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Five St. Pete City Council endorse Charlie Crist in CD 13 race

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With the Florida presidential primary now history, attention and energy will now go to some of the congressional elections upcoming later this summer.

Former Governor Charlie Crist is the leading candidate at the moment to win the open CD 13 seat in Pinellas County, and he got a shot in the arm Thursday with no fewer than five members of the St. Petersburg City Council announcing their support for him at a ceremony in front of City Hall.

Jim Kennedy, Darden Rice, Karl Nurse and newly elected District 7 member Lisa Wheeler-Brown all stated they are backing Crist in his race.

“I have known Charlie Crist for more than 20 years,” said Nurse. “He has always pushed to protect our environment, improve our schools and stand with the public over special interest groups.  Charlie will take those values with him as our member of Congress.”

Councilwoman Amy Foster is also backing Crist, but she was not at the news conference.

“I’m humbled to have the support of these dedicated public servants who know our community so well,” said Crist. “They’re fighting for the people every day, working hard to attract good jobs with strong wages, improve the city’s schools, protect our environment and natural resources, and create economic opportunity for everyone in St. Petersburg. I’m proud to have them standing with me, and I’ll stand with them in Congress.”

Crist has been the presumptive front-runner since entering the race in October, after new boundaries for the district made it much more favorable seat for a Democrat to win. And his confidence was only boosted by a recent Public Policy Polling survey that showed him with an astronomical lead over his Democratic challenger, Eric Lynn.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled CD 13 and seven other congressional districts to be unconstitutional last summer, gerrymandered by the GOP-led Legislature in 2012 in violation of the Fair Districts amendment. Crist had previously indicated little interest in challenging GOP incumbent David Jolly.

Jolly announced after the district was reconfigured that he would jettison re-election and run for the Republican nomination for Senate this fall.

“I do feel good,” Crist said when asked about his chances of capturing the seat. “But you take nothing for granted in this life and certainly we won’t in this campaign. We’re working hard every single day in this campaign and will continue to do so.”

Rice, who at one point was considering getting into the race and was being contacted by Democratic officials in Washington to do, said she thought that Lynn was doing all the things that a first-time candidate should be doing to raise his profile.

“But I really think it’s going to be hard to overcome the decades of name recognition and the relationships that Charlie has with the community,” Rice said. “He has these strong relationships throughout the community. And I think it speaks to his genuineness and just what a great people person that he is. Charlie Crist has really raised the standard on f personal interactions with constituents, and that’s going to be really hard to beat.”

The specter of former Rick Baker still lurks. The former St. Petersburg Mayor from 2001-2009 is contemplating a run.

“The city has changed a lot since Rick Baker was mayor. It doesn’t take away from what a great mayor that he was, but it’s been several years since he’s been in office,” said Rice.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement Thursday mocking Baker for in his indecisiveness about getting into the contest.

“Time and time again, Rick Baker has missed his self-imposed deadlines to decide whether or not he should run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District. He has already passed up on this race one time, and with the strong likelihood of Donald Trump being at the top of the ticket, it is no surprise that Rick Baker is hesitating to enter the race,” said DCCC spokesman Jermaine House. “If Rick Baker is serious about being a candidate, then he owes Pinellas County voters an answer on whether or not he will stand by Donald Trump’s campaign.”

Deputy St. Pete Mayor Kanika Tomalin is also endorsing Crist. She was not at Thursday’s news conference.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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