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Joe Henderson: St. Pete mayor race headed to runoff? Logic says yes but I say no

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The polls have former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker fluctuating around six to eight percent ahead of current mayor Rick Kriseman in the race to the city’s next mayor. That’s a solid lead, but a bit short of the 50 percent threshold Baker must cross to avoid a runoff.

Most learned pundits seem to believe that’s where this race is headed. I know that’s sound logic, but I’ll crawl out on a limb and say after the ballots are counted today, it won’t happen.

Races like this can be notoriously hard to predict because turnout and the results of early voting are everything. And there is the obligatory disclaimer that after last November it’s a fool’s errand to ever think we can accurately call a race before the ballots are counted.

It’s what we do, though. With that in mind, I think Baker wins outright – maybe by only a handful of votes. But a win is a win.

I have a couple of reasons why.

Kriseman’s gambit to turn the race into referendum on Donald Trump was bold, but as unpopular as Trump is, I can’t imagine it will help much, if at all. This isn’t about national politics. The endorsement of Kriseman by former president Barack Obama also made for an interesting headline, but I can’t see it having significant impact. To be fair, I’m not sure the somewhat surprising endorsement of Baker by the Tampa Bay Times will make much difference either.

It’s a question of whom the voters trust more, and Kriseman’s performance on key issues like the new pier and the ca-ca calamity when the sewers overflowed last year wouldn’t seem to inspire much confidence.

Also, I think Kriseman’s idea to build a new Rays stadium next to Tropicana Field is sheer civic lunacy.

Baker made a potentially grievous blunder by announcing that if elected he wouldn’t recuse himself from negotiating with business mogul and philanthropist Bill Edwards – Baker’s current boss.

It looks potentially smarmy at first glance, but I think voters can reason that if Edwards is successful in attracting a Major League Soccer franchise to the city and Baker is mayor, wouldn’t they have to talk business?

In a six-person race like this one, the 50 percent-plus-one level means the safe play is to say there is a runoff in St. Pete’s future. For now though, I’m not feeling it.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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