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Winners and losers emerging from St. Petersburg’s municipal elections

Tuesday’s slate of elections in St. Petersburg certainly provided a list of winners and losers, and I’m not just talking about candidates. Here’s a list of the real winners and losers emerging from the city’s general elections. Please let me know if I missed anyone.

The Biggest Winners

To the victors, go the spoils. Right, Mr. King?

Kevin King and Ben KirbyKriseman‘s top City Hall staffers earn six-figure salaries in their positions. Had Kriseman lost, it is highly doubtful these two (fathers of young children) would have found other jobs that pay nearly as well. Now they’re set for another four years. No wonder King was spotted at Kriseman’s victory party drinking champagne right out of the bottle (or is that just an interesting craft beer?). The scoreboard is the best reward.


Tampa Bay Rays — The baseball team invested heavily in Kriseman’s campaign because it knows the Mayor would be more flexible than Baker when it makes its desire to move to Tampa official. And now with Kriseman in office for four more years and a viable stadium site in Hillsborough, the Rays need to come to the plate with their plans for the future.

Rene Flowers — If there was one local pol who is all-in for Kriseman, it is Flowers, the African-American School Board member who had served with Kriseman on City Council. It’s no coincidence that when during the primary she said it was time for Kriseman to take the gloves off, the campaign began to perform better.

Vito Sheeley and Ella K. Coffee – The pair, both longtime Democratic operatives, were central figures in the Kriseman campaign outreach to St. Pete’s African-American community, a voting bloc that again proved essential to his win, as it had in every mayoral race in the past couple of decades. While Kriseman received a boost from higher turnout downtown, he also enjoyed improved margins throughout several South St. Pete neighborhoods, including Pinellas Point and Lakewood Terrace – faring much better with the city’s black community than in the primary.

Jacob Smith — When he was first hired as campaign manager, there were more than a few raised eyebrows given his W-L record (he was Hillary Clinton‘s organizing coordinator in Michigan). But in both the primary and general election phases of the mayoral race, Smith’s field program delivered for Kriseman. Smith’s phone should be ringing off the hook today with calls from Democratic candidates looking for top-notch staff.

Jeff Copeland — If there is one tried-and-true fact about St. Pete politics, it’s that Copeland — the African American community advocate and businessman — is always on the winning side.

Want to know who’s gonna win an election in St. Pete? Ask Jeff Copeland.

Tom Eldon — Served as pollster for the Kriseman campaign. Described by many as low-key but very bright. Eldon knows Tampa Bay well and provided critical strategic counsel to help Kriseman win a second term.

Omar Khan — Came in at the end of the general election campaign to guide the Kriseman campaign down the final stretch. Made critical decisions on messaging and spending. Khan is quickly becoming one of the pre-eminent political consultants working in Florida politics.

Charlie Crist and Darryl Rouson — Two of Kriseman’s most visible cheerleaders stuck by Kriseman through thick and thin, rallying volunteers and serving as surrogates on the campaign trail. Don’t think for one second Crist isn’t enjoying sticking it to his one-time friend Rick Baker.

Darden Rice — This column isn’t supposed to be about the candidates who won because, well, that’s obvious. However, Rice makes it onto the list because with Kriseman not being able to run again and her winning re-election in a landslide, Rice is — right now — the default front-runner of the 2021 mayoral race.

Susan McGrath — Had Kriseman lost in the primary or the general, the knives would have been out for the leader of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Instead of that happening, McGrath is now part of a vanguard determined to turn Pinellas blue.

Sally Boynton Brown — As she did during the primary, the executive director of the FDP worked behind the scenes to turn a local race into a statewide affair. Kriseman was able to count on Democrat volunteers from throughout the state, and it was Boynton Brown who organized much of that. With the win in SD 40 and St. Pete, Florida Democrats are excited about their prospects heading into 2018.

David Jolly — No, he doesn’t like seeing his fellow moderate Republicans lose, but with Baker’s defeat and Jack Latvala‘s currently diminished influence, the former U.S. Rep. turned MSNBC star is close to being the top dog of Pinellas politics.

Chris Steinocher — Somewhere along the way, the president of the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce got cross-wired with Rick Baker, who came to view the ‘Tampa guy’ as ineffectual. Steinocher never publicly chose sides, but he made sure there were plenty of ribbons for Kriseman to cut. Maybe now the Chamber will have a better relationship with the Kriseman administration, although I’m not sure the hiring of Matt Lettelleir will help that.

