re-election, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is spending some of that cash on the first television ad of the campaign.

The ad (called “Moving Forward”) features the mayor briskly walking through various parts of St. Pete, alluding to his work on issues that were front-and-center when he defeated then-incumbent Bill Foster in 2013.  Specifically, he refers to the Pier, the future of the Tampa Bay Rays stadium issue, and a new police station for the SPPD.

“Four years ago, St. Pete had big problems,” the mayor says in the ad. But we tackled them head on, and today, St. Pete is a city moving forward.” says Kriseman in the spot. “It’s a new day for the police department and our community. We ended the stalemate with the Rays,. And we’re building a new world-class pier. There’s still a sewer system to finish and more opportunity to create all over this city, but I know we can make sure St. Pete keeps moving forward.”

Perhaps most importantly, Kriseman also alludes to an issue that was not part of the 2013 campaign, but probably will be used by his opponents this year: the city’s sewage problems, which ultimately led to the mayor and City Council announcing that they will spend more than $300 million infrastructure plan to improve the sewer system.

On Tuesday, the mayor joined in the celebrating at Al Lang Stadium, after 87 percent of the voting public in St. Petersburg voted to  extend the lease of Al Lang Stadium to Bill Edwards and his Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team. Among those he reveled in the celebrating with was former mayor Rick Baker, who was the point man in educating the public about the referendum. Rumors have floated for months that Baker will challenge Kriseman for his re-election bid.

“To my knowledge, it’s the earliest an ad has ever been aired in a mayoral election,” says Jacob Smith, Kriseman’s campaign manager.

You can watch the ad below:

 

The case against Rick Baker running for St. Petersburg mayor

As coy as he has been with the local media and as busy as he is promoting the Rowdies referendum, Rick Baker is almost certain to run for St. Petersburg mayor this year.

Last week, Baker was in Tallahassee for a series of not-exactly-clandestine meetings with top Republican donors like Brian Ballard and Nick Iarossi.

Baker’s biggest cheerleader in the capital, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, set up the meetings.

Baker does not particularly enjoy fundraising; At least not as much as his fellow St. Petersburg office-bearer, Charlie Crist. It’s not that he can’t or won’t make the ask, it’s just that he believes — rightly so — that he probably has better things with his time.

So, for Baker to shake his tin can in Tallahassee, it’s the surest sign yet that he plans on challenging incumbent Rick Kriseman.

If polling is to be believed — and St. Pete Polls has a near-bulletproof record surveying St. Petersburg voters — Baker would actually start as a favorite against Kriseman.

Despite all the hullabaloo over the city’s sewage system crisis, as well as a lack of genuine, visible progress on big-ticket items like a new St. Petersburg Pier or a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kriseman is popular with city voters.

Were anyone other than Baker to challenge Kriseman — from popular Republicans like Brandes to City Council veterans like Amy Foster or Darden Rice — the mayor would dispatch them easily.

But, head-to-head, Baker trumps Kriseman.

In other words, Kriseman is a popular mayor; Baker just happens to be a more popular former mayor.

Three times out of five, Baker beats Kriseman. Which means it’s not a lock that Baker will beat Kriseman in November. In fact, one can make a pretty compelling case for how Baker might lose to Kriseman.

Here are 10 reasons why Baker might not want to run against Kriseman.

Demographics  

St. Pete is an increasingly progressive city, substantially more so than when Baker was re-elected in 2005. St. Pete’s gay community is more visible and more influential than 12 years ago. And if there’s one cohort Baker is cross-wired with, it’s Team Pride. While in office, he refused to sign a proclamation celebrating Florida’s biggest Gay Pride festival — a symbolic non-gesture that many of the city’s LGBT leaders and residents have not forgotten. These folks may already be against Baker’s Republican politics, just as they were against Bill Foster‘s. But Baker’s candidacy may galvanize the gay community in a way no other candidate would.

