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With sanctuary city comment, Rick Kriseman defiant, but misguided

Whether you agree with the rules or you don’t, it’s never wise for a person in authority to say they are not going to follow the law. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman essentially did that when he stated the following in a blog post:

“While our county sheriff’s office is ultimately responsible for notifying the federal government about individuals who are here illegally, I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws,” he wrote.

“We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States. Should our solidarity with ‘Sanctuary Cities’ put in peril the millions of dollars we receive each year from the federal government or via pass-through grants, we will then challenge that decision in court. Win or lose, we will have upheld our values.”

Kriseman was forced to retreat Sunday after Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his officers would enforce the law. That’s when Kriseman said in an interview that St. Pete isn’t really a so-called Sanctuary City — it just agrees with the concept.

That’s called trying to have it both ways. It usually doesn’t work.

That said, I agree completely with Kriseman that President Trump’s demonization of undocumented immigrants goes against everything America is supposed to stand for. So much about the president’s immigration policy is morally and ethically repugnant, designed to stoke irrational fear among the citizenry.

I just wish Kriseman had taken the approach of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He visited the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque Friday to support those jittery about the travel ban Trump wants to impose on people from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“This city has your back,” Buckhorn told them. “I don’t care what this President did — that is not who America is. That is not what we represent. That is not what we are all about!”

See the difference in the approaches of the two mayors?

Buckhorn stepped up to the line and maybe jumped up and down on it a bit, but Kriseman stepped over it.

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Buckhorn was supportive. Kriseman was defiant.

Both are Democrats, by the way.

Buckhorn told reporters covering the Friday event that Tampa is not a Sanctuary City, but he left enforcement up to his police department. When Kriseman said St. Petersburg police wouldn’t stop someone suspected of being here illegally, that took it a bit too far.

Hence, his retreat Sunday.

That could have repercussions for Kriseman in a re-election bid. While Pinellas County has only 245 more registered Republicans than Democrats (out of 641,484 voters), Trump won there in November by about 5,500 votes over Hillary Clinton.

A recent poll showed Kriseman trailing former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker in a theoretical rematch (Baker has not declared he is running).

That’s a discussion for another day, though.

For now, I’ll give Kriseman high marks for having his heart in the right place. On the rest of it, though, he gets an incomplete.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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