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Boon or bust? Rick Baker’s endorsement tops Trenia Cox yard signs

It’s a re-do contest between Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman.

It’s the “Battle of the Ricks” all over again. Except this time it’s once removed.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker duked it out in a rough election two years ago. Now the two are battling again — for their pick in City Council District 5.

Trenia Cox, a former Juvenile Welfare Board worker, is handing out yard signs to supporters touting not just her name, but also Baker’s endorsement.

Cox’s opponent, Deborah Figgs-Sanders, is enjoying support from Kriseman who several times has taken to social media to ask voters to cast their ballot for her.

The difference between the Cox and Figgs-Sanders contest and Baker’s losing campaign against Kriseman is that both City Council candidates are Democrats. Kriseman is also a Democrat while Baker is a Republican.

Their support is highlighting a partisan divide where there otherwise might not be one, and it might be a bad strategy for Cox to latch onto.

First, Baker lost by 3.26 percentage points. About 2,200 votes separated the candidates. So while it’s not a huge margin, Kriseman still carried more than a majority of the vote.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, St. Pete is a Democratic town.

Of the city’s more than 183,000 voters, more than 46 percent are registered Democrats compared to 26.5 percent who are registered Republicans. In fact, there are more independent and third-party registered voters than there are Republicans.

Kriseman’s social media beef with Cox hinges on her support from Republican leaders and donors, including Baker and his affiliates.

Rep. Chris Latvala is consulting for Cox. Both he and his father, former Sen. Jack Latvala, supported Baker. Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters also endorsed Cox. She also has support from Democrats who backed Baker, including Rep. Wengay Newton.

“I don’t know her opponent well,” Kriseman wrote Sunday referring to Cox. “But I know all too well who is supporting her: The same politicians, political action committees, and political party people who worked to defeat me and turn back the clock on progress in St. Pete. This election is about where we want to go as a city. I always choose forward.”

Outside of political support from partisan characters it is difficult to tell Cox’s platform from Figgs-Sanders’.

Both are dedicated to economic development, affordable and workforce housing and redeveloping Tropicana Field in a way that honors the black community that was displaced by its construction. So it seems reasonable for voters to peel back the layers to look at support. After all as Aesop put it, “a man is known by the company he keeps.”

A potential tide balance: Cox’s campaign is also dolling out yard signs announcing City Council member Darden Rice‘s endorsement, a top-name recognition Democrat.

Still, St. Pete City Council races are non-partisan and Baker, even though he lost, is still revered in plenty of circles. Still, the question remains, will the number of votes Cox potentially earns as a result of her support from Baker outweigh the number of votes she loses because of it?

Voters will find out next Tuesday after polls close at 7 p.m.

Cox and Figgs-Sanders are running for District 5 in south St. Pete to replace Steve Kornell, who is leaving office because of term limits.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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