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Jacksonville Bold for 11.10.17 — November reign

Northeast Florida is winning — bigly.

Check the scoreboard. Or read the articles in this week’s edition.

The next leader of the Senate Democrats — Jacksonville’s own Audrey Gibson.

The new budget chief in the Senate — Fleming Island’s own Rob Bradley.

And yeah, there were … things … that happened … to allow both of those to come to pass.

But lo and behold, Northeast Florida has more stroke in the Senate than has been the case for years.

The question, now: what will the region do with it?

In the House, we are waiting for Paul Renner to work his way up to Speaker — next decade.

Can the region’s Senators and House members get together and make some big pushes for Jacksonville priorities?

Report: No worries for Al Lawson re-election

The Tallahassee Democrat posted a provocative article recently, contending that Rep. Lawson doesn’t have much to worry about when it comes to his re-election bid.

Rep. Al Lawson has no worries, says the Tallahassee Democrat.

Data guru Matt Isbell of MCI Maps — cited in the article — says the seat is Lawson’s to lose.

“The district gave Clinton over 60 percent of the vote … the rural red counties make up a small share of the vote,” said Isbell. “Lawson may generate a general election challenger, but it won’t a serious or threatening one.”

Indeed, Lawson is one of those Democrats that Republicans can do business with — and it is hard to imagine a serious general election challenger.

However, as Jax Dems know, Lawson could face a primary challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown … which would be interesting.

Spoiler Alert

While Lawson could face Alvin Brown, more certain is a primary challenge from first-time candidate Rontel Batie.

Batie, a former Corrine Brown policy director, was evasive when we asked his thoughts on Brown’s legal woes and for an idea of how much money his committee (“Rontel for Florida”) has raised.

Batie’s pitch is a millennial candidate with an inspirational personal narrative — rising from deep poverty and personal adversity (including his father getting shot when he was a kid.

It’s uncertain where the momentum comes from to push him over Lawson … yet it’s in Lawson’s interest to have Batie and as many challengers as possible in the race.

Lawson has a lock on Tallahassee, built support elsewhere in the district, and with the more candidates splitting the anti-Lawson vote, the better for him.

Batie really hurts Alvin Brown — again, should Brown get in the race.

No prison, please

Rat on the kingpin, and avoid prison.

That’s the strategy in a sentencing memorandum from Carla Wiley, one of the co-conspirators with Corrine Brown in the One Door for Education case.

How wily is co-conspirator Carla Wiley’s strategy? We’ll know next week. (Photo via Bob Self/Florida Times-Union)

“Immediately after being confronted by investigating agents, Ms. Wiley obtained counsel and quickly began providing truthful cooperation in the Government’s investigation,” the memo asserts, describing her cooperation as “early and significant, leading to the indictment of a then-sitting member of Congress and her chief of staff, and ultimately to the plea and cooperation of Mr. Simmons, her testimony and his testimony at trial and the conviction of Corrine Brown.”

The memo asserts that Wiley’s “significant role” in the scheme that went on for three years is outweighed by her cooperation. Also asserted: that Wiley has “no significant risk of recidivism.”

Notable: one of Wiley’s attorneys, Justin Fairfax, will be the next Attorney General of Virginia, elected in the Old Dominion’s anti-Trump wave Tuesday.

Audrey Gibson to lead Senate Democrats

Jacksonville is making moves in Tallahassee: veteran Democratic Senator Audrey Gibson will become the caucus leader for Senate Democrats after an 8-7 vote Monday.

Gibson will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II when his term ends next November.

Sen. Audrey Gibson takes over the role of Sen. Jeff Clemens, who resigned because of scandal. (Photo via Florida Senate)

The split was described by observers as moderates versus progressives, a dynamic which some fear will split the caucus; our source tells us Braynon was the deciding vote.

In a “you heard it here first” moment, Florida Politics called this in the Oct. 30 edition of Sunburn.

We asked Gibson about what this would mean for North Florida — specifically, will the region finally get to sit at the adult table when it comes to appropriations?

“Equal footing comparatively speaking is definitely a goal,” Gibson asserted, “however, in one Session it may be a bit lofty.”

Rob Bradley becomes Senate Appropriations Chair

Gibson’s ascension to Democratic Caucus leader is the shot.

Here’s the chaser.

Sen. Jack Latvala’s scandals led to him stepping down — temporarily — from the Senate Appropriations Chair. And Fleming Island Sen. Bradley will take over the position — just weeks before an election year Legislative Session that will see big money spent.