Demographics — Part 2

When Baker won re-election in 2005, he won every single precinct in the city. That means precincts where blacks are in the majority — no easy feat for a Republican running against an opponent who would become chair of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Black voters also functioned as the deciding vote bloc for Baker in 2001 and for Foster in 2009 (both men defeated Kathleen Ford). Baker prides himself on his relationship with the black community. Remember, this is the policy wonk who won national acclaim for his vision of a “seamless city.” But will the black vote, in this era of Donald Trump, embrace Baker over a Democratic elected official who will likely be endorsed by most major African-American leaders? Even with Goliath Davis and Deveron Gibbons as his chief surrogates, it’s difficult to envision Baker winning the black vote at the same clip he did in his first two elections.

Lessons from Jeb

In the parlance of Game of Thrones, Baker is a loyal bannerman to House Jeb. So many Republican pols admire Baker, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine him having to look up to anyone. But Jeb Bush is one of those people. Had Bush won his bid for The White House, it’s very likely Baker would be Secretary of Something right now. Obviously, that was not the case and in Jeb’s humiliating defeat — “Please clap” — there’s a cautionary tale for Baker. Bush was out of office for so long, and the political environment had shifted so much, that he was caught flat-footed by the new rules of engagement. What will Baker do when an anonymous negative website about him inevitably pops up? What will Baker’s strategy for Facebook and Twitter be? Will he be caught on video saying something honest, but politically damaging? How will he interact with the Tom Rasks and David McKalips of the mayoral campaign? There are so many possible landmines out there for anyone running for office that it can be a challenge for even a savvy operator like Baker. He can ask his friend Jeb about that.

The Times will not be with him

Baker’s never been the Tampa Bay Times’ favorite local Republican (that would be Jack Latvala), but rarely has he been in its crosshairs. The local newspaper probably doesn’t have the desire or the horses to make Baker one of its “projects,” but it’s not going to be on his side — as it was in his races against Ford and Ed Helm — either. At the end of the day, the newspaper really likes Kriseman, even if it’s aware of his shortcomings. But his politics matches its and Baker’s apparently do not, so expect the editorial page (sans Baker ally Joni James) to weigh in again and again about how Baker had his time, and the city needs to move forward with Kriseman and blah, blah, blah. Also, the Tampa Bay Times may want to make up for this.

The Bill Edwards conundrum

One day, residents of St. Petersburg may look at a statute of Bill Edwards that memorialized his many, many contributions to the prosperity of the city. Or maybe not. It very much depends on the outcome of an ongoing federal lawsuit lodged by two whistle-blowers accused Edwards of looting millions from his defunct mortgage company. According to Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, Baker was uncertain about Edwards’ situation, especially as it relates to the Edwards-Baker effort to attract a Major League Soccer team to the city. Questions about Edwards’ future and Baker’s work for The Edwards Group could be an issue on the campaign trail. Remember, Kriseman made Foster’s remote connections to Edwards an issue during the 2013 race.

Rick being Rick

As smart and successful as Baker has been throughout his career, now and then he makes a decision that even his most ardent defenders (like me) can’t explain. After all, Baker did endorse Herman Cain for President in 2011Kriseman is already making hay about Baker’s politics

Baker is not running against a tomato can.

Not hardly — Some might say Baker has been very lucky with who he’s had to run against in his previous campaigns. Ford, well, is Kathleen Ford, the ultimate femme fatale candidate who, despite her tenacity, was never going to win over a majority of supporters. Helm, well, is Ed Helm, who, despite his sheer intelligence, could not get out of his own way for long enough to build a winning coalition. While Ford, Helm, and Kriseman are all Democrats, Kriseman is nothing like Ford or Helm. He’s already proven he can build a winning coalition of city progressives, minorities, residents from the west part of the city, young voters, and the upscale urban liberals of northeast St. Pete. He has a loyal veteran campaign team and a base of donors and supporters already hard at work. Kriseman’s camp is not taking the prospect of a Baker challenge lightly; that’s why it has been raising money hand-over-fist in what is expected to be St. Pete’s most expensive campaign ever.

Duh! Kriseman is the incumbent

Even Captain Obvious recognizes there are many advantages to being the incumbent in a local race. For example, Kriseman recently won the endorsement of the police union, an organization which went with Foster in 2009. Why? Because Kriseman is committed to building a new headquarters for the St. Pete Police Department. Will rank-and-file cops turn out for Kriseman? That remains to be seen, but advantages like this are the kind of default support an incumbent receives. He gets to be on the city’s TV channel, shows up at ribbon-cuttings, be in the newspaper and on TV any day he wants. Kriseman will be careful about doing so, but all the city’s resources are at his disposal.

