Rick Baker Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Pinellas GOP heavyweights raising money for Rick Baker on Wednesday in Clearwater Beach

Former Mayor Rick Baker continues building momentum in his quest to return for a third term as St. Petersburg Mayor.

Coming off a successful campaign kickoff event last week, Baker, who served two terms from 2001-2010, is following with another high-profile reception Wednesday in Clearwater Beach.

Co-chairs of the event – with the tagline “Proven Leadership” – include renowned attorney Brian Aungst Jr., former Pinellas GOP Chair Jay Beyrouti and restaurateur (and one-time “Mr. Clearwater”) Frank Chivas.

According to the invite, the blockbuster bipartisan host committee includes more than four dozen prominent Pinellas County state and municipal leaders such as State Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jack Latvala, state Reps. Kathleen Peters, Wengay Newton, Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls, former state Rep. (and Senate candidate) Ed Hooper, Pinellas County Clerk Ken Burke, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Property Appraiser Mike Twitty, Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters, North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen, Treasure Island Mayor Robert Minning, Oldsmar Vice Mayor Dan Saracki and more.

In last week’s kickoff at the Morean Arts Center, Baker pushed his vision of “A Seamless City,” and the slogan “I’m ready to serve.” Wednesday’s event – attended by much of the Pinellas County political elite – will sure to continue that theme. Baker is facing incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The reception begins 5:30 p.m. at the Island Way Grill, 20 Island Way in Clearwater. Those interested in attending can RSVP with Rick Porter at (407) 849-1112 or rick@politicalcapitalflorida.com.

At campaign appearance, Rick Kriseman says the election is all about moving St. Pete forward

To a cheering crowd of supporters Friday night, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman expressed what will be undoubtedly the predominant theme of his re-election campaign this summer.

Kriseman said the election between himself and former Mayor Rick Baker is a simple choice: whether citizens want to keep moving forward or go back in time.

“It’s about us deciding as a community who we want to be,” the mayor told more than a hundred people who crammed into a house on North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and 16th Ave. that will serve as his campaign headquarters. “What kind of city do we want to be?”

“You hear me talk about our vision of being a city of opportunity, where the sun shines on all who live, work and play (here),” he continued. “That’s the kind of community we want to be, and that’s what we’re going to be deciding in this election.”

This was perhaps Kriseman’s biggest engagement with the public since he formally declared his candidacy for re-election at Three Birds Tavern four months ago.

Even back then, rumors were getting serious that the popular, twice-elected Baker was thinking of returning to city politics, after several years in the private sector working for entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

Since he stepped down from office at the beginning of 2010, Baker flirted with running for several political offices, but never ultimately pulled the trigger on any. It led to some skepticism about whether he would even come back to challenge Kriseman.

Since entering the race May 9, he’s made an impression, starting with a fiery public takedown of Kriseman at his lengthy campaign kickoff.

After that, there have been a few fundraisers, but none bigger than Tuesday night at the Morean Arts Center for Clay, where Baker premiered a new television ad and offered supporters a copy of his 2011 opus, “The Seamless City” (apparently there were plenty of copies still sitting in boxes somewhere).

In a brief five-minute address, Kriseman touched on one of the most vulnerable parts of his record — the issues with sewage spills in 2015 and 2016 and his administration’s ability to level with the public about them. In his address, he touched upon the incident, but segued to referring to the storm’s intensity and who can best contend with acknowledging the realities of climate change.

“We experienced over an 18-month time rains that we hadn’t ever seen before, and I’m not afraid to talk about climate change and sea level rising,” he said, before getting in a dig at Baker for inheriting a sewage system that wasn’t fully funded.

“For too long though we’ve invested in our system, we haven’t invested enough because if we had, we wouldn’t be dealing with those issues today. but we’re going to fix it,” Kriseman declared. “We are committed to investing $305 million over the next five years and then beyond.”

Opening up for Kriseman at the event were members of St. Petersburg’s Democratic all-star team: City Council Chair Darden Rice, County Commissioner Ken Welch and Congressman Charlie Crist, who twice Kriseman referred to as “Governor Crist” (because it’s something that people call Crist).