Sen. Rob Bradley takes over for Jack Latvala, who relinquished the chair after scandal.

“While the independent, third-party investigation regarding Senator Latvala is pending, I believe it is in the best interest of the Senate for another Senator to temporarily serve as Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations,” Senate President Joe Negron wrote in a memo this week.

Latvala, as widely reported, is facing largely anonymous yet deeply detailed accusations of abusing his power with women in the Senate.

Bradley will be in a position to advocate for his priorities, which include more money for North Florida’s St. Johns River, tributaries and springs, as well as a $100 million appropriation for Florida Forever.

Rick Scott fumbles gun question in Jacksonville

Gov. Scott’s talking points failed him in a Jacksonville visit this week when he was asked by this outlet whether “prayers” sufficed as a response after the latest mass shooting on American soil: the killing of 26 people in a South Texas church.

Liberal activists were quick to call the Guv out for his gun gaffe.

Many of Scott’s Twitter followers posited that “prayers” aren’t enough to stop such things from happening. When asked for concrete policy solutions beyond prayers, Scott — a Governor entering his eighth year in office — had no solutions.

He did, however, use the word evil nine times in roughly two minutes.

“The most important thing we have to do,” Scott said, “is we need more prayer rather than less.”

“Last week, we had a terrorist attack in New York City. We need to pray for when these things happen. It’s horrible when these things happen,” Scott said.

“It’s evil when these things happen,” Scott continued. “Whether it’s a terrorist attack with a truck, somebody doing what they did in a church in the San Antonio area, I’m going to pray for them. We know it’s evil.”

“I believe in the Second Amendment. I just wish there was no evil in the world,” Scott added.

“It’s evil — whatever you want to call it. It’s evil. It’s evil what happened — the terrorism in New York, it was a terrorist inspired by ISIS in the Pulse attack. These things are evil,” Scott said.

“Evil is evil,” Scott added.

This botch led the liberal political action committee “American Bridge” to issue an email calling Scott’s handling of the gun question “abysmal” and decrying his statement as “pablum.”

Aaron Bean’s Handmaid’s Tale Moment

News Service of Florida reports that a Senate committee “narrowly approved a bill that would place into law a program that seeks to dissuade women from having abortions.”

Aaron Bean sponsored the bill … and the Fernandina Beach Republican was “surprised” that the bill was controversial with the National Organization for Women, which urged protesters to dress like the concubines in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the Margaret Atwood novel about a dystopian, anti-feminist United States.

Aaron Bean has a Handmaid’s Tale moment.

Lawmakers approved beans bill Tuesday in a 5-3 vote by the Senate Health Policy Committee.

 ‘Kill shot’ for Jay Fant AG bid?

The underreported Cold War between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and State Rep. Jay Fant continues, with Curry’s political committee donating to Fant’s opponent, Rep. Frank White, in the Attorney General race.

This was followed by endorsements of White from Curry and Rep. John Rutherford, described by one Republican consultant as a “kill shot” for Fant.

The invisible Jacksonville primary is not going Jay Fant’s way.

Curry’s political advisers, Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, are handling White’s campaign.

Fant, the previous chair of the Duval County Legislative Delegation, was slated last Session to carry a bill that would have brought $50 million to Jacksonville to help with costs related to removing current Hart Bridge offramps and routing traffic onto surface streets.

Fant noted that he was going to carry the bill last year based on the public safety argument the mayor’s office advanced at the time.

This year, Fant says the bill would be the prototypical “heavy lift,” saying it was “up to the city to make its case,” and that case “needs to be really good.”

Fant, who was at odds with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, doesn’t appear likely to carry Curry’s priority bill this time out.

The city seeks $12.5M from the state to match a federal grant of $25 million, which would be roughly three-quarters the cost of the project.

Locals endorse Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum for governor

Two elected Jacksonville Democrats — state Rep. Tracie Davis and School Board member Warren Jones — endorsed Gwen Graham for Governor Monday.

Meanwhile, Thursday saw former state Sen. Tony Hill endorse Graham’s primary opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Gwen Graham is racking up Duval Dem endorsements.

Graham had already been endorsed by former Jacksonville Mayors Jake Godbold and City Councilmen Tommy Hazouri and Garrett Dennis, and thus far is the only candidate for Governor on the Democratic side to score meaningful Jacksonville endorsements.

“I’m proud to have Representative Tracie Davis and School Board Member Warren Jones by my side fighting to restore public education in Florida,” Graham said. “With their help, we are making outreach in Jacksonville and Duval County a top priority in my campaign.”