Kriseman knows how to throw a punch. Does Baker know what it’s like to be hit?

To quote Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Kriseman knows how to throw a punch; his campaign will not hesitate to use any and all lines of attacks against Baker. In the end, Kriseman’s campaign and its allies will throw the kitchen sink at Baker, who, while no stranger from the spotlight, hasn’t had a negative mailer written about him in 12 years. He hasn’t been the star of a grainy, black-and-white television attack ad. He hasn’t had his name dragged through the mud just for the sake of doing that. How will he react? How will Baker counterpunch? The answer to these questions may be the most fascinating thing to watch during the campaign.

Does Baker really want to be Mayor again?

I think if Rick Baker had his druthers, he’d strap on his guitar and tour the state talking about his soon-to-be-released book and how there is a third way for polarized state politics. He’d speak of a “seamless state” and how Republicans can be both tough on crime and strong on the environment. Or be president of an expansion Major League Soccer team. But I’m not 100 percent sure he wants to be Mayor of St. Petersburg for the next eight years — who would run against him in 2021? Sure, Dick Greco had a successful second act as Tampa’s mayor, but by the end of his career, Greco was sadly out of touch with the community he loved so much and once loved him.

Nothing in politics would cause Baker more heartache than for him to lose the respect of his neighbors and fellow residents.

Jacob Smith says intensity of electorate will help Rick Kriseman win re-election

Rick Kriseman will make his case re-election this year, mostly based upon the progress St. Petersburg has made since his inauguration as mayor in January 2014.

“We came in with a lot of really big, sort of thorny projects, and the mayor has taken a lot of them by the horns and made them happen,” says Jacob Smith, Kriseman’s newly minted campaign manager.

Among those “thorny” projects are a pathway toward a new Pier, the upcoming groundbreaking for a new police station and what Smith dubs ‘The Kriseman infrastructure plan’: the $304 million investment to fix the city’s aging pipes and sewage plants.

Smith says the mayor looks forward to having a “public conversation” with voters on infrastructure overhaul. Kriseman is also poised to give details about how the money will be spent, where the revenues to pay for it will come from, and what shape the project will ultimately take.

“A lot of people will say that they don’t know — they know we’re spending that money, but they don’t know exactly what the mechanics of that project are,” Smith said.

The infrastructure plan emerged after what is inescapably Kriseman’s lowest moment as mayor — his handling of the sewage situation late last summer.

After a whistleblower had come forth September alleging the mayor falsely claimed millions of gallons of wastewater spilled from a treatment plan wasn’t a safety hazard, lawmakers called for more oversight. That resulted in the Department of Environmental Protection laying down a mandate for fixing the problem or pay a significant penalty.

Smith prefers to look at the sunnier side of that imbroglio, saying that the mayor deserves props for finally acting on a decades-in-the-making problem in regards to sewage management.

The 27-year-old Smith is a Fort Lauderdale native who was Kriseman’s field director during the 2013 campaign and has added a lot more to his CV since then.

After the mayor’s decisive victory over Bill Foster in November 2013, he went to work immediately on Alex Sink‘s bid for Congress in the special election against David Jolly.

In 2014, he worked as a field director for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial effort and then began work from the start in early 2015 on Hillary Clinton‘s run for the White House. He was living in Brooklyn before moving down to St. Petersburg recently to devote all his energies to the mayor’s race.

Discussion about the sewage situation segues quickly into more positive news, such as an online Fiscal Times report published in January that of the most fiscally stable cities showed that St. Petersburg was listed as the 23rd best city in the country (of cities of more than 200,000 population) and first in Florida.

“Since Mayor Kriseman has taken office, St. Petersburg’s credit rating has gone up, and we’ve become a city more attractive to lenders,” says Smith. “We’ve been called the most financially responsible city in the state.”

Conventional wisdom has it that only one man stands between Kriseman and another four years in office — former Mayor Rick Baker.

There is no bigger guessing game in St. Pete politics than figuring out what Baker will do. Smith says it won’t matter who his main opponent is, Kriseman continue to do his thing.