Segueing from sewage to his credentials as an environmentalist, Kriseman became nostalgic over a bonding moment with Crist in 2010.

The mayor reminisced about the time when he, along with two other state Democrats, called for a special session to propose a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot to prohibit drilling for oil or natural gas within state waters.

Crist was all for it, but the Legislature didn’t agree.

The themes pounded into the crowd’s head: Moving forward as a city with a leader who is inclusive.

Welch began by saying about the current environment in Tallahassee and Washington D.C.: “Two words come to mind — regression and progress.”

You can guess who represents who in Team Kriseman’s eyes.

Welch said that in all his time in office (since 2000), city-county relations have never been better; Kriseman deserved a big share of the credit for helping to establish that level of cooperation.

Rice talked up some of the policies that have been achieved under the Kriseman administration: increased minimum wage for city workers, establishing a parental leave policy, “banning the box” on job applications,

There was no mention of Baker during the event, except for one passing comment by Rice, while praising Kriseman as an inclusive mayor: “That wasn’t the message from the other guy who announced his re-election campaign a few weeks ago.”

Although one poll shows Kriseman down by double-digits to Baker, attendees are convinced Kriseman will come out on top this year.

“The city of St Petersburg has changed a lot since Mayor Baker was in office. so the DNA in our city has become much more forward thinking and much more progressive, and that bodes well for a Kriseman re-election,” said Mark Ferrulo, the executive director of Progress Florida, a liberal activist organization.

He acknowledges, though, that the race will be extremely competitive.

Some 2013 Kriseman voters who say they’ll vote for Baker this time around say they’ve been “disappointed” by the Democrat incumbent. That includes some of the same progressive base that Kriseman believes is the key to his re-election strategy.

City Councilman Charlie Gerdes doesn’t understand that sentiment against Baker, a Republican who chides Kriseman for making the race partisan.

“If they voted for Rick they should have understood that Rick was a progressive and that the vision and values were going to change,” Gerdes said, “and to the extent that people are disappointed that things haven’t happened fast enough, I get that.”

“But if you’re going to vote for a progressive and you’re disappointed, and you go to Rick Baker, that’s inexplicable to me,” Gerdes added, shaking his head.

“I just don’t get that.”

Photo courtesy of Kim DeFalco.

 

City Council candidate Barclay Harless talks ‘big ticket’ plans

Rick Baker‘s entrance into the mayoral race may have sucked up a lot of the public attention in St. Petersburg’s political atmosphere this spring. However, there an interesting race is emerging between two capable candidates in St. Petersburg City Council District 2.

Realtor Brandi Gabbard and banker Barclay Harless are vying to succeed a term-limited Jim Kennedy later this year.

Although Harless holds a fundraising lead, Gabbard actually raised more campaign cash in April.

At Central Avenue’s Oyster Bar Thursday night, friends of Harless hosted a downtown meet-and-greet event.

Harless says that the voters he’s been speaking to are focused on “big-ticket” items, which he characterized as the Pier, the Rays stadium issue, the soon-to-be-constructed police station, and the city budget. He also says he’s heard a lot about the need for more affordable housing, referring to a recent conversation with a St. Petersburg police officer.

“I’m obviously interested in community policing and being part of the community,” he says, “And they tell me that they’re not living in St. Pete, that a lot of them have families, and they can’t afford it. That’s an affordable homes issue.”

Councilman Karl Nurse recently called for the city to take more than $20 million slated for Penny for Pinellas projects and put them into the Downtown Tax Increment Finance district to spend money on affordable housing and mass transit.

Another issue that Harless says he hears about is infrastructure spending. In the wake of the well-publicized sewage spills in 2015 and 2016, the city announced plans to spend more than $300 million to improve the sewer system, but Harless says that it’s important for the next council and future ones to remain vigilant on the issue.

“Everybody wants to put money toward it now, but in four to five years, we’re going to have to keep following through, so twenty years from now we’re not scratching our heads wondering why folks didn’t stand up and get it done,” he says.