Worth noting: Davis and Dennis are political allies of Sen. Audrey Gibson, the soon-to-be caucus leader of Senate Dems and the chair of the local Democratic Party.

Clay Yarborough widens money lead in re-election bid

Jacksonville’s House District 12 will see a competitive election next November between incumbent Republican Clay Yarborough and Democrat Tim Yost.

Clay Yarborough has never lost an election. Will 2018 be the year?

Clearly not taking re-election for granted, Yarborough posted his strongest total since June: $21,750 of new October lucre.

Democrat Yost brought in $1,208 in donations from 19 contributors, including HD 15 Democratic hopeful Tracye Polson.

He finished October with roughly $2,300 on hand.

Lenny Curry’s D.C. adventure

Jacksonville Mayor Curry was in Washington D.C. this week making the push for a federal infrastructure grant, and his itinerary was packed.

The $25 million grant from the Department of Transportation would allow the city to reconfigure off ramps from the Hart Bridge onto surface streets.

The push is supported by Sen. Marco Rubio, who is just one of the Beltway power players Curry met with.

Marco Rubio: A key ally of Lenny Curry’s.

Curry met with Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House.

As well, the Mayor had meetings with U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the House Committee on Appropriations, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. He also serves on the House Committee on the Budget.

Curry followed up the Diaz-Balart meeting with meetings with senior staff from the U.S. D.O.T., and then a meeting with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Worth noting: Marty Fiorentino of the Fiorentino Group helped Chao, an old friend and colleague, as she settled into her latest Cabinet position.

Four more years for Jax Sheriff?

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams addressed a Jacksonville City Council committee Monday — but the big news is that he is just weeks away from launching his re-election campaign.

Four more years for Jax Sheriff?

“We’ll announce that here in the next couple of weeks,” Williams told Florida Politics. “I think we have a lot of work to do and I’m excited.”

Williams’ political committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” had $105,000 on hand at the end of September, and raised roughly $30,000 more in October.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s race in 2015 was expensive, with over $2 million raised by the seven candidates in the field.

Williams will likely face a ballot challenger — but high approval numbers, per a recent UNF Poll, suggest that any challenger will have an uphill slog.

The first-term Republican Sheriff has 67 percent approval — and 60 percent approval among Democrats.

Williams also has broad appeal in all ethnic groups; his worst performance in the survey is 54 percent with African-American voters.

Death looms over Jax Council Parks panel

Three-year-old Amari Harley and 74-year-old Ashley Miller Kraan had very little in common — except that they both drew their last breaths in Jacksonville parks this fall.

Harley fell down a hole above a septic tank; the rubber lid was missing.

Kraan was stabbed in broad daylight by a man with mental issues.

Park safety has become a major issue, and the Jacksonville City Council providentially has a special committee on parks.

However, that special committee had nothing to say about the deaths on the dais, instead talking around the margins, discussing maintenance and other issues.

Amari Harley died in a Jacksonville park. Could it have been avoided?

Parks Committee Chair Scott Wilson noted, before the meeting Wednesday, that maintenance and security are among the committee’s focuses.

Calling the deaths in parks “unfortunate circumstances,” Wilson noted that he was “sorry that happened,” but there are logistical issues precluding ramping up park security.

“We have over 400 parks in the city,” Wilson said, and that requires a “careful” deployment of resources.

After the meeting, Councilwoman Lori Boyer noted that during budget discussions this summer, Sheriff Mike Williams had been “unwilling” to make commitments to station JSO officers in parks.

She suggested that park rangers, which would have arresting powers, could be an option.

“Parks need to be safe,” Boyer said,

However, a security guard in every park would be “overkill,” Boyer added.

Randy White files for Westside Jax Council seat

Jacksonville City Council District 12 is the heart of the city’s true Westside; accents are authentically local, politics are right of center, and a person’s word is his bond.

As of 2019, current Councilman Doyle Carter is term-limited out — but a candidate who filed to replace him embodies much of the straightforwardness Carter brought to the table.

Randy White — a former Jacksonville Association of Firefighters union head, and a retired deputy fire chief — has “the fire in the belly to serve,” he told Florida Politics Tuesday.

Randy White is a first-time candidate, but is well-known by the people who matter.

Of course, he says he wouldn’t even be running if “my good buddy wasn’t termed out.”

White’s priorities as a candidate include public safety on the macro level, and on the district level, he wants to actualize the still largely untapped potential of the Cecil Commerce Center (formerly Cecil Field).

