Democratic political operative Kevin Cate is wrong.
Quoted by POLITICO about Charlie Crist’s likelihood in running for the U.S. House after Florida’s 13th Congressional District is redrawn to abide by last week’s ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, Cate said of Crist, “No one loves the ‘Burg more than Governor Crist…”
There’s no doubting Crist’s affinity for his beloved hometown, but if there is one person known to love St. Pete more — and has the record to prove it — it’s former Mayor Rick Baker.
No two politicians have dominated St. Petersburg politics more over the last three decades than Crist and Baker.
Practically born to be in elected office, Crist represented the city in the state Senate before winning statewide office, but even then St. Petersburg was home to the “real Governor’s Mansion” as Crist returned home as much as possible while serving in Tallahassee.
Baker rose from a well-respected corporate lawyer to civic leader. His eight years in office were so successful, he was suggested to be America’s best mayor by The Daily Beast.
For much of their political careers, Crist and Baker worked together to further Republican ideals and St. Petersburg’s interests. Crist’s time in the Governor’s Office overlapped with Baker’s tenure in City Hall. Baker was a prominent supporter of Crist’s numerous campaigns.
Until recently, the idea that these two favorite sons of St. Petersburg would ever face off against each other for political office was as far-fetched as it snowing in the city by the bay.
Yet, after last week’s ruling, it would appear Crist and Baker are on a collision course.
It’s already been widely reported, first by POLITICO’s Marc Caputo, that Crist is thinking about running in a redrawn CD 13.
Not soon thereafter, the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith suggested that Baker might take up the Republican standard in CD 13. Smith said such a match-up would be “the hottest congressional race in America.”
Well, CD 13 voters, get ready for the heat.
Baker told SaintPetersBlog today that he is, indeed, examining (isn’t that the operative phrase of this politically rambunctious week?) a run for Congress, but he will likely not decide until the fall. Announcing for a seat that has yet to be redrawn is “premature,” according to Baker.
“It is an honor for people to be calling and encouraging me to run,” Baker said.
Here’s the quick case for a Baker candidacy:
— Even in a redrawn CD 13, Baker can still compete against even the best Democratic candidate. In 2005, Baker won re-election over a prominent Democrat by winning every precinct in the city.
— Baker has an incredible track record not just in St. Pete, but in the Midtown (read: African American) section of St. Pete. He helped rebuild the community after the 1996 riots and has practically made it his life’s work to integrate the black community into the rest of the city. Baker’s ally, former St. Pete Police Chief Goliath Davis, is one of the keys to winning the black vote, no matter what election cycle it is.
— Baker’s employer is Bill Edwards, the financier and philanthropist who has led the city to its “third renaissance.” Edwards is a major GOP donor who could single-handedly bankroll a Baker run through an allied super PAC.
In its ruling, the Florida Supreme Court wrote that the trial court that initially heard the case and rejected the challenge to the way Districts 13 and 14 were drawn in 2012 “erred” when it said that it could not conclude “that the decision to incorporate portions of South St. Petersburg into District 14 was done with the intent to benefit the Republican Party or the incumbent member of Congress.”
The Legislature had stated that its reason for putting more voters in the more African-American parts of Pinellas County was to increase minority voting strength in Castor’s CD 14, which it considered to be “preferable” from a federal Voting Rights Act perspective.
But the Florida Supreme Court ruled today that the trlal court “did not, however, make any findings that it was necessary to add black voters from Pinellas County to District 14 in order to avoid diminishing the ability of black voters to elect a representative of their choice.
Reporting from Mitch Perry contributed to this post.