It’s endorsement season in St. Petersburg’s 2017 mayoral election.
The Sierra Club has endorsed Rick Kriseman‘s for re-election. So, too, has the police officers union (that’s what agreeing to spend $80 million on a new police department HQ gets you!)
The firefighters are backing Rick Baker, as is the Tampa Bay Builders Association and the Associated Builders and Contractors.
Still left to come are decisions from the Pinellas Realtors Organization and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, although the Chamber may have decided it would be best if it remains neutral.
And then there’s the endorsement of the Tampa Bay Times. Actually, the Times does not “endorse” candidates, it “recommends” them.
The power of the Times’ endorsement varies from race to race. In judicial races, where there is little to distinguish one candidate from another, the newspaper’s words play a major role. In state legislative races, where there is often times more money available to the candidates than there is time to spend it, the Times endorsement is rarely a game-changer.
The newspaper can be a force to be reckoned with in County Commission races (just ask former Commissioners Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock) whereas it has little impact in congressional campaigns other than to rubber stamp the eventual winner.
When it comes to St. Petersburg and local races, the Times has a mixed record. It advocated for the new waterfront park in 2003 and Greenlight Pinellas a decade later, but neither initiative passed. But in 2009 the newspaper gave cover to a lot of residents to vote for Bill Foster, even though the liberal editorial board’s worldview diverged significantly from that of the creationist conservative. However, when it become apparent that editor of editorial Tim Nickens had given up on Foster, it was clear that he would serve only one term.
So where will the Times come down on Kriseman vs. Baker?
Earlier this year, Nickens wrote a brutal column that concluded that Kriseman was ‘mimicking’ the mistakes of Hillary Clinton:
“Public support for Kriseman feels a mile wide and an inch deep even among his core constituencies. After a very successful first two years as mayor, there have been some major bumps. There are questions about his candor with voters. His rhetoric and his statistics don’t align with what many residents see for themselves.
… Kriseman has undermined his credibility with voters. He was forced to acknowledge what he called essentially reclaimed water was sewage. He has dug in his heels on a new pier that has lost its allure. He paints a rosy picture in Midtown even as a Walgreens pharmacy, a Walmart grocery and a restaurant in a city owned building have closed.
Politicians get in trouble when they lose focus — and when their rhetoric and statistics don’t match what many voters are experiencing. Just ask Hillary Clinton.”
In that column, Nickens made a better case for a change at City Hall than almost anything we’ve heard from Baker.
And yet, is the Times really ready to recommend Baker get a third term?
Paul Tash and Nickens have to know, despite whatever pleasantries exist between the men themselves, that Baker is no fan of the Times. In fact, I believe Baker thinks that the Times’ agenda runs counter to what he thinks is best for the city.
In Kriseman, the Times has an ideological ally; in Baker, it would have a Republican back in charge of the city and one who does not agree with most of its progressive agenda.
Then again, the Times cannot dispute Kriseman’s weaknesses (as best articulated by Nickens himself) and Baker’s strengths. It may agree with Kriseman’s philosophies, but it has benefited from Baker’s policies.
During much of the campaign, the editorial board has been unusually quiet about Baker vs. Kriseman. Whereas the newsroom has been offering rapid-fire coverage, the ed. board is acting as if there isn’t a mayoral race playing out right in front of its windows.
In the end, I don’t think this will be a close decision for Nickens and Co. As it has in so many other races, it will create the supporting evidence it needs to justify a recommendation of Kriseman.
It will laud Kriseman for making progress on the Rays stadium stalemate, even though genuine progress hasn’t been made.
It will congratulate Kriseman for breaking ground on a new St. Pete Pier, even though his plans are woefully behind schedule and beyond the original budget.
It will salute Kriseman for hiring Anthony Holloway as police chief, even though public safety remains a defining, pressing issue in the mayoral race.
The Times will talk about how Kriseman “banned the box” and raised the rainbow flag above City Hall.
They’ll write about how Kriseman’s views on climate change make him the right kind of leader for the 2020 version of St. Petersburg.
Kriseman lines up with almost everything the Times believes, whereas Baker … well, he once said Sarah Palin would make a good vice president.
At the end of the day, the Times has to endorse Kriseman, right?