Nick Janovsky, Harless’ campaign manager, says he feels “phenomenal” about how the campaign is going to date, referring to in part to the endorsements received from Republican Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni and Democratic St. Pete Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman.

The Kennedy endorsement was another big development — and a surprising one at that.

“He normally stayed away from endorsements, but he’s seen Barclay work on the Charter Review and St. Pete Chamber of Commerce,” Janovsky says of that development.

Janovsky says that the Harless campaign has much respect for Gabbard, saying, “I think she’s a credible opponent.”

At the Oyster Bar, Kenwood resident Mark Lombardi sung Harless’ praises, calling him a “mentor and leader in the community.”

Lombardi has known Harless since they both attended USFSP; he says he immediately called Harless when he learned about the run for office this year.

“We need people who are data driven, we need people to take logic and apply it directly,” Lombardi said enthusiastically. “Barclay is taking a model of productivity, ingenuity and innovation and applying it to city government. I love that.”

The primary election takes place on August 29. As of now, Gabbard and Harless are the only two candidates in the race.

Rick Baker airing first TV ad

Rick Baker is going up with his first campaign ad.

The former St. Petersburg mayor, who served from 2001-2010, wants his old job back. But to do so, he’ll have to wrest it away from incumbent Rick Kriseman. 

Kriseman’s first ad went up two weeks ago. Baker’s is going up today on local cable news stations in the Tampa Bay area. He debuted it Tuesday night at a fundraiser in Midtown.

Watch below:

 

Rick Baker emphasizes education issues during fundraiser in south St Pete

Upon taking the stage Tuesday night, Rick Baker made a promise to the hundreds of supporters in attendance at the Morean Arts Center for Clay.

Baker vowed he wouldn’t speak as long as he did on the steps of City Hall two weeks earlier when he officially announced a bid for Mayor of St. Petersburg.

He kept to that promise, clocking in with an address that lasted a little more than 22 minutes. While some of it was a rehash of the themes that he talked about on May 9, Baker said he wouldn’t spend any time in getting into it with his main rival, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman.

That promise he did not keep.

Referring to how St. Petersburg became the state’s first “Green City” back on his watch in December of 2006, Baker said “It’s hard to maintain that green cities status when you dump 200 million gallons of sewage in the Bay,” referring to the sewage spills that occurred on Kriseman’s watch the past two summers and his reaction to them, eliciting a huge mocking cheer from the crowd.

“If you hear anybody talking about the environment, I want you to remind them that it’s hard to stay a green city when you do that. We’re going to fix that problem,” Baker declared. “I promise you, we will fix that!” before being drowned out by more cheers.

There was a spirit of bonhomie at the event, and why not? Buoyed by a recent St. Pete Polls survey that has him up by double-digits over Kriseman, Baker said at the onset of his speech that he wanted to talk about the future of St. Petersburg, though he spent a considerable amount of time recounting the past, when he served as mayor from the spring of 2001 until January of 2010.

Baker spoke about how people laughed at him when he declared in 2001 that he wanted to make St. Petersburg the best city in America, but “nobody questions” that claim now, at least not in St. Pete.

“We’re arrogant about it now. We really do believe that, but it’s not assured that it’s always going to be that,” Baker said, saying that the plan is the same for any city in America — public safety, good schools, economic development, strong neighborhoods and being fiscally responsible.

Regarding public safety, Baker said that going after drugs in the community is the “number one thing that you should do,” and decried the removal of the street crimes unit from the St. Petersburg Police Dept.

He boasted about streamlining government, referring to the fact that almost 300 positions in city government were eliminated during his tenure (some of that had to do with the loss of revenue to the city following the recession). He vowed to bring back one specific position, however, a deputy mayor for neighborhoods.

Baker also talked about how involved he was in education in St. Petersburg when he was elected, even though he was told that at the time that wasn’t part of the mayor’s portfolio.  He said that it was and it is, because a lack of good schools will prevent people moving into neighborhoods and businesses from entering the community.

