It’s now 2012, here’s where sh*t stands, politically speaking – featuring Larry Ahern, Rick Baker, Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman

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In his year end review, Creative Loafing columnist Mitch Perry mentions aloud what many political elites in St. Petersburg are thinking, but keeping to themselves – that Mayor Bill Foster may just serve “possibly” one term in office.  Whether this is because Foster decides not to seek a second term or is defeated at the ballot box, the possibility of electing a new mayor in 2013 is a distinct, and increasing, possibility.

But why? Isn’t Foster enjoying decent, if not positive, approval ratings?  Well, yes, according to a recent poll conducted by the St. Petersburg Times:

In his second year, Foster received positive ratings from 38 percent of residents, who said he was doing either an excellent or good job. That’s nearly the same as the 39 percent he scored in 2010. Those who say he’s doing average climbed from 25 percent to 35 percent, so the percentage of residents rating his performance either average or better was 72 percent, up 8 points from last year.

Still, his negative numbers doubled while the number of residents who are unsure of his performance dropped.

There are several problems with the Times poll, most notably it was conducted by the Timeswhich last year showed a poll with Jeff Greene beating Kendrick Meek by ten points in the Democratic primary for the US Senate.

But let’s take the poll at face value.  One of its key findings is that Foster is not held in the same regard as former Mayor Rick Baker:

“In June 2009, 57 percent of residents gave Rick Baker excellent or good marks,” writes Michael Van Sickler. “Overall, 84 percent said Baker was doing an average or better job in his last year in office.”

So yeah, this poll says pretty much what you’d think it would say about Bill Foster: He’s a decent guy, doing a decent job, but his support his rather soft.

Which leads me to my key point: The biggest wildcard in Pinellas politics right now is Representative Rick Kriseman.  Certainly there are more important politicians – Charlie Crist, Jack Latvala, etc. – but none of them faces the kind of decision starring at Kriseman right now.  Whatever Rick Kriseman decides could impact at least a half-dozen or so other local pols.  Only Bill Young retiring would create as much chaos as Kriseman’s impending decision.

Basically, Kriseman must decide, much sooner than he would like, whether he wants to run for Mayor of St. Petersburg in 2013.

If Kriseman does want to run for Mayor in 2013, he really can’t run for his State House seat again.  Look at how that worked for Ernest Williams, who told St. Pete voters he wouldn’t run for the State House if they re-elected him to his City Council seat.  Voters took him at his word, which Williams went back on and, subsequently, Williams lost his bad for the Legislature.

Another reason Kriseman can’t run for the State House again without answering what he plans to do in 2013 is that, as the lines are drawn, he will be facing Rep. Larry Ahern in a general election.  If Kriseman attempts to play coy about his plans, Ahern could bludgeon Kriseman with the issue and Kriseman could end up losing in 2012, knocking him off his game for 2013.

So if Kriseman really does want to run for Mayor in 2013, he will have to announce his intentions in 2012.  If he doesn’t run for his State House seat again with the intent for running for Mayor in 2013, this impacts a slew of politicos.

First of all, it impacts Ahern.  Currently, Ahern is in a battleground district, while there is a more favorable, open seat just north of him.  Without Kriseman running against him, Ahern probably stays put in the battleground district.  If Kriseman runs for re-election to the State House, Ahern would be better served running for the seat to the north of him, currently held by rep. Jim Frishe, but is open in 2012 because Frishe is running for the State Senate.  If Ahern runs in this open seat, that blocks a lot of folks – perhaps JJ Beyrouti, perhaps Nick DeCiglie, certainly many other – from running for the open seat.

All of this may or may not impact popular South Pasadena Mayor Kathleen Peters, who could mount a primary challenge against Ahern in the battleground district or run for against Kriseman if Ahern moves to the open seat.

Whew! All of these machinations and we still haven’t discussed what happens if Kriseman does run for Mayor.

If Kriseman does run for Mayor in 2013, that all but blocks former mayoral candidate Scott Wagman from running again, if he even wants to.  There just isn’t a path to victory for Wagman with Kriseman in the race.

That’s because Kriseman rallies to his flag a broad, diverse, albeit overlapping coalition: African Americans, the burgeoning gay community, Democrats, environmentalists and voters on the west side of town who have represented, in one form or another, by Kriseman for over a decade.  Add to that Kathleen Ford’s supporters, as well as Go Davis’ supporters, who are still fuming at Foster for firing their man.  At the forefront of Kriseman’s coalition will be Commissioner Ken Welch and Councilman Karl Nurse.  All of this backed up by the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times, which will be salivating at the opportunity to elect a genuine progressive to City Hall.

Foster vs. Kriseman would be a very interesting race.  What would make it more interesting is if City Council Chair Leslie Curran, the most vocal critic of Foster’s administration, decides to ‘primary’ Foster.

I say ‘primary’ because, basically Curran and Foster share the same constituencies, although neither of them wants to admit that.  With Kriseman in the race, they would both be running for the Old Northeast vote which has dominated city politics, but would be divided between Curran and Foster.  With just Curran, Foster and Kriseman in the race, I reckon Kriseman would finish first in the primary with Curran and Foster fighting to make it in the general.

In fact, even if you add more candidates to this mix, say an African American candidate like Deveron Gibbons or some other wildcard, Kriseman still finishes first, although a candidate who takes all of the black vote could finish second and knock Foster out of the race in the general.

Can you imagine, an incumbent Mayor not even making it out of the primary???

But let’s say, in the general, it’s Foster vs. Kriseman.  I’m not sure Foster wins that race.  Why? Because he would need a very helping hand from Rick Baker, Ed Montanari and the Chamber/Partnership crowd and I don’t know if they’re ready to go to the mat for Foster again.  If this faction sits on its hands, Foster loses.  Hell, even with a heavy lift, I don’t know if Foster wins.

This begs the question: Is the Baker/Montanari/Chamber/Partnership crowd ready to turn over control of the city to a liberal Democrat from the west side of town?

If they decide they can do business with Kriseman, then Foster is toast.  If they decide they can’t stomach Kriseman, they have two choices: light a fire under Bill Foster’s butt…

Or…

Draft. Rick. Baker.

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