Rick Kriseman Archives - Page 2 of 48 - SaintPetersBlog

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.

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.

Activists blasts Rick Baker’s ‘backward thinking’ on LGBT rights

A day after Rick Baker announced he would run again for St. Petersburg mayor, a group of LGBT leaders is scheduled to blast his record on LGBT issues.

At a press conference set outside of City Hall, the activists are expected to note that during Baker’s tenure leading the city from 2001-2010, he banned the gay pride flag from flying at City Hall, refused to attend gay pride events around the city and “refused to offer any support for the LGBT community,” according to a press release sent out early Wednesday.

“St. Petersburg has moved forward the past 3 years. We can never go back to a time when discrimination was ok in the mayors’ office,” said Susan McGrath, organizer of the event and the chair of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee. “We will be discussing the stakes in this election, and the type of candidate our community cannot stand with in August. We can’t go back to a mayor who is uncomfortable with the LGBT community, or any other.”

Baker is well aware that his record on gay rights will be a topic during his campaign against incumbent Rick Kriseman. Near the conclusion of his 33-minute speech announcing his candidacy on Tuesday, Baker noted that the issue is sure to come up, but affirmed his belief that the LGBT community is “a vital and important part of our community,” and said he had LGBT staffers working for him when he was previously mayor.

“If you were to look at my administration, we had people from the LGBT community at every level of my government, through the cabinet level,” he said, adding that he “hated to talk about groups like that, but I have to, because I’m being called this.”

“I think St Pete is a very diverse, welcoming community and some of the policies in the past weren’t as welcoming,” Kriseman said in reaction to Baker’s entrance in the race on Tuesday. “We have tried to open our doors to everyone, make everyone feel comfortable here and recognize the importance that everyone plays as a resident of the city and in the community, and so some of the policies of the past belong to stay in the past.”


Rick Baker responded this afternoon, saying in a statement:

“To reiterate my statements yesterday, I want residents to know St. Petersburg is better and stronger today because of our LGBTQ community, and as Mayor I will seek and protect equality for all.  I’m proud of the fact that my administration included members of the LGBT community in every level of government up-to and including the cabinet level, that I actively supported the re-election of the first openly gay member of City Council, who Rick Kriseman opposed, and that Kriseman himself has defended me in the past saying, ‘I know from person conversations that the Mayor clearly recognizes the positive impact the LGBT community has had on St. Petersburg.’ (6/24/09) Today, in his campaign to divide our city with Washington style partisan politics and hate, he apparently has changed his mind.

“I want the LGBTQ community to know I stand with and for them, and that while I may not have the support of every member of that community, I support them.”

St. Petersburg activists call for more work on safer, ‘Complete Streets’

Wednesday is “Bike to School Day,” but more work needs to be done to make anyone feel safer riding a bike on St. Petersburg’s streets, according to a new report by the Florida Consumer Action Network (FCAN),

“The design of our streets have consequences for our health,” says FCAN campaign organizer Lisa Frank.

Specifically, the report says nearly half of all adults in Pinellas County don’t get enough exercise, contributing to heart disease and diabetes. People living in neighborhoods with inadequate walking and biking infrastructure were less likely to walk or bike to work and more likely to suffer from health problems related to inactivity and air pollution.

There were 14 pedestrian fatalities last year, nine of them occurring in South St. Petersburg.

At an FCAN news conference late Tuesday morning at Perkins Elementary School on 18th Avenue South, several speakers were drowned out at times by speeding motorists driving by.

“Many streets in St. Pete were designed decades ago for the fast movement of cars,” Frank noted. “If you want to ride a bike on 18th Avenue South, you have the choice of dodging pedestrians on a sometimes narrow sidewalk or taking your chances on the road.”

“Whatever you choose,” she adds, “there’s conflict between the different route because the city wasn’t really set up to accommodate people on bikes.”

Activists want St. Petersburg officials to embrace “Complete Street” initiatives.