He then went over the panoply of programs that he implemented to improve the schools when he was in office, including a mentorship program created in 2001 where the city partnered the city with local schools to recruit and train volunteers from the city, businesses and the community.

“We need to work in partnership with the school board,” he said. “It is not acceptable for our schools to be where they are.”

Although he didn’t name names, the after effects of the Tampa Bay Times series on “Failure Factories” regarding five Midtown schools continues to resonate as an issue, nearly two years after those stories were first published.

Cracia Richmond works as an assistant at Lakewood Elementary, one of the five South St. Pete schools cited in that piece. A Kriseman supporter in 2013, Richmond says she will vote for Baker this year.

“He’s been a great leader for us, and I feel that we need that back in our community,” she said Tuesday while awaiting Baker’s appearance.

“I’m not happy with a few things,” was her answer when asked why she’s not backing Kriseman this year. “I would say some of the things happening in the public schools. I work in the public school system, I assist in the classrooms, and I just feel that we need a lot of support.”

Kriseman says he’s done plenty of work on schools since becoming mayor.

Speaking to FloridaPolitics.com earlier this month, Kriseman referred to several programs: Take Stock in Children scholarships; a mentorship program with city workers; matching businesses with schools to provide resources for education and reading more opportunities for students; anti-bullying initiatives; service learning and mini-grants with the Pinellas Education Foundation; pairing college students with high school students for mentorship, and has in Leah McRae a dedicated schools liaison from City Hall to focus on the city’s resources on its schools.

Rick Baker hosting first major fundraiser in mayoral bid

Former two-time St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is hosting the first official fundraiser kicking off his bid for a third term against incumbent Rick Kriseman.

The reception is tonight (May 23) beginning 5:30 p.m. at the Morean Center for Clay St. Pete’s Warehouse Arts District.

Baker, who served two terms as mayor from 2001-2010, officially filed paperwork for his campaign May 8, making the formal announcement on the steps of City Hall the next day.

On April 11, Baker supporters registered Seamless Florida, the political committee tied to Baker’s campaign. The committee’s name is a take on one of Baker’s books on governing.

RSVPs for the event are at bakerstpete.com, by contacting Rick Porter at (407) 849-1112, rick@politicalcapitalflorida.com or with Gretchen Picotte at (407) 849-1112, gp@politicalcapitalflorida.com.

Morean Center for Clay is located at 420 22nd St. S. in St. Petersburg.

#7 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Rick Kriseman

Rick Kriseman, the 54-year-old Detroit native, is feeling confident as he runs for re-election this fall, even though polls show that a November confrontation with former Mayor Rick Baker could go either way.

But Team Kriseman thinks that “The Sunshine City” is much different place than the last decade, and that his progressive agenda is more in tune with a community that continues to flourish.

“Only the most cynical of partisans wouldn’t agree that St. Pete’s continuing renaissance and bright future is in no small part due to his many successful initiatives and bold leadership,” says Progress Florida’s Mark Ferrulo.

The mayor is coming off a rough 2016, with the lack of transparency regarding the city’s sewage system earning the most criticism in his first term in office.

A big bet (that won’t be known until next year) is his administration’s plan to retain the Tampa Bay Rays by luring them back to a redeveloped footprint at Tropicana Field.

The rising costs of the Pier project make that one piece of the puzzle that Kriseman hasn’t figured out as he goes deeper into his re-elect campaign, and Baker is promising to make that an issue all summer.

The mayor moves up from the No. 9 slot in 2016.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“Kriseman will have some ‘splainin’ to do if he hopes to survive what surely will be a bruising re-election battle with Rick Baker. The sewage fiasco last year won’t be forgotten, and his performance during that stinky time wasn’t exactly stellar. That aside, he has presided over a renaissance in St. Petersburg that is truly impressive. I like how he stressed cross-bay cooperation, but I do think his push to build a Rays stadium next to Tropicana Field is delusional. More people don’t come to Rays games because the Trop is bad. They don’t’ come because of where it is located.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

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

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.