No nukes are good nukes?

Mayport’s dream of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier may be dead, per the Florida Times-Union.

“I don’t believe the presence of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would best suit the Jacksonville area,” Rear Admiral Sean Buck said.

But there are positives, with additional amphibious readiness ships slated to call Mayport home.

Will “the good old days” be back for Mayport?

“In the next two to three years Mayport is going to grow and have a very, very big presence of brand-new Navy warships, more sailors, more families and be back to what I consider the good-old days,” Buck said.

MMJ not OK in Jax Beach

It’s unfortunate when 81 percent of voters are wrong.

That’s the message from Jacksonville Beach, where — despite that massive majority voting in favor of Amendment 2 in 2016 — city leaders are putting the kibosh on cannabis dispensaries, per Action News Jax.

Did Charlie Latham get 81 percent of the vote? MMJ did.

“My job is to represent the people of Jacksonville Beach and as I mentioned during the council meeting, 81 percent of the people may have voted for medical marijuana. But it wasn’t 81 percent of Jacksonville Beach residents looking to put a dispensary in Jacksonville Beach,” Mayor Charlie Latham said.

Even by the standards of beach politics, this was shady. The 4-3 City Council vote on the ban’s first reading included a flipped vote and what Action News delicately called “some confusion.”

The final vote on this measure is in two weeks.

Bye Bye Hastings

The St. Johns County hamlet Hastings will be dissolved, per a resounding vote this week.

One hundred thirty-six voted for dissolution, and 29 opposed; total turnout was 41 percent.

Hastings is on its last legs, and St. Johns County is poised to take over services.

Hastings now has somewhere around 644 people, down from 1200 at its peak. The average housing price: around $80,000. There is no in-town high school.

Dissolution will come at a cost to St. Johns County.

Among moneys owed: $237,000 to FDOT, $639,400 in water and sewer Revenue Bond debt, and $72,757 listed in the Ordinance as “Building Maintenance and Improvement Loan.”

Almost $950,000, all told.

State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson told us earlier this year that dissolution “will likely benefit the city residents and businesses because the county will be a more efficient provider of services. The County will likely incur some costs to improve water infrastructure. The County is already providing some services to unincorporated areas near Hastings, so there are some efficiencies that can be recognized.”


Rick Scott refuses to play pundit over GOP’s bad night

If Rick Scott runs for the U.S. Senate next year (as nearly everyone in Florida politics expects), he will have to deal with Donald Trump and his sagging poll numbers.

But less than 48 hours after Democrats posted big wins across the country Tuesday, the Republican governor shows no appetite to analyze the results of the off-year elections.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of pundits that are going to talk about things like that,” Scott said during an appearance at Weather Tite Windows, a West Tampa window and door replacement company. “I’ve got 424 days to go on my job.”

He then launched a litany of talking points, which could very well transfer to a stump speech next year: “My focus is to make this the number one place for jobs, the number one place for education, and a place where people are safe. We’re at forty-six year low in our crime rate. Our higher education system just got ranked the best in the entire country.”

That last comment referred to U.S. News and World Report ranking Florida as the best state in the nation for higher education, with its relatively low tuition rate for colleges and universities and how more than half of students who seek a two-year degree either graduated on time or within three years.

Another Republican aspiring to a statewide ballot next year is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. This week, the Republican gubernatorial candidate showed no reluctance to weigh in on the election.

“We are at a crossroads. Make no mistake. Look what happened in Virginia and New Jersey” Putnam said Wednesday in Winter Park. “There should be a sense of urgency about this election. Not complacency,

Scott’s main purpose for visiting Tampa was to tout his proposed $180 million in cuts to taxes and fees for 2018, his last year in office. His plan includes a mixture of license fee reductions, reducing traffic fines for drivers who attend a basic driver-improvement school after getting a ticket and a 10-day tax holiday on school supplies and clothes.

Many expect Scott will challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in his re-election bid next year. On hand to observe the event was Ryan Patmintra, who earlier in the week was named Florida political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Joe Henderson: Democrats win, but can they keep good times rolling?

Democrats win! Stop the presses!

Well, they should be feeling frisky this morning. They had a fist-pumping night during Tuesday’s elections, just a year after Donald Trump stunned them, and their dreams of controlling the United States Senate were crushed.

Democrats won a series of state and local elections, including nationally watched races for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey.

And in St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman held on to his seat by defeating former mayor Rick Baker, a result that not many were predicting a few months ago.

The tide seemed to turn when Kriseman’s team unloaded a series of attacks that linked Baker to Trump, along with some images that made the former mayor look more than a little angry.

That, plus some well-planned ground work, was enough to give Kriseman four more years.

Add that to the win in a September special election by Democrat Annette Taddeo over former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in GOP-held Senate District 40, and the Dems are showing a pulse as the countdown to the 2018 midterm elections officially begins.

Pundits are interpreting Tuesday’s results as a repudiation of President Trump, and obviously that is true to some degree. Let’s not get carried away, though. This is still a divided country and state.

Kriseman won, but with 51.5 percent of the vote you can’t label that a sweeping mandate. What you can say is that for now, the Democratic strategy of tying GOP candidates in even local elections to Trump is working.

We can expect more of the same in the election for Florida’s Governor in 2018. Anyone who tells you they know how that race will end is dreaming.

It seems likely that the Republican nomination is Adam Putnam’s to lose, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran could complicate that if he gets into the race. But I wouldn’t bet so much as a nickel on how the Democratic scrap will play out. That’s not a bad thing, by the way.

Unlike in 2014, where Charlie Crist proved to be an uninteresting and uninspired Democratic nominee, the party should have several good options.

Gwen Graham is going from one end of the state to the other and has the early lead in polling, but I wouldn’t put a whole lot into that just yet – not when the latest poll says 46 percent of Democrats are undecided.

We haven’t had a chance to measure the impact of the entry into the race by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and no one has a real clue yet what Orlando attorney John Morgan might do.

We also don’t know if Trump’s popularity in Florida will continue to decline, and what impact that could have. If those numbers keep sliding, they could stick to every Republican candidate and tip the balance of power in the state and nation.

Tell you what: I’m going to watch the Dec. 12 special election in Alabama for the U.S. Senate, a heavily Republican state.

Normally that wouldn’t merit more than a line or two in a national roundup, but in Roy Moore the GOP has put up a candidate that many see as an outright loon. He wants to have homosexuality outlawed. He says Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress. He still doesn’t believe Barack Obama was born in America.

He was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court.


Even his candidacy was a rebuke to Trump, who pushed for Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary.

Democrat Doug Jones is a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members for bombing a black church. He has campaigned as a bridge builder.

Polls show a deadlocked race.

Win that one, Democrats, and everyone will pay attention.

Nancy Soderberg lauds Donald Trump tone change in fundraising pitch

Just hours after a wave election night that was brutal for Republicans and almost ideal for Democrats, one might have expected Amb. Nancy Soderberg to send a “rally the troops” fundraising pitch for her bid in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

However, Soderberg went in a different direction, instead giving President Donald Trump credit for a “remarkable and welcome change of tone” regarding tension with North Korea in a fundraising appeal Wednesday morning.

“After months of taunting and threats to North Korea,” Soderberg wrote, “we saw a different President Trump today in his visit to Seoul.”

“It was a remarkable and welcome change of tone. Today,” Soderberg added, “President Trump seemed more inclined to let diplomacy work, backing off on previous remarks that negotiations would be a waste of time.”

“In fact, he seemed to indicate progress and faith in diplomatic efforts, saying ‘Ultimately, it will all work out’.”

Soderberg avoids using the word “pivot” in the email, and offers caveats, including concern about Trump’s
“lack of restraint in his comments and actions in foreign policy issues, bringing us closer to nuclear war than many realize.”

However, while this is “still a very precarious situation,” Soderberg is “encouraged that sanity might be peeking through the door.”

Soderberg notes toward the close that the military option can’t be ruled out.

“All options must remain on the table. Diplomacy is not always the solution. But given the many that would die in a conflict with North Korea,” Soderberg wrote, “we owe it to them and all Americans to exhaust other options first.”

Soderberg had a strong 3Q of fundraising, with $336,000 brought in.

While Rep. Ron DeSantis is the incumbent, talk for months has been that he will run for a statewide race in 2018, making CD 6 an open seat in what could be another Democratic wave election.

‘Battle of Ricks’ ends; Rick Kriseman narrowly re-elected as St. Pete mayor

One of the most contentious, and expensive, mayoral races in St. Petersburg history — christened the “battle of the Ricks” — is finally over.

And, as expected, it was a close race; first-term incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman narrowly defeated former two-term Mayor Rick Baker 51.55 to 48.45 percent.

St. Pete voters cast ballots Tuesday to determine who would be St. Pete’s mayor for the next four years — and the direction of the city, some said — as well as deciding three City Council races.

