11 takeaways from the St. Pete City Council’s rejection of the Rays-stadium deal

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An agreement between the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman that would have allowed the team to search for new stadium sites within Pinellas and Hillsborough counties has been rejected by the St. Petersburg City Council.

If approved, the agreement would have served as the first significant breakthrough for the Rays as they attempt to move on from Tropicana Field. The Rays would have been free to survey sites within the Tampa area. If they found something to their liking and elected to opt out of their lease at Tropicana Field before it expired in 2027, they would have been on the hook to make yearly payments to the City of St. Petersburg.

Hear are 11 takeaways from Thursday’s decision:

This was a major, major, major defeat for Mayor Rick Kriseman. The collapse of this deal represents the worst possible scenario for Kriseman. First of all, if a a deal is not eventually reached, then he will have wasted a lot of time attempting to broker one. Second, he’s in the unenviable position of supporting the Rays looking beyond St. Pete for a new stadium (a position soundly rejected by city residents), while not being able to close the deal. And, as was evidenced by his terse statement after the vote, Kriseman is too interested in the needs of a baseball team and the Tampa Bay region. His ONLY priority should be what is in the best interests of the City of St. PetersburgSomeone in Kriseman’s orbit needs to grab him by his lapels and tell him, “You’re not Bob Buckhorn!”

Kriseman now has a City Council problem. This quote — “People elect our council members to make big decisions and rather than making a decision, they scheduled a workshop … That’s not leadership” — is bulletin board material for an increasingly independent City Council now stacked with alpha-types like Amy Foster and Darden Rice. Kriseman and the Council may eventually reach a consensus on the Rays issue, but it’s clear he is not in sync with a City Council some thought was predisposed to support him.

How soon do we see the “Don’t blame me, I voted for Foster” bumper stickers? Kriseman has accomplished something few people not named Kathleen Ford have been able to do: He’s made former St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster look visionary. The rejection of this deal suggests that Foster was right to maintain a hard line against negotiating with the Rays.

P.S. This would not have happened to Rick Baker! We’re so far removed from the Baker era that it’s easy to forget his leadership style, which would have never have allowed things to get to this point. If he had reached an agreement with the Rays, not only would the terms have been much more favorable to the city, he would have worked the Council so that it would have passed the deal 7 to 1.

As successful as the Rays are on the field, their political skills are minor league. Remember when the team wanted to build a new stadium on St. Petersburg’s waterfront? That billion-dollar idea was stopped by a $40,000 grassroots campaign. Before Thursday’s vote, that defeat symbolized the Rays’ naivete in the political arena. The club is one of the very few major league sports organizations in Florida to not have on retainer a governmental affairs firm. Heck, the NASL’s Rowdies were smart enough to hire a lobbyist and all the soccer team wanted was to be included in one piece of legislation. The Rays need to win the votes of five City Councilmembers, yet the club is attempting to do so without the counsel of professionals who understand government and politics. Time for the Rays to lobby up!

More criticism of the Rays’ PR and political skills. 10 News’ Noah Pransky, who also publishes the must-follow Shadow of the Stadium blog, reported after the vote that some City Council members described Rays executives as “tone deaf” and “arrogant.” Did no one in the Rays’ front-office think to prep Rays President Brian Auld on how to interact with Council during questioning? To have not done so is PR malpractice.

Where the hell was owner Stu Sternberg? With his disparaging comments about St. Pete and the Tampa Bay community at large, Sternberg was already beginning to enter Hugh Culverhouse territory. And when his company (it’s not just a baseball team) wants the taxpayers of St. Petersburg to walk away from an ironclad agreement, he can’t be bothered to show up at City Hall?!?

He was on the losing side of the argument, but Charlie Gerdes was a winner. Having obviously done his homework, Gerdes made a compelling argument for why the City should reach a deal with the Rays. In doing so, Gerdes turned a lot of heads for his smarts and his ability to break down some complicated issues. Had Gerdes been the only one making the case for the Rays, the team this morning would have been on scouting trip to Hillsborough County, but the team’s leadership snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

There were TWO key moments in Thursday’s debate (not just one). Pransky tweeted that he thought the turning point in the debate was when Auld said the City would have to abide by the use agreement regarding redevelopment of Tropicana Field — and he’s right, that was one of the key moments. But so was when Amy Foster grilled Auld about the team’s commitment to the Tampa Bay region. “One of the things that I heard loud and clear from Brian Auld today is that you want to stay here, you want to stay in the region, and that you’re committed to this,” Foster said. “But one of the things you said to me in my office is you’re still not sure that this region will work out. And I’d like to hear a little bit more about that.”

Here’s when Amy Foster became my hero (and a 2017 mayoral candidate?) “Everybody’s talking about, ‘this is what’s best for Major League Baseball.’ And I still would like to provide you the opportunity to present to the public today why this is best for St. Petersburg.”

You know who also lost Thursday night? The Tampa Bay Times. The newspaper cannot wait for Jeff Vinik to complete his redevelopment of downtown Tampa so that it can move its headquarters from downtown St. Pete to Channelside. But it doesn’t want to go alone, so the newspaper’s editorial board pushed hard for the Council to support the deal. That turned out like so many of the editorial board’s local priorities, i.e. The Lens and Greenlight Pinellas. A simple way to know how a key vote will turn out is to bet against Tim Nickens.

Material from Yahoo Sports was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.