Rick Baker is going there.
With less than two weeks before Election Day in St. Petersburg’s mayoral race, the former mayor — behind in the public polls for the first time in the campaign — is airing a decidedly negative TV ad questioning the judgment of incumbent Rick Kriseman over his chief aide’s criminal past.
“Sunshine” is a 30-second spot that focuses on the 2001 arrest of Kevin King, a then-22-year-old substitute teacher in Pinellas County School District, for propositioning a teenage girl for sex.
Police charged King with three felonies: one count of computer solicitation to commit a lewd and lascivious act, and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. After posting $5,500 bail, he was released from the Pinellas County Jail.
A day later, the district fired King.
King has had a longtime professional relationship with Kriseman during his entire tenure on City Council (2000-2006) and in the state Legislature (2006-2012).
King’s criminal history has been written about in the past, but it never became an issue when Kriseman faced incumbent Bill Foster for the St. Pete mayoral race in 2013. The Tampa Bay Times’ Mark Puente reported the incident in December 2013 after Kriseman hired King as chief of staff.
At the time, King told Puente the case was resolved “favorably.”
“I don’t think this should be any concern,” he said. “I’ve worked for taxpayers for many years.”
The Baker campaign says it should concern voters — about Kriseman’s judgment.
“This race has always been about competency and judgment,” said Brigitta Shouppe, a spokesperson for Seamless Florida, Baker’s political committee. “Kriseman knowingly hired a former substitute teacher to oversee his education policy who was arrested, charged and immediately fired by the Pinellas school district after police said he asked a 14-year-old girl to perform a sex act — how could anyone be OK with that?”
Kriseman campaign manager Jacob Smith responded angrily: “Sadly, Rick Baker has sunk to a new low in a desperate attempt to save his failing campaign.”
“On the first day of his campaign, Baker harshly called Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin’s Black History Month article ‘stupid,'” Smith wrote in an email. “Recently, he was forced to pull another false commercial for lying. Now, he’s dug up a 17-year old story about a case that didn’t go anywhere and had zero to do with Rick Kriseman.
“We’re confident the people of St. Pete will reject Rick Baker’s Donald Trump-style lies, attacks, and policies. Our campaign will continue talking about how we move St. Pete forward.”
Smith’s reference to “false commercial” was an ad sent to three radio stations last week, with narrator Sevell Brown falsely saying that Kriseman failed to appear at an NAACP event. Baker’s campaign later switched out the ad, denying the charge that radio stations pulled it themselves.
The ad comes just 14 days before the Nov. 7 general election.
Watch the ad below: