Rick Kriseman could hand Rick Baker a major victory with Rowdies referendum

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On Thursday, Rick Kriseman announced he would like another four years as St. Petersburg’s mayor.

The announcement was so low-key that, at first, the Kriseman campaign did not even send the press release about the announcement to the Tampa Bay Times reporter who covers City Hall.

Of course, there’s never been any doubt that Kriseman would seek re-election. Some might take issue with it (although I don’t), but Kriseman has transformed the mayor’s office into an adjunct of his political campaign — and vice versa. Kriseman’s top campaign adviser, Kevin King, became his chief of staff; a prominent campaign volunteer, Benjamin Kirby, became the city’s spokesman.

(It will be interesting to see how King and Kirby not give the appearance of campaigning for Kriseman on the city’s dime, although I am sure both men will be very careful about such things. In the meantime, it appears Tom Alte and Megan Salisbury of Blue Ticket Consulting will be minding the shop while the K-men are running the city.)

I was under the impression Kriseman’s roll-out would have come in a little later in the month as many residents are still taking down their Christmas lights or getting their kids back to school. But I guess the thinking in Kriseman’s camp was, ‘Why wait?’

Especially with you-know-who lurking in the wings.

That would be ‘the other Rick.’ As in Baker, the former mayor half the city wants to see run again.

For its part, Kriseman’s camp is not taking Baker lightly, nor is it intimidated by him. The first question some close to Kriseman ask is, Why does he want to do this again? He had his eight years, they say. He built a fine legacy, they acknowledge. Why take a chance at smudging the halo?

The second question the Kriseman folks wonder aloud is, Doesn’t he want to run for governor in 2018? If Baker does get in against Kriseman, you’ll hear this question plenty of times on the campaign trail.

Another point I think Kriseman’s camp wants to make is, ‘We ain’t Kathleen Ford or Ed Helm,’ meaning Baker’s never had to run against an opponent whose mental capacity was not occasionally in doubt. Kriseman will raise a lot of money. And his team knows how to use it. It also knows how to throw a punch.

There is and there won’t be for a while any word from Baker about his plans for 2017. Personally, I peg the chances of him running at about 40 percent, which is actually up from last year — and before the city’s sewage system crisis — when I thought there was only a one-in-four chance Baker would challenge Kriseman.

But what’s interesting about the timing of all this is how a proposed referendum letting the Tampa Bay Rowdies control the land underneath Al Lang Stadium for up to 25 years, as the team is seeking as part of its effort to join Major League Soccer.

On Thursday, St. Pete City Councilmembers discussed the steps necessary for both a referendum and a possible agreement. If all goes as planned, the vote will be held May 2 to ask voters’ permission to strike a deal to lease Al Lang to the Rowdies.

Voters must also approve the lease, or some other agreement.

And if approved, a deal could be signed by mid- to late May, just in time for Major League Soccer to make its decision.

And — and this is the kicker — just in time for Baker to make a decision about running for mayor.

Candidate qualifying to run for mayor begins June 8, which means Baker could celebrate the referendum passing on his way to dropping off his candidacy paperwork at City Hall.

Baker’s media consultant, Adam Goodman, can write the TV ad now: “With St. Petersburg facing so many big decisions…” — images of the Pier and Tropicana Stadium flash on the screen — “…we need a mayor who has won big victories.”

Kriseman, King and Co. are smart enough to realize all of this and, to their credit, they are still backing the plan for the Rowdies. It would be no surprise that they are playing some version of three dimensional chess I’m not smart enough to see.

Maybe Kriseman thinks if he gives Edwards and Baker a stadium for their Major League Soccer plans, they’ll forget about wanting to take over City Hall, too.


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.