Sorry Adam Smith, but you’re way off about Rick Baker

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So, one of the five things I think I think about today’s Tampa Bay Times is prompting a lot of discussion this morning, so I’d like to expand upon my point.

In his weekly feature, political editor Adam Smith labeled Rick Baker his Political Loser of the Week in Florida politics, writing:

“The passage of time is not helping the former St. Petersburg mayor’s image. First we learn of his administration’s mysteriously waiving $200,000 in impact fees for a developer. Then the city sues its investment advisers and depicts the supposedly hands-on mayor as detached and clueless over the city’s investments.”

Sorry Adam, but you could not be more wrong (and I say this as a political writer who accurately predicted Smith’s previous two choices for Loser of the Week).

Adam’s opinion is a real surprise to me because Smith, although he writes mostly about national and state politics, typically has a good feel for the local scene. (His description of Deveron Gibbons as a “young glad-hander in an ill-fitting suit spewing vague answers” was devastatingly accurate.)

Yet, Smith got this one really wrong.  Trust me, about 80% of the community and political leaders in St. Pete — even Baker’s former political adversaries — look longingly on Baker’s time in office when it is compared to the current administration.  One City Council member described it best to me when they said, “Sure, Rick pushed us and he dominated City Hall, but at least there was a pace to things. With (Bill) Foster, no one knows what he thinks about anything.”

Or put it this way, there are still ribbon-cuttings taking place in St. Pete for projects begun under Baker’s tenure. In fact, many in the Downtown Partnership/Chamber of Commerce crowd can you tell how embarrassing it is to be at this groundbreaking or that ribbon-cutting and see Bill Foster preside over the event, yet know it was Rick Baker who made the event happen.

As for Adam’s specific charges, that Baker’s administration’s mysteriously waived $200,000 in impact fees for a developer, I guess this is an issue and maybe it is a black mark on Baker’s eight-year record, but sometimes you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette.  The success of the Carillon/Gateway sector of the city, where this developer’s impact fees were intended to mitigate, is far more important than some vague accounting issue of which Baker had no involvement or knowledge.

Regarding the city suing its investment advisers and it may or may not being revealed that Baker was “detached” from the situation, let’s not forget that the city just won this lawsuit.

Yet even if both of these charges were substantiated, that doesn’t mean that “the passage of time is not helping the former St. Petersburg mayor’s image.” This is what Smith got really wrong.

Since leaving office, Baker has been lauded by the media, including one writer at the Daily Beast who described Baker as “America’s Greatest Mayor” as part of a review of Baker’s actually-interesting book, The Seamless City (The Times won’t deign to mention Baker’s book about his time in office).

Meanwhile, the city Baker bestrode like a colossus is an oasis in Florida’s economic desert. And much of this success is due directly to Rick Baker.

That is why I feel confident countering Smith’s point about Baker’s image by challenging Smith to find three significant community or political leaders in the city to step forward and say they believe the passage of time is hurting Baker’s image.

Only a Times reporter, employed by a company increasingly at odds with Baker’s St. Petersburg-centric worldview, would say such a thing.

And to label Baker the loser of a week in which Connie Mack IV mocks the Ryan plan and melts down about a headline is even more surprising from a guy who usually knows what is going on in St. Pete.

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.