At Kriseman campaign event, Charlie Crist can’t avoid questions about his own political future

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Former Gov. Charlie Crist brought his star power to the St. Pete mayor’s race Monday morning, endorsing candidate Rick Kriseman as the “strong, decisive leader needed in this executive position.”

 The endorsement – which Crist gave at a press conference in Midtown – linked the popular ex-governor to Kriseman, a former Democratic legislator locked in a tight race against incumbent Mayor Bill Foster. It also effectively stole the moment from Foster, whose appearance at the opening of a Walmart hiring center in Midtown was scheduled at the same time.

Crist’s appearance alongside the candidate also stirred questions about whether he is just warming up to run against Gov. Rick Scott for the governor’s office.  “This race is about St. Pete and the people who love St. Pete,” said Crist deflecting questions from reporters about his own political ambitions. “I’m here to support a friend.”

Crist’s backing of Kriseman follows Gov. Scott’s endorsement of Foster, which he offered only upon questioning by a reporter at a St. Pete CareFest event last week attended by Foster and the governor. 

On Monday morning, retired schoolteacher Yvonne Clayton set the stage for questions about Crist’s ambitions when she introduced the governor. She welcomed him to the podium by saying “I bring to you the next governor, I hope.”

Crist did nothing to contradict her statement. But he focused his brief speech on Kriseman, whom he described as a “friend” and a  “passionate man who cares about St. Pete, where I grew up.” Crist and his wife live in downtown St. Petersburg.

Crist said that he and Kriseman shared a focus on the environment and education when they both served in Tallahassee. They also supported legislation that toughened laws against drunk drivers.

In thanking Crist for the endorsement, Kriseman further noted that they stood together in opposition to offshore drilling.

Responding to a reporter’s question about his position on the Rays staying at Tropicana stadium, Kriseman said, “My job is to protect the taxpayer and do everything I can to keep the Rays in St. Pete.”

Kriseman said the Rays have been so successful because of the leadership shown by Coach Joe Maddon. He said that kind of leadership is lacking at City Hall. 

When a reporter asked Crist what specific criticisms he had about the current administration, he replied, “I’m here to support a friend, not run anyone down. Rick is just better – better in many ways.”