A favorite criticism among Republicans is that Kriseman has been too partisan.

“Since 2013 Mayor Rick Kriseman has shown he is committed to progressive, left wing policies that have done nothing to improve the quality of life the City of St. Petersburg has come to expect,” says Nick DiCeglie, chair of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

“This absent leadership has led to an infrastructure failure that has resulted in raw sewage being dumped into Tampa Bay. This is unacceptable and change must and will occur in city hall later this year.”

Referring to his support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality and respect for immigrant rights, Smith says that the mayor represents the values that St. Pete residents believe in. “What the mayor really wants is a city that is welcoming to all, that respects everyone and that we are living up to our best potential and our best values,” he says.

There is no question that the Democratic left has been energized since last fall’s election. In January, Kriseman took part in the Women’s’ March, an event that drew more than 20,000 to the downtown area, the largest such rally in the city’s history.

Smith predicts the intensity among progressive voters will have implications in the mayoral contest and appears to have Baker on his mind when he thinks of who their main opponent will be.

“At the end of the day, Rick Kriseman has always stood by Barack Obama, endorsed Hillary Clinton. Campaigned for her,” he says. “Any opponent he gets is going to be on the other side of the issue, right?”

“It’s going to be somebody who stood on stage with people like Sarah PalinPaul Ryan, Mitt Romney, where Rick Kriseman was out knocking on doors for Barack Obama, right?” he says. “I think that is a dynamic that will absolutely come into this race. A lot of the most fired up people right now are the people who stand with Rick on a lot of issues.”

Whether it’s Baker, Foster or another Republican who will step up and try to take down the incumbent, it’s getting close to the time when that candidate will have to step up.

The Kriseman campaign announced this week he has the backing of half the current City Council in November and has already raised $260,000.

I really don’t know Kevin King

I really don’t know Kevin King, the Chief of Staff to Mayor Rick Kriseman.

I believe — and Kevin can correct me if I am wrong — the last time he and I spoke was in early 2006. It was after my spiral from politics, when I was waiting tables at a now-defunct joint on Fourth Street. If I remember correctly, Kevin was charitable to me, probably feeling sorry for my station in life at the time. He was soon to become, if not already, the go-to Democratic consultant in Pinellas politics.

But even before that, we really didn’t know each other well. I don’t think we ever socialized, even though we were about the same age and doing about the same thing with our lives. We first came across each other when he was managing Kriseman’s campaign for the City Council, and I was advising first-time candidate Bill Dudley. I recall there being this sort of tension because I wanted to service Kriseman’s campaign by selling it collaterals, direct mail and the like. King wasn’t interested, which was perfectly fine, although his rebuff felt more like an I-know-better than just a simple ‘No.’

King and I have certainly not spoken since Kriseman first ran for the Florida House. During that campaign, King’s disputed criminal history came into play after someone mailed information about him to the local media. King thought/thinks I had something to do with that, but I did not. Still, a relationship that was, at best, lukewarm, turned to ice after that. King and I sniped at each other — mostly in private to others — for the next eight years.

Although we never spoke during Kriseman’s mayoral campaign, I did what King could not, namely help take out Kathleen Ford. Once she was out, Kriseman had a clear shot at incumbent Bill Foster, and the rest is local political history.

After Kriseman installed King in a newly created chief of staff position, I came to King’s defense and pushed back against those who wanted to hold King’s disputed criminal history against him. I argued that King absolutely deserved a second chance from those people who had not given him one (King’s career was never derailed, like mine was, by his mistakes; it’s just that no one really cared if King was a legislative aide to a backbench member of the Florida Legislature. King serving in a well-paying, highly visible leadership role in City Hall was really the first time many people were confronted with his history.)

I hate to see the mistakes King made more than a decade thrown into his face every time he is at the center of a controversy, as he is now that the Times’ Mark Puente has reported that King told a City Hall employee to not talk negatively about a transfer out of the mayor’s office.

“In September, Kriseman’s closest aides told the Tampa Bay Times that Lisa Brekke, 32, was moved to fire headquarters as a training specialist to enhance her “professional growth” in city government. At the time, Kriseman chief of staff Kevin King and spokesman Ben Kirby stressed that nothing else triggered the transfer.