Voters overwhelmingly approved an extension of the Penny for Pinellas one-cent infrastructure sales tax (83 to 17 percent), and to allow the historic Vinoy Renaissance hotel to upgrade its parking garage.

Between the two, the Ricks raised a joint $2.6 million in the race — by campaigns and associated political committees — making it the most expensive mayoral race ever.

Leading into Election Day, a final St. Pete Polls survey had Kriseman slightly ahead of Baker 48 to 46 percent, well-within a two-point margin of error.

While the race was officially nonpartisan under the St. Pete City charter, party politics played a key role early on as Kriseman, a Democrat, tried to tie Republican Baker to President Donald Trump, who was largely unpopular in St. Petersburg. It was a strategy that seemed to work for the Aug. 29 primary, where Kriseman narrowly won by about 70 votes, despite lagging in polling throughout the campaign.

Since then, Kriseman continued leading in the polls — albeit slightly — throughout the race.

Not helping with the Trump narrative was Baker’s reticence in acknowledging who he supported in 2016.

Among the main policy talking points of the campaign was Kriseman’s response to the city’s sewer problems, a possible relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays and the rising costs of the refurbished St. Petersburg Pier and a new St. Pete Police station.

Kriseman’s longtime chief of staff, Kevin King, also became a campaign issue after Baker’s campaign produced an attack ad (without naming King) highlighting his arrest in 2001 as a 22-year-old substitute teacher in the Pinellas County School District for propositioning a student for sex.

Kriseman’s campaign called for a continuation of the city’s forward movement, saying a vote for Baker — who served as mayor from 2001 to 2010 — would be a step backward. He also blasted Baker for ignoring the city’s emerging status as a leading LGBTQ community during his time in City Hall.

The race also attracted several state and national Democrats to support Kriseman, particularly a rare endorsement from former president Barack Obama. In addition, leading Democratic figures such as Julian Castro, Martin O’Malley and Cory Booker came to St. Pete to campaign for the incumbent.

With Trump’s role in the race, Democrats and progressives are pending their hopes on this race as one of the bellwethers for next year’s midterm elections.

As for Baker, he received more homegrown Republican support, with endorsements from the local GOP establishment and all five living former St. Pete mayors.

Rick Baker faults Rick Kriseman for partisan politics in St. Pete elections

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).

Joe Henderson: Would you vote for Donald Trump again?

Today’s question, class: If you voted for Donald Trump in the last election, would you vote for him again knowing what you know today?

If you didn’t vote him then, would you do so now?

Yes? No?

Wednesday will mark one year since Trump turned the world upside down with his shocking, stunning, unexpected – oh, you know what I mean. But we’ve had time to get used to him and his management style, so what do you think?

Since the election, he has been an extension of the person he was during the campaign –  frequently crude, loose with the truth, addicted to Twitter, and always ready to attack someone he perceives to be an enemy. Some people see all that as a strength.

But my question to you is this: Does that bother you more now than it did during the campaign? Or did you think, as a lot of people appear to have done, that he would put on big-boy pants when he got into office and conduct the affairs of state with proper decorum?

He promised to make America great again – “again” being the linchpin of his campaign. That seemed to be the word that resonated most with supporters.

He did appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and that made supporters happy, but so far, he has no significant legislative wins – despite Republican control of both houses of Congress.

He has warred with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, belittled House Speaker Paul Ryan, trashed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and when backed into a corner he tries to shift the focus to Hillary Clinton (and, by extension, Sessions and the Justice Department).

Pssst. The campaign is over, Mr. President. You won.

He hasn’t made much of an attempt to unite the country, preferring to appeal to a (cough) carefully targeted audience (cough) – although I guess we’ll find out from special counsel Robert Mueller if it was a little too carefully targeted, if you get my drift.

Remember in the campaign when Trump dismissed any suggestion of hacking from Russia by saying it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

Yeah, if that bed is in Vladivostok.

Back on point: Would you vote for him again?

Does it bother you that many top people have either left his administration voluntarily or were fired?

It’s quite a list: Chief of Staff Reince Prebius, HHS Secretary Tom Price, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Ethics Director Walter Shaub, FBI Director James Comey, and on and on.

Did it make America great again to insult important allies like Germany, Australia, Japan, France, Great Britain, and Mexico? Does that type of leadership make you want to vote for him again?

The economy is going gangbusters and he is trying to get a tax plan through. Sure, if adopted as written, rich people will benefit the most but my guess is most supporters won’t care so long as they get a sliver of the pie.

