Since launching his re-election bid this spring, Rick Kriseman‘s political strategy was a call to keep the city’s forward momentum by keeping him in charge, as opposed to going back to the past with Rick Baker, who served as St. Petersburg mayor during most of the aughts.
As for Baker, the former mayor made the race a referendum on Kriseman, saying that over the past four years, the city has lost its mojo, and only he can return competence to City Hall.
How do we make neighborhoods better in the city? How do we get Midtown back on course? How do we fix the Pier? These are questions that Baker says are part of his “Baker Blueprint” that he’ll start implementing in January if he wins Tuesday night.
Kicking off his campaign on the steps of City Hall almost exactly six months ago, Baker predicted the Kriseman camp would go hard on his GOP credentials because “They have no record that they can run on. They have no successes.”
Half a year later, Baker insists he’s been proven correct.
“If you look at his direct mail pieces, if you look at Rick Kriseman’s TV ads, it’s all about national partisan politics. I think that’s a mistake,” Baker told a group of reporters after he voted Tuesday morning at The Church of the Beatitudes. “I think it’s a mistake to try to import the poison of the national politics that have divided our country to St. Petersburg.
“That’s not how we move our city forward. We move it forward by focusing on what’s best for the city of St. Pete.”
Baker later added that such an emphasis on partisanship wasn’t “healthy.”
“It’s not proven to be healthy for America, and I certainly don’t think it would be healthy for St. Petersburg.”
For his part, Kriseman tried to tie Baker with GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump, who lost by a substantial amount to Hillary Clinton in the presidential election a year ago in the ‘Burg. When Kriseman ended up capturing 70 more votes than Baker in the primary on Aug. 29, several analysts said that the Trump factor was a crucial element that dragged Baker down.
GOP Florida strategist Rick Wilson has labeled Trump “the 800-pound Klansman in the room.”
Baker’s campaign went negative two weeks ago when they introduced the past legal issues of Kriseman’s chief of staff, Kevin King, into the contest. “Sunshine,” a 30-second ad, focused on King’s 2001 arrest as a then-22-year-old substitute teacher in Pinellas County School District for propositioning a teenage girl for sex.
On Tuesday, Baker said he has no regrets about the ad.
“That goes directly to the question of judgment, whether it’s who you’re hiring as your chief of staff, or closing up a sewage plant and dumping out a billion gallons of sewage, or whether it’s doing a Pier plan that everybody voted against, yet still doing it going forward,” Baker said, adding, “I’m proud of the campaign we ran. I don’t think I would change it.”
Baker’s media scrum was his last scheduled public appearance before he attends his campaign watch party Tuesday night at the 400 Beach Seafood & Taphouse.
Kriseman’s public schedule has him at a variety of spots throughout the day, including a couple of long sessions at his campaign headquarters in the Euclid-St. Paul neighborhood. He’ll be at Nova 535 for a watch party Tuesday night.
(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).