But records the Times recently obtained show tension between King and Brekke led her to tell top fire, human resources and legal officials that King intimidated her and left her in tears when a reporter asked the mayor’s office about the transfer.”

The incident with Brekke, in and of itself, isn’t a mortal wound to King, but it is part of a troubling pattern that does not reflect well on his boss.

Increasingly, King is described as “controversial” or a “lightning rod” by the Tampa Bay Times and other local media. King’s role, as well as those roles of others in the Mayor’s Office, may be fodder for the campaign trail.

But you know what? King isn’t going anywhere. Kriseman won’t part with him. And King really doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Unless King has committed a documented crime, something I highly doubt, in his execution of the day-to-day administration of Kriseman’s vision for the city, the Mayor is not going to cut off his right-hand man.

As for those who try to throw King’s disputed criminal history in the Mayor’s face, well, didn’t Kriseman know about that when he first hired King? Of course he did. Just as he knew about it when he made King his legislative aide during his time in the Florida House and just as he knew about it when he made King his Chief of Staff at City Hall.

Kriseman made a decision — right or wrong — that the mistakes in King’s past were not relevant to their joint future. And Kriseman has certainly benefited from this alliance, as he has had whip-smart lieutenant by his side for the last 15 years.

But this is also what makes me feel truly sorry for King. And it’s a realization I only recently came to.

Think about it: what does King have, professionally speaking, if he doesn’t have Kriseman? What would King do were Kriseman to lose his re-election campaign?

Fortunately for King, the Mayor has provided steady employment for the last two decades. King’s current position pays him nearly $121,000.

That kind of great job would probably not be in the cards for others once accused of propositioning an underage girl for sex.

That kind of powerful job in politics would probably not be in the cards for others who “tr(ied) to get two female students, ages 14 and 15, to skip school and drink beer with him, and asking one to perform a sex act on him.”

And there’s the tragedy. By Kriseman’s side is the best place King can do for himself even though, given his ambition and talent, he probably could have risen above that station. But where can he go in major league politics where his past would not be made an issue?

I know of what I speak here, having had my own legal issues. I know why I couldn’t make a statewide political campaign. Heck, the Tampa Bay Times spelled it out for me. I know — like King must know — that I will never get to work in The White House or be elected to office.

Realizing all of this, I deconstructed my past, atoned for my sins, and built a new, more entrepreneurial life — one that does not require the public’s trust. I was granted the perspective to understand that if I had not gone through what I had, I would not be where I am today.

Still, don’t think there aren’t moments when I wonder what life would have been like had I taken a right turn instead of a left.

I’m not sure if King realizes all of this or not. I assume he does. But, like I said, I don’t know him very well.

In campaign kickoff speech, Rick Kriseman aims to take St. Petersburg to next level

Rick Kriseman says he ran for Mayor four years ago because he felt that the big issues in St. Petersburg weren’t being addressed.

Kicking off his re-election campaign Wednesday night, he said, “It’s so important to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”

“This is a time that’s really important for the city of St. Petersburg,” Kriseman told a crowd of around 100 supporters who filled in the courtyard of Three Birds Tavern on 4th Street. “We have a lot of big issues that we need to address, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Kriseman has an impressive slate of accomplishments on which he’ll be able to run on this year, including establishing a curbside recycling program, hiring a new police chief, implementing the downtown waterfront master plan, the creation of the Southside CRA to attempt to eradicate poverty and a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tampa Bay Rays to energize their search for a site to host a new ballpark.

But that hasn’t been the dominant theme in the media over the past six months, thanks to several self-inflicted errors in coping with the city’s sewage crisis that emerged last September.

The problems transcend sewer. The mayor has gotten sideways with some members of the LGBT community for his announcement that he will pull city funding for the St. Pete Pride Parade, after organizers said they would move the route from its usual Grand Central District path to one closer to downtown.

Councilwoman Darden Rice, who gave Kriseman a rousing introduction at Wednesday’s event, says the city should stand behind parade organizers. “I don’t think it’s something that the mayor needs to step into,” she said. “Let’s let the stakeholders figure that out.”