But Obamacare still hasn’t been repealed or replaced, and at this point it looks like the president and his party doesn’t have a clue how to do that. There is no border wall under construction to keep Mexicans on their turf.

His clumsy remarks after the white supremacist clash in Charlottesville, Va. made look like he was offering excuses for bigotry. He assumes he can continue to label any news story he doesn’t like as “fake” and people will continue to believe him.

We had two of the worst cases of mass murder in this country – Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas – occur since Oct. 1. And on Halloween night, eight people died in New York City during what has been called a terrorist attack.

Donald Trump, obviously, could not have stopped any of those attacks. No president could. But what he sold to enough Americans to win the election is that he “alone” – his words – could fix things.

Thus, he alone must be held accountable for the results.

Has he fixed things to your satisfaction? You’ve had almost a year to judge him.

Would you vote for him again?


Charlie Crist confident Obamacare will remain intact

Facing a diminished marketing budget, officials responsible for getting people signed up for the Affordable Care Act in the Tampa Bay area received another boost from Congressman Charlie Crist.

“It’s urgent that we get the word out,”  the St. Petersburg Democrat said at a news conference Monday morning in front of the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Community Health Center in South St. Pete.

As Crist (and others in attendance) reiterated, the time to sign up for the ACA this fall was cut in half, from 90 to 45 days, making every day count for health care officials hoping to get the word out.

In addition to a much more constrained time schedule, the Trump administration cut its advertising budget for the programs by 90 percent this year and eliminated 40 percent of federal grant money to enrollment assistance groups.

“We are spending this year re-educating people, making sure people know about the open enrollment period is coming up, but also reminding them that they need to review their plans,” said Jodi Ray, program director for Florida Covering Kids & Families at USF.

As an example, Ray cited her work this past weekend with a client enrolled in a new plan that didn’t include any of her local providers. After working with the woman, she selected a different plan that had all of her providers.

“People still want coverage,” echoed Melanie Hall, executive director of the Family Healthcare Foundation.

Over 66,000 residents in Pinellas County signed up for the ACA last year, with more than 42,000 of those 66,000 receiving financial assistance. Hall said that even though health care premiums on the ACA have gone up across the board, so have the tax credits that can absorb those increases.

Such an enrollment period was never supposed to happen after Donald Trump was elected President a year ago this week. With a GOP Congress, the ACA (aka “Obamacare”) was destined to become history once the Republicans came up with a plan to replace the often criticized health care program passed by Barack Obama and congressional Democrats seven years ago.

But twice the Republicans have struck out in attempting to repeal and replace the ACA, and Crist said he’s fairly confident that the law will still be in place a year from now when the 2018 midterm congressional elections are held.

“The opposition tried to get rid of it twice already and failed so, so I think that it’s in good shape,” Crist said. He added that the law could be changed somewhat over the course of the next year, but he believes the foundation will stay in place.

“Make no mistake, there is a fight in Washington D.C. about the future of health care,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The mayor, facing a reelection election tomorrow that is too close to call, used the opportunity to tout his Healthy St. Pete initiative, which has been led by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin.

Last week, Tampa Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor held her own news conference with local health care officials touting the beginning of the enrollment period.

There currently is a bill in the Senate that has been proposed by Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state to restore subsidies, expand outreach efforts for the health insurance marketplaces, and give states more flexibility to implement their health care goals while continuing to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Rick Baker thinks media coverage of the race was fair. Rick Kriseman? Not so much

If Rick Kriseman ends up surviving Rick Baker‘s formidable challenge to be re-elected Tuesday for another four years as St. Petersburg mayor, it will be despite the intense hammering he received at the hands of the Tampa Bay Times editorial page.

The Times recommended Baker in advance of both the Aug. 29 primary and the Nov. 7 general election, but late last month, Tim Nickens, the editor of editorials, took his dissatisfaction about Kriseman to another level.

Nickens penned a column (under his name) blasting the Democratic incumbent for running the most partisan mayoral campaign in the city’s history, citing a Florida Democratic Party mailer linking Baker to Donald Trump with an accompanying quote by Martin Luther King Jr. He considered the mailer so egregious and unfair that it compelled him to change his voter registration from Democrat to non-party-affiliated.

“St. Petersburg’s most partisan mayor and his allies helped me see the light, and perhaps I should thank them for that,” he wrote. “Now quit sending to my house mailers that demean King’s legacy and unfairly link an unfit president to St. Petersburg’s best mayor.”

The column angered Kriseman supporters, some of whom have alleged on social media that the paper’s editorial page has grown more conservative after it received an influx of financing from some unnamed investors.

