Criticizing Rick Kriseman having a chief of staff and spokesperson a weak line of attack for Rick Baker

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

There are any number of serious policy differences between Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman: the effectiveness of community policing, funding for the new St. Petersburg Pier, the threat (real or imagined) of global warming, where to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, etc.

Yet one difference between the former mayor and incumbent — how to appropriately staff the Mayor’s Office — is an inside baseball debate that voters should ignore. Also, Baker’s criticism of Kriseman’s decision to hire, among other positions, a chief of staff and a communications director is a weak line of attack. Baker should drop this attack and focus on the big-ticket issues.

The criticism of Kriseman’s personnel decisions began the day Baker announced he was running to get his old job back.

“Rick Baker never had a spokesman when he was mayor,” Baker said May 9 on the steps of City Hall. “Maybe because I didn’t have $125,000 to throw away.”

Unless you are a Bob Dole, it’s never attractive for a politician to speak about themselves in the third-person.

That comment — and a follow-up remark by Baker suggesting that Kriseman’s chief of staff, Kevin King, ‘runs the city sometimes’ led the Tampa Bay Times Charlie Frago to investigate which of the two mayors paid the highest salaries at City Hall.

The best way to compare the two administrations, the Baker campaign argued, would be to examine all of the departments in the Kriseman administration.

… The data showed Baker had more highly paid staffers than Kriseman. However, both mayors steadily added top-paid staff while in office.

The number of top earners peaked under Baker at 95 employees in 2004. It gradually dropped to 86 in a salary year split with his successor, Bill Foster, who served for one term between the Baker and Kriseman administrations.

… Kriseman started with 59 highly-paid employees in 2014, a budget year he also shared with Foster. Now, Kriseman has 81 such workers in his administration.

… the Times recalculated the city salaries using Labor Department figures designed to track salary inflation specifically tied to government employees wages. The numbers changed slightly, but Baker’s peak of 95 highly-paid employees remained under that calculations. But the current number of salaries under Kriseman fell slightly to 79.

So, losing that argument, Baker told Frago that said “his criticism of Kriseman’s hiring practices was primarily about his choice to add King and (Ben) Kirby to the payroll. Those staffers insulate the mayor from the community.”

Baker may not like with whom Kriseman has selected to surround himself, but a big-city mayor needs (at least) a chief of staff and a communications director.

As much as I disagree with King and Kirby’s politics (if not their tactics), Baker’s criticism is small-town mayor talk.

Jacksonville’s Lenny Curry has a chief of staff, as well as a phalanx of other staffers.

Orlando’s Buddy Dyer and Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn also have a full retinue of communications workers and support staff.

St. Petersburg likes to think that it belong in the same ranks as those cities (how many times have we heard that St. Pete is the fourth largest city in the fourth largest state ((although now it’s fifth))?) Yet, Baker wants the Mayor’s Office to be staffed like St. Pete is Mayberry?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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.