With Pride parade in the past, can St. Pete’s mayoral race finally move beyond identity politics?

in Peter by

The three-day St. Pete Pride celebration wrapped up Sunday with a festival that drew thousands to Central Avenue.

One big change to this year’s festivities, however, had plenty of people talking, reports Fox 13. For the first time in the event’s 15-year history, its famous parade was taken downtown to Bayshore Drive.

According to St. Pete Police, this year’s parade brought a crowd of 30,000 to downtown St. Pete on Saturday.

Whether former mayor Rick Baker was one of those 30,000 has been a horse of a question beat to death by the Tampa Bay Times and the rest of the local media.

The Times’ Adam Smith has a story on the front-page of Monday’s edition of the Times exploring whether Baker’s views on LGBT issues have changed since he left the mayor’s office seven years ago.

Baker’s response to Smith: No comment.

A week before he filed to run for his old job, Baker and I discussed over lunch how his perspective has changed on LGBTQ issues. There is no doubt that his perspective has changed; he is not the same man who refused to sign a proclamation recognizing the Pride parade and festival.

But like many Republicans and conservatives, he struggles with how to reconcile a lifetime of beliefs with the march of progress.

When I spoke with Baker that day, the man sitting across from me almost physically struggled to say the right words. But the point is, he wanted to say the right things because, deep down, he believes the right things. It’s just he’s in unfamiliar territory.

Many of us are.

Gay marriage was not legal when Rick Baker was mayor. Providing domestic benefits to LGBT employees was not the norm. The world was not as welcoming a place as it is now, just a decade later.

Yet Baker’s critics in the gay community won’t give him credit for his evolution, as limited as it may or may not be.

Kelly Jackson, a 31-year-old gym manager, told Smith that Baker “may be accepting and tolerant, but he’s not a supporter or an advocate. That bothers me.” This sentiment seems to be the general sentiment among many.

And therein lies the dilemma.

The LGBT community has painted itself into a rainbow-colored corner. It is so fiercely behind incumbent Rick Kriseman in this year’s mayoral race, it is offering little incentive for Baker to campaign to them.

(For the life of me, I don’t understand why Kriseman is making LGBT issues and climate change the centerpiece of his re-election campaign; there’s not a single voter for whom these issues matter most who is not already with him.)

If Baker is to win this race, he will do so without, what, 80 percent (at least) of the LGBT vote? Politically speaking, why should Baker march in a parade where four out of five people are voting for his opponent?

Because that’s not how Baker wants to govern. That’s one of the beliefs he expressed to me that day we discussed LGBT issues.

Yes, he can beat Kriseman with 51 percent of the vote, but that’s not how he wants to leads. He really does believe in all that ‘seamless city’ stuff he goes on and on about. He wants to win and lead all of the city, including both Midtown and Kenwood.

Baker just hasn’t found the right words to say that. So, until then, it’s “no comment,” but, if elected, he will support St. Pete Pride.


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.