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‘Time to take the gloves off,’ a key Rick Kriseman supporter tells volunteers

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman can sound almost cerebral when he makes a case for re-election over his chief opponent, former Mayor Rick Baker.

Rene Flowers is much more visceral.

“It is time for the gloves to come off,” the Pinellas County School Board member and top surrogate for the Kriseman campaign declared to a group of supporters about to canvass for Kriseman on Saturday morning in South St. Pete.

“Quite frankly, we’ve attempted to run a campaign that is based on civility. We’ve attempted to run a campaign that is based on facts, and we will continue to do so, but we truly see that’s not what the opposition is doing, so it’s time for the gloves to come off,” Flowers began in a fiery address designed to stimulate the volunteers assembled to canvass the south side of town.

Flowers went on to discuss her 25-year-old son Jeremy, who was arrested on drug charges in 2013 and later served time at Taylor Correctional Institute. She said that he and other young black males who have made mistakes in St. Petersburg have been given new opportunities to make something of themselves thanks to Kriseman’s championing of a “Ban-the-Box” initiative. The ordinance eliminated the box on city applications that require job seekers to reveal prior criminal convictions. Flowers says Jeremy is now campaigning for Kriseman’s re-election “because he believes he truly is the answer for our community for so many young African-American males and females who are not given a chance because they made a mistake.”

Flowers and Kriseman served together for seven years on the City Council, with both elected in 1999. Baker was the mayor during most of that time.

Saturday was proclaimed a “statewide day of action” for the Kriseman campaign, with volunteers spread out throughout the city to knock on doors and speak to voters. The Florida Democratic Party called on progressive Democrats throughout the state to make calls on behalf of the mayor’s “strong record of progressive accomplishments.”

It comes a day after an internal FDP poll revealed that Kriseman is trailing Baker by 11 percentage points (44 percent to 33 percent) and is struggling to break through with black voters, a critical demographic.

The memo also revealed that the state party was hiring two more staffers to help the campaign with the black community.

In addition to touting the initiative to ban the box, Kriseman also asked the volunteers that they needed to ask voters if they believed in a living wage, referring to the ordinance that the city has committed to a $15 living wage by 2020.

“If they do, then let them know that for nine years when Rick Baker was mayor he didn’t do anything to increase the wages in the city of St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said.

He also said that 500 more juveniles were arrested on a yearly basis during the Baker years than during his tenure in office, calling that “an elementary school worth of children.”

“Those are powerful statistics, and they make a difference for people,” the mayor exhorted. “So if they have any questions, share that information with them because nothing changed during his time as mayor,” adding that in the Baker years the city average 78 police complaints a year, vs. 14 per year during his first three years in office.

But it was Flowers who again made it personal in trying to fire up supporters that Kriseman is the better candidate for the black community.

“What we need to do is make sure that everybody is included and represented, which is why the mayor allows the Pride flag and the Carter G. Woodson African-American flag to fly freely over City Hall when his opponent says he won’t do it,” she told the volunteers. “That’s an insult to me, that’s an insult to every African-American that’s walking in this community and anyone … who won’t support the efforts behind a man who founded black history? That’s an insult to your community. So when you’re walking door to door, give them the facts, not the alternative.”

The primary election takes place on August 29. If neither Baker nor Kriseman gets 50 percent of the vote, the runoff will be held in November.

Anthony Cates III, Theresa Lassiter, and Jesse Nevel are also on the ballot for mayor.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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