LGBTQ community — No single bloc of St. Pete voters was more fearful of Kriseman losing than the LGBTQ community. That’s why it was extremely active on social media, where it was highly critical of Baker. The whole “backwards Baker” slogan really took root with the city’s LGBTQ residents. Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith summed it up this way, “Kriseman’s stellar record stands in stark contrast to Baker who as mayor treated us with indifference and contempt. We made sure people remembered that in the primary, and we will be back in November.”

St. Pete Polls — The local polling firm was criticized after the primary election for underestimating Kriseman, but Matt Florell and Co. rebounded nicely in the general election. It’s final survey of Kriseman vs. Baker pegged the race at Kriseman +2; the final result was Kriseman +3. Such accuracy should reassure gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, who St. Pete Polls says is way ahead of the rest of the Democratic field. (By the way, my final prediction was Kriseman winning with 51.5% of the vote. I apologize for being a tenth of a percentage point off.)

Gregory Wilson — Ho-hum, another win (he was Brandi Gabbard‘s general consultant) for one of the most competent and creative operatives in Tampa Bay politics. There are flashier consultant picks, but if I were a Democrat running somewhere in Tampa Bay, Wilson would be my first choice (sorry Meagan and Tom).

Meagan Salisbury and Tom Alte — Our affinity for Wilson aside, Blue Ticket Consulting was a big winner Tuesday, consulting on the campaigns of both Darden Rice and Gina Driscoll.

Pinellas Realtors OrganizationJoe Farrell and Co. are probably still sending mail to voters on behalf of Brandi Gabbard, their preferred candidate in the District 2 race. The Realtors’ muscle was the deciding factor in that race.

Charlie Frago — During the primary, we paired the Tampa Bay Times reporter with his colleague, Mark Puente, in the winners’ column. But even Puente will tell you Frago has been a one-man army during the general election. Contra its opinion section, the Times should be proud of Frago’s comprehensive coverage. I really can’t think of an aspect of the campaign Frago didn’t cover.

The rest of the local media — In addition to Frago, several other local journalists have done a solid job covering the mayoral race. Kudos to the ex-truck driver, as well as Evan Axelbank of Fox 13, Kate Bradshaw of Creative Loafing, Gypsy Gallardo of Power Broker Magazine, Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Anne Lindberg of Tampa Bay Reporter, our own Mitch Perry, and 10 News’ Noah Pransky, who was out with a blog post discussing the implications of Kriseman’s victory minutes after the results were official.

Deborah Clark and the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office — The SOE was on her game Tuesday night, posting election results within minutes of polls closing. And with a record turnout in St. Pete — 66,872 ballots were cast — the elections supervisor’s office also deserves credit for its role in encouraging residents to vote.

Vinoy Club members (like me) — Thanks, St. Pete voters, for letting us build a new parking garage.

The Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club is undergoing a $50 million redevelopment. On Tuesday, The Vinoy won approval to build a one-story parking garage as part of that project, in place of eight existing tennis courts. The tennis courts would be moved on top of the garage, which would hold 270 parking spots.

Mixed bag

Black voters — For a few months every four years, the rest of the city pays attention to the issues of black residents. Candidates visit churches. Ministers make endorsements (which is an odd phenomenon to many white voters, who would run from their church if their parish priest told them how to vote). Reporters write about how winning the black vote is critical. Blah, blah, blah. By December, the politicians will have moved on and the folks who need help the most will be mostly forgotten.

Bill Edwards — Sure, the bazillionaire was one of Baker’s biggest donors, and it’s no secret that he and the Kriseman administration don’t always see eye-to-eye, but you know what, being a bazillionaire means never having to say you’re sorry. After Edwards makes a couple of key donations to Kriseman priorities, all will be well. That said, Major League Soccer coming to the ‘burg increasingly looks like a long shot.

Ed Montanari — Undoubtedly, the soft-spoken City Councilman is hurting for his dear friend, Rick Baker, but now he’s the leader of the loyal opposition. There’s real power in that.

Jim Rimes and Nick Hansen — You were expecting to see these two Baker consultants in the losers column, but I genuinely don’t believe they belong there. These two veteran operatives were responsible for making the trains run on time for the Baker campaign and in that, they did their job. The campaign’s infrastructure was sound — more than enough money was raised, more than enough volunteers were recruited, etc. — it was the strategy (Baker made the fatal mistake of being his own general consultant), the message, and the political environment which doomed the former mayor.

