Rick Kriseman had to know it was coming.
A television ad paid for by Seamless Florida, the political committee backing Rick Baker‘s bid to unseat the current mayor, went up on cable and online this past weekend.
The topic? Kriseman’s handling of the crisis which has engulfed the city’s sewer system.
“This commercial demonstrates the clear contrast between Rick Baker, a man with the strongest environmental record in our city’s history, against Rick Kriseman, a polluter responsible for one of the worst environmental disasters in our city’s history,” said Nick Hansen, Director for Seamless Florida.
The launching of this ad represents a definitive turn in the race because it’s the first ‘contrast,’ if not ‘negative’ TV ad sponsored by either campaign.
Kriseman’s sewage problems in St. Petersburg began to surface in August 2015 and peaked over the summer when Tropical Storm Colin and Hurricane Hermine passed through the area, dumping more rain than the city’s sewage system could handle. St. Petersburg reportedly released about 150 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into Tampa Bay waterways following Hermine’s pass through the area. Other spills occurred throughout 2016.
In September, after 58 million gallons were discharged from the Northwest sewerage plant on the city’s west side, Kriseman was notably silent, failing to tell the City Council or making it public until nearly five days after the spill stopped.
Later, a state investigation into the dumping found a lack of cohesion among sewage officials, something City Council member Amy Foster described at the time as a “culture of secrecy.” According to the Department of Environmental Protection, St. Petersburg had 51 percent of all sewer overflows in Florida during 2016.
Kriseman has since proposed spending $304 million to resolve the city’s wastewater crisis, but the political damage was already well underway.
For that, Kriseman is still being held to task by voters, and it appears the sewage spill fiasco will not be forgotten completely in time for the 2017 municipal elections.
The most recent St. Pete Polls survey shows that the race between Baker and Kriseman has closed to single digits. Baker is at 44 percent; Kriseman is at 39 percent, a tighter margin than a similar survey on that My 17 poll which gave Baker a double-digit lead over Kriseman.
In that May poll, however, 44 percent of respondents said last year’s sewage spills were a deciding factor.
Yet, it’s very possible that number had little impact on the Baker campaign’s decision to criticize Kriseman’s handling of this crisis. It’s the low-hanging fruit of Kriseman’s record.
What will be interesting to watch is if/how Kriseman’s campaign responds.