Wal-Mart’s decision to leave Midtown is another blow, with city leaders scrambling to try to persuade the giant retailer to reconsider.

The city’s downtown renaissance, which originated toward the end of Rick Baker’s tenure and completely taking off in the Bill Foster era, has continued to prosper under Kriseman.

Two of the biggest issues that dragged down Foster — the Pier and the Rays — have yet to be resolved, however, though it’s rumored that the Rays will finally be making a decision about their future sometime this year. The mayor continues to insist that the best place for them to land up is on the same 85-acre space where Tropicana Field currently resides, a questionable move considering that the Rays seem determined to want to play anywhere but there.

There have been concerns about the escalating costs of a new pier, which was initially set at $46 million for several years but is now up to $80 million.

But with all those concerns, the fact remains that Kriseman is the heavy favorite to win re-election.

Although Pinellas County Republicans have criticized the mayor since he took office, the only serious candidates that they have floated are the two men who held office before Kriseman took over — Baker and Foster.

Polls have shown that Baker would present a serious challenge to Kriseman, yet nobody knows whether he will pull the trigger. His recent history indicates that he won’t.

And if he won’t, who will? Local Republicans insist that a wealthy businessman will emerge as a legitimate challenger, but that apparently remains to be seen.

Until then, the mayor has the field to himself, and the power of incumbency, to make people forget about the problems with the city’s sewage system and his staff’s ability to clearly communicate what is happening there. Though he can’t control the weather, he can control how the city copes with those storms.

Looking at the crowd on Wednesday, the mayor joked that there were some who have been in his corner for years, going back to his previous runs for the state House and City Council.

Also in the crowd was his wife Kerry and son Samuel.

“When you are in public service there’s a lot of hours that you’re not at home and a lot of things that you miss,” Kriseman said. “It’s a big sacrifice on the family, so I would be remiss not to thank them for everything they do to support me.”

“I think he has done a really good job of  bringing a lot of prosperity and economic development to the city of St Pete, which has impacted the entire region and Pinellas County as a whole, and that’s why I’m supporting him as a resident of Gulfport,” said Jennifer Webb, a local Democrat who ran against Kathleen Peters in the state House District 69 race last fall.

Regarding the lack of transparency issues that surfaced during the sewage crisis, Rice says that both the mayor and the council learned that they can communicate better concerning the various plans and money allocated in addressing the treatment of sewage moving forward.

“That will be one of the biggest challenges, and it’s a lesson on how good communication is a form of leadership,” she said.

Along with Rice, Councilman Charlie Gerdes also made a quick appearance, grandson in tow.

Rice and Amy Foster are the two incumbent members of the council who are up for re-election with Kriseman this year.

The mayor called both “dedicated servants for the city of St. Petersburg, and they need to be back for four more years at city council.”

Bob Buckhorn, Rick Kriseman and George Cretekos to offer “State of the Bay” address at Tiger Bay

The mayors of the three biggest cities representing the Tampa Bay area: Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman and Clearwater’s George Cretekos, will come together to address members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, January 31.

It will be a reunion of sorts for the three executive lawmakers, who participated in some campaign forums back in 2014 when they were all in support of the ultimately doomed Greenlight Pinellas transit tax proposal.

It’s an election year for Kriseman, who will undoubtedly give a positive spin on “The Sunshine City” that he has led since crushing Bill Foster in November of 2013.

In his State of the City address offered on Saturday, Kriseman touted the local economy, saying that new business registrations have increased by 105 percent since he took office, and nearly 175 percent on the Southside. He also insisted that his plan for a new Pier were on target, and compared it favorably to Tampa’s RiverWalk, referring to how it took over four decades for that project to ultimately become the jewel that is across the bay in Tampa.

Bob Buckhorn is always an engaging speaker, and undoubtedly some “Tigers” in the audience will be asking him about his plans (if any) in 2018. Whether he has anything more than a vague response to give his interlocutors to his plans would be revelatory, since he’s been keeping his ambitions close to the vest in recent months.

Mayor Cretekos was re-elected last year for a second four-year term in Clearwater.

The Tiger Bay lunch will take place on Tuesday, January 31, at high noon at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. N. in St. Petersburg.

If you’re not a member and want to attend the lunch, you can register here. 

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