Complete Streets are defined as streets designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

“We’re proud of the investments we’ve made throughout the city, including the more than 100 flashing crosswalk beacons to help people of all ages cross the street safely, but we know we need to do more,” says Mayor Rick Kriseman. “That’s why we are embracing Complete Streets: a new approach to build, maintain, and operate streets that are safe for people of all ages and abilities, while balancing the needs of multiple travel modes like using a wheelchair, biking, or accessing transit.”

But Kriseman says the city can do more, adding that transportation officials are continuing to find more locations around the city to create safe crossings to schools, parks and grocery stores.

Frank says the report lays out four recommendations, including creating more protected bike lanes (where there is a buffer between a cyclist and a motorist), lowering speed limits in parts of the city, creating more neighborhood greenways and investing “adequately” in complete streets annually.


St. Pete to provide free grocery shuttle from Midtown to nearby Wal-Mart starting May 13

To address food insecurity in South St. Petersburg, the city will start offering free transportation from Midtown’s Tangerine Plaza to the nearest Wal-Mart supercenter at Central Plaza.

In February, Wal-Mart closed its Tangerine Plaza Neighborhood Market, one of the few major grocery stores servicing Midtown. The city will offer the free 13-week Midtown Grocery Pilot Program beginning Saturday, May 13 and continue Saturdays in May, June, July and August.

A mini-shuttle bus will transport up to 25 passengers from Tangerine Plaza, 1794 22nd St. S. to the Wal-Mart Supercenter, at 201 34th St. N., about 2.5 miles.

In a statement Tuesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the shuttle will be for those residents “facing transportation challenges,” and who relied on the former Tangerine Plaza Wal-Mart. The project is part of an effort to focus on food insecurity as the city measures the demand for a future grocery store in the Plaza.

The shuttle schedule will be between the hours of 9:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. every Saturday starting May 13. There will be four pickups at Tangerine Plaza, unless there is a traffic delay: departing the Plaza on the hour at 10 a.m.; 11 a.m.; Noon; and 1 p.m. The mini-shuttle will leave from the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the half-hour: at 10:30 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.; 12:30 p.m.; with the last departure at 1:30 p.m.

A driver will arrive at Tangerine Plaza at 9:45 a.m. and wait for passengers in the parking lot area near the overhang of the former Wal-Mart Neighborhood Store.

Kriseman said the city will distribute “Healthy St. Pete” cloth shopping bags four shuttle passengers along with a voluntary rider survey, to gauge need and usage of the service.

Rick Kriseman on Rick Baker announcement — it’s about moving St. Pete forward, not back

This morning, Rick Kriseman was working and thus didn’t hear Rick Baker blast his nearly three-and-a-half year tenure as St. Petersburg mayor.

It was an aggressive performance by the former mayor against the current one, and Kriseman — without knowing the exact contents of Baker’s fusillade, opted to maintain a theme that it’s about moving the city forward, not back into the last decade.

“Well, I think it’s up to the voters to decide if they don’t like what’s happening,” the mayor said following a news conference he held with members of the Florida Consumer Action Network on a Complete Streets program in St. Petersburg (story to follow).

“We have record economic growth, and quality of life has improved,” Kriseman said. “We’ve invested in issues of homelessness and in our small businesses, investing in our kids in the community, brought crime rates down. Out police and fire departments are as strong as it’s ever been, and we’ve done it without raising taxes … so I leave it up to the voters to decide if we’re doing a bad job. “

A big element of the Kriseman re-elect theme is that he and the city are more socially welcoming of all types. Baker referred to that aspect in his speech, mentioning in the final minutes that he had members of the LGBT community who worked with him when he served in City Hall. But Baker notably never attended a Pride march, and that is something that Kriseman noted on Tuesday.

“I think St Pete is a very diverse, welcoming community and some of the policies in the past weren’t as welcoming. We have tried to open our doors to everyone, make everyone feel comfortable here and recognize the importance that everyone plays as a resident of the city and in the community, and so some of the policies of the past belong to stay in the past.”