In late July, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin took to social media to blast the paper after it endorsed Baker, but the mayor himself has kept his thoughts about the coverage private, until this weekend.

“I really stopped reading it,” he told Florida Politics when asked about the Times editorial coverage, adding simply: “It is what it is.”

“If you’re going to be a politician, you just can’t let that get to you. You have to do what you believe is the right thing.”

Kriseman went on to say that he was trying to make a difference in the community, “and that’s all I can worry about.”

Late in the campaign, Team Baker brought up the past of Kevin King, Kriseman’s controversial chief of staff, into the race. Saying it was a matter of judgment and character, Baker’s PAC began running ads blasting the mayor for continuing to employ King at City Hall, reviving his 2001 arrest that stemmed from allegations that he propositioned a teenage girl for sex.

The case has been expunged from court files and is not in public records, but the Times editorial page has called for King to make his court records public.

Kriseman has remained radio silent on the issue, remarking only: “It’s always sad when you see ads that are personal.”

Meanwhile, former Mayor Baker has no complaints about media coverage.

“I think it’s been a well-covered campaign, I really do,” he said Saturday. “There’s an article here or there I might disagree with. I think that’s been natural, but overall I think the media’s been fair in the coverage of the campaign.”

The mayor did not weigh in on his thoughts about the alt-weekly Creative Loafing’s reporting, but editor David Warner recently wrote that the Baker campaign had denied several attempts by the paper to have the candidate sit for an interview before the election.

Kriseman was more forthcoming about his disappointment about running a city (and a re-election campaign) in a time of mean Facebook posts.

“The one thing I think that social media has done in general, not just for this election it’s for some people they’ve used it as an opportunity to say things that they would never say to their face and I think that’s one of the negatives about social media in general, whether you’re an elected official or you’re a reporter, you guys are subject to the same stuff, and it’s disappointing.”

Baker responded to a question about social media to emphasize it’s ability to get out his message in a different way to the voters.

“There’s certain parts of it that are a lot of fun,” he says. “You can reach out and very quickly touch people out in the community through the social media effort.”

TCPalm shows poor editorial judgment with ‘algae’ photo


A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in some cases, one word can be just plain wrong.

Case in point is recent reporting on high bacteria levels in Treasure Coast beaches, particularly a story featured on the front page of Thursday’s Stuart News, also featured prominently in

“Brevard is the only local county where it’s safe to swim at all the beaches right now,” writes reporter Cheryl Smith. “Palm Beach is the worst. And the Treasure Coast is a mixed bag.”

The problem is not necessarily the story itself – which outlines 13 avoid-water advisories in effect throughout a five-County area from unsafe bacteria levels. It also touched on how President Donald Trump’s proposed budget threatens the Florida Healthy Beaches Program, which tests beaches every couple of weeks, more often during advisories.

At issue the photo going with the front page of the print version.

It’s a file photo of the signs warning of high bacteria levels – and algae bloom – at Leighton Park.

Algae blooms? Who said anything about algae blooms?

The Florida Department of Health put the region under warnings for enteric (fecal) bacteria and sewage in the St. Lucie River, not blue-green algae blooms.

Of course, on the online version, at, uses an entirely different photo – with a much more accurate warning: “High bacteria – avoid contact with the water.”

Along the Treasure Coast, algae blooms can be a touchy subject.

In summer 2016, the St. Lucie River faced blooms holding 28 species of blue-green algae, according to a study released in May by the U.S. Geological Survey. The situation became such where Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties.

Algae bloom also helped the state accelerate a purchase of 60,000 acres of valuable sugarcane land south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir to store fresh water, which is expected to filter out nutrients and empty the water into Florida Bay.

And algae blooms have also been a source a great deal of reporting TCPalm, which is acutely aware how contentious the issue can be.

Knowing that was Eve Samples – the paper’s opinion editor – who acknowledged it was wrong.

When several readers, called out the error, Samples responded through a Facebook comment: “I understand why this photo concerned you. You’ll notice the caption states ‘file photo,’ which indicates it’s from our archives and not current. With that said we need to be more careful about which file photos we choose to illustrate stories. This was not a good choice, and I just spoke to several of our staffers about being more careful about file photo choices in the future. We will redouble our efforts.”

With news photos, they can go one of two ways; either neutral and objective or (with just the right editorial placement) promoting a point of view.

In the case of “algae,” it’s clear on which side that image fell.

Here is the image that should have run in the paper, and did run on



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