Now an official candidate, Rick Baker still leads Rick Kriseman by double-digits, new poll shows

The race for St. Petersburg mayor is heating up, with a new poll showing Rick Baker with a double-digit lead over Rick Kriseman.

A new St. Pete Polls survey finds Baker with 46 percent of registered St. Petersburg voters saying they would pick him in a head-to-head matchup, while 33 percent are with Kriseman. Twenty percent of voters polled said they were unsure.

Baker has held a wide margin over Kriseman for months now. A St. Pete Polls survey conducted Jan. 30 showed Baker would defeat Kriseman by 10 points — 47 percent to 37 percent. At the time, 16 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

“No matter what the polls say we will run hard to the finish,” said Baker in a statement. “I understand that I need to earn every vote and I intend to do that. My goal is, for all of us together, to build a seamless city.”

Although the mayoral race is non-partisan, Baker received strong support from Republicans, with nearly 73 percent of GOP’ers saying they had a favorable opinion of him. The poll found 49 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independent voters have a favorable opinion of Baker.

The survey found nearly 61 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Kriseman, while nearly 43 percent of independent voters said they had a favorable opinion of him. Republicans don’t think highly of Kriseman, with nearly 57 percent of Republicans saying they had an unfavorable view of the first-term mayor.

More than 44 percent of respondents said the city’s recent sewage issues will be a “major factor” in their decision for who they vote for in the upcoming mayoral race; while 36 percent said it will be a “minor factor.” About 15 percent of respondents said it won’t be “a factor at all.”

Baker, who announced he was running for mayor earlier this month, led City Hall from 2001 until 2010.

The survey of 1,237 registered voters was conducted on May 16. The poll — conducted for FloridaPolitics.com — has a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Rick Baker recognizes previous stances on LGBT community will be campaign issue; Will it make a difference?

Near the end of Rick Baker‘s 36-minute speech announcing a re-election challenge to Mayor Rick Kriseman, the former two-term mayor invoked his mantra of St. Petersburg being a “seamless city” — and that includes the LGBT community.

“A lot has been said about me and the LGBT community by my opponent and by others,” he said on the steps of City Hall last week, without acknowledging why that was an issue when he was mayor and continues now as a candidate. “I want you to know that I believe that the LGBT community is a vital and important part of our community. I believe that when we work together, we have to work together with everyone.”

During Baker’s first go-round as mayor, from 2001-2010, he showed little interest in reaching out to that community.

As St. Petersburg’s annual Gay Pride parade grew to become one of the biggest celebrations of its kind in the entire Southeast, Baker assiduously eschewed attending the event. Nor did he ever hang the Pride flag over City Hall, a gesture Kriseman undertook during his first year in office.

“Personally, I don’t support the general agenda of the Pride event,” Baker told the then-St. Petersburg Times back in 2005. “And there are mixed feelings in the community. I’ve gotten petitions signed by hundreds of people who oppose the festival.”

One day after formally declaring his candidacy, a group of about two dozen activists gathered on those same City Hall front steps to denounce Baker’s historical relationship with the LGBT community.

The event was organized by Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Susan McGrath, a major backer of Kriseman.

“St. Petersburg is not the same city it was 15 years ago, and we don’t need to look any further than the people who’ve been elected to office,” McGrath says, referring to the fact that there are currently three members of the LGBT community that sit on the eight-member City Council.

McGrath acknowledges that while the total population of the LGBT community in the city is “finite,” a much bigger part of the electorate are the citizens that identify as wanting to live in a fair and welcoming city.

“So, if you’re a candidate for office, and you don’t want people to recognize your record on that,” McGrath muses, “I can run a campaign that might be over in August or November. I’m going to try to sweep some things under the carpet so that I don’t lose any more votes than I have to.”

Over the past two years, St. Petersburg’s reputation as an inclusive city for the LGBT community solidified with a top ranking from the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. The score judged municipalities in five categories: nondiscrimination laws, employment policies, city services, law enforcement and municipal leadership.

Organizers of St. Pete Pride say that since the event expanded to three full days, the economic impact has grown from $10-million to over $20-million.