Kanika Tomalin — The Deputy Mayor is still the Deputy Mayor, but the shine came off Tomalin during this campaign. We’ll never know what really happened at MISRED, but there’s no disputing that the incident was one of the ugliest moments of Kriseman vs. Baker. For some reason, Dr. Tomalin has long been regarded as above the nitty-gritty of electoral politics; this campaign has proved that’s no longer accurate. The question going forward is: does Tomalin run for Mayor in 2021?

Nick Janovsky — The hyperactive political consultant lost — badly — in the District 2 race, but the Realtor and equality activist does in such spectacular fashion, I’m hard-pressed to ding him with an L. Still, couldn’t he have told Barclay Harless to smile more.

The Biggest Loser

Tim Nickens and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — It was only four years ago that Nickens and Daniel Ruth won Pulitzer Prizes for their editorials that encouraged Pinellas County to resume adding fluoride to the drinking water. Those editorials were so effective because they were so in tune with the mood of the community as evidenced by the fact that voters ousted two county commissioners who opposed fluoride in the water. That was then; this is now. Kriseman’s victory is the first time in St. Pete’s modern history that a candidate won a mayoral election without the Times’ recommendation. But this just wasn’t a case of not picking the winner. Again and again, Nickens’ poison pen went to work for Baker, shocking many longtime readers. That Nickens left the Democratic Party over this election speaks to how needlessly dramatic the editor was throughout the campaign. One former Times editor said Nickens and Co.’s behavior is a “major embarrassment (that) reflects the diminished state of the paper.”


Adam Goodman — A Democratic elected official asked me last night when was the last time the Republican ad man won an election that wasn’t an expected win. Actually, it wasn’t that long ago (Jolly’s special election in 2014), yet there are many politicos in Tampa Bay and Tallahassee who say the game has passed him by. His work for Baker was a game-changing disaster. During the primary phase, the ads Goodman cut were only ineffectual; in the general election, the ones with the hipster motifs were cringe-worthy and counterproductive. If Baker can blame anyone other than himself for his loss, it’s Goodman.

Goliath Davis — Is it really a surprise that the controversial former police chief is no longer a gatekeeper to the black vote? Baker made a tactical mistake relying so heavily on Davis’ advice, but then again Baker has always been blind to Davis’ faults. It’s time for Go to go.

Deveron Gibbons — One of Baker’s chief surrogates in the African-American community, Gibbons was hoping for, but not banking on, Baker returning to City Hall. Fortunately for Gibbons, he’s diversified his power base since losing his own mayoral run in 2009.

Wengay Newton — Baker’s most prominent African-American elected official now has a big bright target on his back going into the 2018 elections where he’ll face Vito Sheeley, one of Kriseman’s most visible surrogates. Pinellas Democratic Party chair Susan McGrath says Sheeley received four donations Tuesday night at Kriseman’s victory party.

Brock Mikosky — I genuinely like Brock and the swagger he imbues the campaigns he works on, but he was Justin Bean’s general consultant, so he has to make it into the L column. Bean’s loss paired with Yvonne Fry’s, um, upset in the special election last month in House District 58 have made it tough Fall for Mikosky. Except him and wife recently had their first child, and that’s all that matters.

Pinellas GOP — St. Pete is a Democrat-leaning city, so of course, Donald Trump’s not going to play well in the ‘burg. But Tuesday’s results go beyond that. There’s something in the water around here, so much so that if I’m Jeff Brandes or Chris Latvala, two Republicans running for re-election in moderate districts, I start putting as much distance between me and the president as possible. Pinellas Republicans, at least the establishment wing of the party, also need to think about this: Baker’s done, and Jack Latvala is on the ropes. Those two men, along with the late C.W. Bill Young, have dominated local politics for nearly two decades. What will the scene look like without them?

Alan Suskey — As Baker’s most visible supporter in Tallahassee, my best friend will have to explain to the capital crowd why the once-inevitable Baker lost (just blame it on Goodman). Then again, part of Suskey’s brand is his loyalty, so sticking by his friend Rick Baker only reinforces the idea that Suskey’s someone you want with you in a foxhole.

Leslie Wimes — Few people in St. Petersburg know who Wimes is, but she’s something of a personality on Twitter and such, where she was one of Baker’s most visible Democrat supporters. We’re still waiting to hear from Wimes about a campaign she’s backed that ended up winning. I’m also hearing that Nikki Barnes, a member of the national DNC who backed Baker, may be removed from her posts due to her violating her loyalty oath.

Whoever designed this blatant example of cultural appropriation …

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

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