When asked specifically what he was referring to, Kriseman said, “Not only raising the pride flag over City Hall to walking in the parade to holding the city’s first Iftar dinner … we are diverse, and intolerant of intolerance.”

Krisemans’ former colleague on the City Council, Leslie Curran, announced Tuesday her support for Baker, after endorsing Kriseman four years ago, mentioning that she was “disappointed” in his tenure at City Hall.

“There’s going to be people who support me, and there’s going to be people who don’t support me,” Kriseman said in response. “And that’s OK.”


Rick Kriseman needs to respond forcefully to Rick Baker’s Trumpian ‘St. Petersburg carnage’

It’s been seven years since Rick Baker exited City Hall as its most powerful, successful mayor. Hardly a day has gone by that someone — perhaps this site more so than anywhere else — has wondered whether he’d have to, like Cincinnatus, come in from the fields to save the city he loves.

Today, St. Petersburg received Baker’s response, as he forcefully declared that he would challenge Rick Kriseman in what wrestling promoters would call a loser-leaves-town match.

Before I analyze what I thought was a semi-dystopian speech by Baker, I need to make it clear that SaintPetersBlog, both the site and the publisher behind it, are neutral in this race.

That may be hard to believe given my extensive history with Baker, but I owe it to the readers of SPB — which basically launched in 2009 to improve upon the lackluster coverage by the local media of that year’s mayoral race — to provide the best, most even-handed analysis of this race.

So, for now, my heart may be with Rick Baker, but my mind and keyboard have no allegiance.

It’s with that declaration that I can say today’s launch by Baker was good but not great.

Baker and his fledgling campaign — still building a campaign website, repurposing old logos and slogans, making sure the phone lines don’t go to other candidate’s voicemails — did a solid job building a crowd for the speech. (It deserves extra points for making sure the launch took place early enough in the day so as to avoid the warm Florida sun.)

It was reassuring to see local campaign veterans Nick Hansen and Brigitta Shouppe circulating behind the scenes. Jim Rimes‘ presence means Baker has one of the best in the consulting business to offer strategic guidance.

It’s hard not to chuckle at media consultant Adam Goodman‘s inexhaustible repertoire of making sure everyone knows he is attached to a candidate. But he’s also a pro who knows how to cut a sharp commercial.

Functioning as one part crowd-builder and one part carnival barker, Amscot executive and former mayoral candidate Deveron Gibbons never stopped moving as he glad-handed almost everyone at the event. He even tried to be kind to me.

Gibbons: “I hear we’re getting together soon.”

Me: “No, I don’t think so.”

Gibbons: “But <name redacted> mentioned we’d be getting together.”

Me: “No. That won’t be happening.”

Gibbons: “Um … OK.”

Me: “Exactly.”

Standing behind Baker was a coalition as diverse as a big-city parade.

“Look, there’s Wengay Newton!”

“That’s Minister So-and-so!”

“Why is the guy who sells OxyClean standing behind Rick?”

As for Baker’s speech … I really don’t know where to begin other than to say it’s exactly not what I would have wanted Baker to say.

First of all, it was mercilessly too long. By minute thirty, people were done looking at their watches. By minute forty-five, people started worrying about being late to work.

Second, the former mayor employed too many sentences that only served to remind people of his former mayorishness.

Mind you, no one in the crowd was unfamiliar with the encyclopedia of Baker’s many, many accomplishments.

Baker could have had everything done in 20 minutes, just saying: “I got sh-t done.” Not even the most loyal supporter of Rick Kriseman would disagree.

But it was Baker’s view of the present St. Pete that was more alarming than his insistence on focusing on the past.

Like Donald Trump, who stood on the National Mall and bemoaned the “American carnage,” Baker did everything but describe the St. Petersburg carnage.

“They have no successes,” Baker said, before blasting Kriseman for failing to build a new Pier.

City Hall is bleeding money, Baker added. The baseball team is leaving, Baker warned. The black community is ignored, Baker opined.