While appreciating the reference to the LGBT community in his speech, some people in St. Petersburg remain skeptical if Baker has evolved on the issue of gay rights, or if it’s more of an election year conversion.

“Is this just for his political gain now that he knows that the LGBT community is a very vital and important part of our community, or is he genuine?” asks Equality Florida member Todd Richardson. He said that in his conversations with people in the LGBT community in the immediate aftermath of his campaign speech, he’s heard some people want to give Baker the benefit of the doubt on his evolution on gay rights and have the opportunity to sit down with him, but others remain dubious when he’s never been willing to do so in the past.

“I go by what someone’s done in the history of representing a city,” adds Ed Lally, a Democratic Party activist. “And he has a giant ‘F’ on his report card for any advancement of LGBT equality.”

Lally says he doesn’t have to question what’s in Kriseman’s heart when it comes to supporting diversity.

Others in the LGBT community aren’t as judgmental.

Jim Jackson is a Democratic Party activist running in the City Council District 6 race this year who stood behind McGrath at Wednesday’s news conference criticizing Baker.

“I was surprised and really encouraged that he would include that (reference to the LGBT community) in the last part of his speech,” Jackson said. “I very carefully listened to that, and after he was done, I went up and thanked him for being inclusionary in that part of his speech.”

“I will tell you that has never been a single time in all of the years that I have known Rick Baker, when my gender, my sexual orientation or any other personal status was at all significant in the way that he interacted with me, either on a professional or personal level,” says Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan, who moved up the ranks in the SPPD during Baker’s two terms as mayor.

“He was always my boss first, but he was also a mentor and a friend. But in every circumstance, he was fair and accepting of who I was. It was simply a non-issue.”

The two bonded, in part, over the fact that they are both parents of adopted children, Bevan says. Baker was one of the first people to contact her after Bevan announced she would be leaving the St. Petersburg Police Department to take the top job in Bradenton.

Chris Eaton, a local business official and former Democratic candidate for City Council and state representative, says the LGBT community vote is not a monolithic one.

“Not all LGBT members go to Pride and march, and not everybody wants to get married,” says Eaton. “Some people are concerned about the arts, and some people are worried about wastewater. Some people are concerned about straight talking honesty coming out of City Hall. And some people are concerned about their tax dollars that might not be fiscally responsible,” he said, reeling off a list of criticisms of Kriseman.

City Council Chair Darden Rice says she hopes that Baker understands that “the ball is in his court” to demonstrate a deeper understanding of why diversity is important.

“He has to go beyond equivocations, go beyond half-hearted statements, and really demonstrate that he understands and cares why this issue is important, and perhaps even acknowledge why some people in the community aren’t quite trusting him on this issue just yet,” Rice says.

“I like Rick Baker. I think he’s a good person,” adds Annie Hiotis, chief operating officer of the Tampa law firm of Carlton Fields. “I think he did some good things when he way mayor, but he certainly didn’t put diversity in the forefront at all, and when you’re the CEO of an institution, you’ve got to make that a priority for a city to reach its full potential.”

One potential opportunity for Baker to demonstrate his bona fides on the issue is to show up at the Pride Parade next month. Another, suggests Lally, is for the former mayor to sit down with Nadine Smith, the head of Equality Florida. “I think that would be a big signal to the LGBT community,” he says.

St. Petersburg-based political strategist Barry Edwards says Baker’s inclusion of LGBT rights in his speech “shows his sensitivity to the issue in the Saint Petersburg of today.”

“However at the end of the day the race for mayor will be decided upon by whom voters feel is a more competent steward of moving St. Petersburg forward,” he says.

Early polling in the Kriseman-Baker race suggests that it will be a close election.

In a city that went for Hillary Clinton last fall with nearly 60 percent of the vote, the demographics favor Kriseman.

In his campaign speech, Baker dismissed partisanship, saying, “that’s all they’ve got,” while betting that deep-seated relations with the electorate and dissatisfaction with the current administration will transcend party affiliation in what is officially considered a nonpartisan race.

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