Rick Kriseman Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Automation marketing startup choosing downtown St. Pete as second home

A Pennsylvania-based startup is making St. Petersburg its second home, bringing 20 jobs.

MXTR Automation, a digital marketing and marketing automation firm, is choosing downtown St. Petersburg for a new location, to open in the next 18 months.

Currently, the company is leasing space in St. Pete’s Tec Garage innovation center on Second Avenue North. MXTR develops software programs to automate marketing for franchises and other businesses.

According to MXTR Co-Founder and President Mickey Locey, St. Pete’s robust workforce will help guarantee the company’s success. Front end developers and account managers will be among the first hired, he added.

“St. Petersburg will provide us access to one of the broadest and deepest talent pools in the country with a business-friendly tax environment. The lifestyle the downtown affords is exactly what we are looking for,” Locey said in a statement.

Founded in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 2015, MXTR considered several other locations, including some in Florida, before choosing St. Petersburg.

“I couldn’t think of a better second home for MXTR. The technology and business ecosystems in St. Petersburg are truly second to none,” said MXTR founder Joe Mauro. “The concierge-level service provided by the EDC, City of St. Pete and Tec Garage have shown us just how great the opportunities are here.”

Mauro said what attracted MXTR was the city’s culture and its ability to draw highly skilled, creative talent as well as training and support offered by organizations such as the Greenhouse and the Iron Yard.

The Greenhouse is a collaboration between the City of St. Petersburg and St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce to promote innovation and economic growth. Iron Yard is a Tampa Bay area training and mentorship program for tech-focused education.

“St. Pete has become a community where creative, high-impact companies want to be,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “MXTR’s decision to locate here shows, once again, that St. Pete is a great place for these highly sought-after companies. We are excited to continue to support the creation more jobs in this thriving city we are so proud of.”

Michael Vivio of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation points to the MXTR deal as proof of continued momentum for the city’s economic growth as part of the Grow Smarter Strategy. The EDC will continue working with the company to aid in expansion and development, he said.


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.

Questions remain over St. Pete Pier’s estimated ‘return on investment’

This week, the City of St. Petersburg issued an economic impact report claiming the new St. Pete Pier — as part of its own district — would create $80 million in annual economic impact.

It would be “a complete return on investment in the first year of operation,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a news release.

That bold prediction caught the attention of WTSP’s Noah Pransky, who questioned some of the report’s findings.

To investigate, Pransky spoke with City Development Administrator Alan DeLisle, as well as the study’s author, Paul Lambert. Pransky also called on Victor Matheson, a Holy Cross economist, to review the report.

DeLisle said the $19,300 report was a “common tool” the city uses to make decisions on economic development. He also suggested the conclusions will help “disarm political opponents” of the Pier project, which is set to begin this summer.

Matheson expressed several concerns with the report, particularly with the assumption that the Pier would draw more than 200,000 tourists to add an extra night in Pinellas County.

Tourists are in Florida for sunshine and beaches, Matheson said, and while they may visit the Pier while in town, it’s unreasonable to call that spending “new income.” The money would be spent regardless of the existence of a new Pier.

Matheson also doubted the comparison of St. Pete’s Pier to Chicago’s Navy Pier and the Santa Monica pier.

“Who goes to Chicago just for the Navy Pier?” he asked.

Lambert’s study said the Pier district would create 102,000 new hotel room nights annually, as well as 1,080 full-time jobs throughout Pinellas County.

Many of assumptions were conservative, Lambert added, and the project should produce a major tourist attraction for the Tampa Bay region.

As for projected events at the Pier, questions remain as to whether other entertainment venues would suffer as a result — Tropicana Field, the Mahaffey Theater, Al Lang Stadium and other local concert venues.

Pransky suggests it is skeptical to believe the estimated $80 million economic impact would produce as much as $10 million in taxes annually, part of the claim that the Pier project would pay for itself in its first year.

Lastly, Pransky also questions the timing of the report — after many decisions on the project have already been made — wondering if it was politically motivated as the race for St. Petersburg mayor heats up.

#5 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Jeff Brandes

It seemed that in 2017, Jeff Brandes was involved in every facet of public policy in Tallahassee, introducing 43 separate bills for consideration even before Session began.

A year ago, the St. Petersburg Republican co-sponsored the initiative in the Legislature that led to the August passage of Amendment 4, the constitutional amendment giving tax breaks to companies that buy and install solar devices and equipment.

In the recently ended Session, Brandes sponsored bills on autonomous vehicles (where he has been the key legislative figure to push that technology in Florida), a task force on criminal justice reform, landmark legislation for regulating Uber and Lyft statewide, as well as the most “progressive” of five medical marijuana bills proposed in the Senate.

Initially sent to the Florida House in 2010 and the Senate in 2012, the 41-year-old former Iraq War veteran is content (for now) to wield increasing power in the State Capitol, declining entreaties from local Republicans to consider a run for St. Petersburg mayor against Democratic incumbent Rick Kriseman.

Brandes advanced three places from his 2016 showing, going from eighth to fifth.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like every time I turn around there is a headline with Brandes’ name. Most of them are good (he is an outspoken champion for improving transportation), but let me take advantage of this stage to make a request: Drop the whole civil liberties argument when it comes to passing a law that would make texting while driving a primary offense. You know it’s dangerous. I know it’s dangerous. Everyone does. Stop the charade. Carry on.”

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

#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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