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Wengay Newton on why he’s supporting Rick Baker — and not Rick Kriseman

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Wengay Newton’s enthusiastic endorsement of Rick Baker in St. Petersburg’s mayoral election has surprised and upset some Pinellas County Democrats, but the veteran pol isn’t losing any sleep over the issue.

“It’s a non-partisan race,” the Democratic state Representative from District 70 said. “It has nothing to do with partisanship.”

Although the race is non-partisan, Baker is a well-known Republican, while Newton and incumbent Rick Kriseman are prominent Democrats.

Newton was one of three people who introduced Baker at his well-choreographed campaign kick-off announcement earlier this month. The former City Councilman proudly said that even though the Legislature didn’t wrap up its Session until late the previous night, he was determined to make the drive back to St. Pete to be at the event that morning.

Newton served on the St. Pete City Council from 2007 to 2015 before running for the HD 70 seat, easily defeating Republican Cori Fournier. In August, Newton also easily won in what was supposed to the more competitive Democratic primary, when he took 62 percent of vote over businessman Dan Fiorini and lawyer C.J. Czaia.

Newton endorsed Kriseman over Bill Foster in the 2013 mayoral election, but the Mayor backed Fiorini in the primary.

“I went to Kriseman for support in my House race. He told me to pound sand,” Newton said on Friday.

But Newton insists his endorsement is about who he thinks is the best man to lead St. Petersburg, not because Kriseman blew him off.

“Rick Baker is my friend for over 10 years. It’s a shame that in the areas of greatest need, they’re still taking about that here in 2017,” Newton said about the economic conditions in South St. Petersburg.

“I was born and raised in those areas. It’s a shame that nothing’s been done. Baker is the only mayor that’s got something done in Midtown.”

Team Kriseman says the Mayor has worked to improve the south side of St. Petersburg, but admits there’s more work to be done.

“Mayor Kriseman has moved South St Pete forward,” said Jacob Smith, Kriseman’s campaign manager. “The mayor worked closely with Commissioner (Ken) Welch to fund the South St Pete Community Redevelopment Association, the largest CRA in the city. The mayor also kept an important campaign promise from 2013 – reinstating park, walk, and talk, where police officers can become more connected to the neighborhoods they serve. The mayor knows that there is still work to do, but because of his record, he’s earned the support of people like School Board Member (Renee) Flowers, who endorsed Foster last time.”

“Rick Kriseman will continue working with Representative Newton to do what’s best for South St. Pete to keep moving forward,” Smith added.

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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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