And running the Sunshine City into the ground, Baker contends, is Kriseman and a coterie of overpaid political appointees accountable to no one.

Oh, and by the way, the entire town is covered in sh-t because Kriseman broke the sewer system.

Not that this isn’t a compelling argument. Undoubtedly, it’s the kind of thing I know Baker has heard, including from me, every day since Kriseman entered City Hall.

But the truth is, St. Pete is doing fine. It has big ticket issues it must solve. And Rick Baker is probably the better executive to solve those issues.

But little about St. Pete is, as Baker said today, “disastrous.”

That’s why, if he wants to win, Kriseman needs to double-down on his criticism of Baker.

Don’t, as John Romano seems to want, keep the race a low-key affair.

Blast, and blast away. Nonstop.

The message is simple. Just as it was simple for Joe Biden when articulating the rationale for Barack Obama‘s re-election in 2012.

“Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” the Vice President said throughout the 2012 campaign.

“The Rays are still here and a new Pier and sewer system are on the way,” is what Kriseman surrogates should say every day between now and the election.

Meantime, they should knock it off about Baker being against black people because he didn’t support Obama. Didn’t Baker endorse Herman Cain for president? Yes he did, proving that Baker has no issues with a black man in the White House.

As for my advice for Baker, it’s the same as it ever was. Don’t let your candidacy be about you “saving” the city. Again, the city is fine. It can be better, but to return to my Roman Republic reference above, the barbarians are not at the gate.

Voters want a vision of St. Petersburg in 2021, not a nostalgia tour of the city from 2001.

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 picks-up major endorsements from South St. Pete leaders

Rick Kriseman announced a number of high-profile endorsements from St. Petersburg’s African-American community Friday as he continues to build momentum for his re-election.

State Senator Darryl Rouson, County Commissioner Ken Welch, School Board member Rene Flowers and City Council Vice-Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman all said they would be supporting Kriseman.

“Mayor Kriseman has led on important issues and confronted big challenges” said Welch, who has served on the Pinellas County Commission since 2000. “His leadership has helped to bridge what was once a considerable divide between St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Working together, we have established the South St. Pete Community Redevelopment Area and provided the necessary funding for major projects. Mayor Kriseman deserves four more years.”

“The mayor understands the importance of public education and has fought to protect our public schools throughout his career” said Flowers, who served on the city council with Kriseman back in the aughts. “As mayor, he has not only been a presence in our schools but a regular mentor to students. Partnerships are the backbone of a strong and vibrant community where our youth can thrive, imagine, and grow. I look forward to continuing to work alongside him to ensure our students are being well-served.”

“I ran for city council to make our neighborhoods safer and to expand opportunities in a part of town that had long been under resourced,” said Wheeler-Bowman. “Mayor Kriseman has been a strong leader, a forceful advocate for sensible gun laws, and has worked tirelessly to bring economic development to my district.”

“The Kriseman Administration is creating opportunity south of Central through sustainable economic development and opportunity creation,” added Rouson, who has represented parts of South St. Pete in the Legislature since 2008. “I am especially grateful for his decision to ‘Ban the Box’, allowing for job applicants to simply be judged on their ability to do the job. I know Rick Kriseman and I know he is the right choice for St. Petersburg.”

Kriseman said he was proud of the endorsements.

“Working together, we have begun to make real progress for the residents and business owners of South St. Pete,” he said. “Due to numerous initiatives, including the 2020 Plan and our innovative community redevelopment plan, poverty is down and jobs and new business registrations are up. But there is still much more to do.”

Kriseman has a handful of opponents who have declared their intention to run against him this year, but his most formidable opponent, former Mayor Rick Baker, has yet to declare whether he will challenge Kriseman.

Polls indicate that Baker is the only candidate who could stop Kriseman from getting another four years as St. Pete’s mayor. The two men pushed aside their partisan differences and celebrated together this past week, as the Tampa Bay Rowdies overwhelmingly won a referendum that could allow them to expand the seating capacity at Al Lang Stadium.

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