Is the Tampa Bay Times going to bat against the Rays? It sure looks like it

The paper published two misleading headlines — one online and one in print — saying both political 'parties' oppose the stadium deal. That's not even close to true.

This week, the Tampa Bay Times published a story online under the headline, “One thing St. Petersburg Democrats, GOP agree on: No to Rays stadium deal.” It’s an evocative headline. Very clicky. 

There’s just one problem, the paper seems to have taken some serious liberties with its determination that both parties dislike the Rays/Hines proposal currently under consideration for redeveloping the Historic Gas Plant District. 

And it gets worse. 

On Wednesday, on the front page of the local and state section, a ginormous font headline read, “Parties agree: No stadium deal.” 

It’s so ridiculous I’m imagining a boy in a flat cap standing on a street corner, wagging the paper around and shouting “EXTRA EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT!” 

There are a number of reasons why this headline is ridiculous. 

First and probably most importantly, the “parties” are not in agreement. Some random (and in some cases, fringe) members of each political party are opposed to the current proposed deal, which includes an assortment of public amenities such as affordable housing, office space, retail, a hotel, parks, a new African American history museum, and more, in addition to a new ballpark. 

The Times — and I’m referring to only the paper here and not the individual author because I strongly suspect her hands were tied by an editorial decision above her pay grade — bases its assertion that the “parties agree” on two meetings that are hardly representative of each party’s main apparatus. 

On the Republican side, it cites a St. Petersburg Republican Club town hall meeting earlier this month in which, during a show-of-hands poll of the approximately 90 people in attendance, 26 said they opposed the deal. That’s only 10 more than said they supported the deal and only eight more than those who said they were undecided. 

Also, the town hall was attended by not just Republicans — it was open to anyone who wanted to show up, including Democrats. The Times did not say whether they asked those 26 people about their party affiliation, and if they did, they didn’t say how many were actually Republicans. So to recap with a salient question: Do 27 people, some of whom may not even be Republicans, speak for the Republican Party in Pinellas County as a whole? I’d answer, “definitely not.” There are 236,789 registered Republican voters in Pinellas County. Even if we assume that all 26 who raised their hands against the Rays/Hines proposal were members of the GOP, that’s a statistically insignificant (really, really, really, really insignificant) 0.0001% of the total party representation in Pinellas County. 

Now let’s look at the Democratic side. Here, the Times bases its assertion that Democrats are opposed to the deal on a meeting dating back to October in which, wait for it, 15 people showed up. Of those 15, the Times reported that “some” spoke in favor of the deal. Yet the club “agreed to a resolution opposing the project.” Let’s employ the same math here as we just did on the Republican side. There are 204,757 registered Democratic voters in Pinellas County. Those 15 — and I’ll remind you that not all 15 even opposed the deal — represent an even more close to zero cohort of the overall Democratic electorate in the county, at just 0.00007%. 

Moving on to these clubs in general. What the Times fails to acknowledge, and what its outrageous headlines actively ignores, is that these clubs are not official party representation. 

The Pinellas Democratic Party’s bylaws directly prohibit anyone but its chair from speaking on behalf of the local party, including those who are leaders in affiliated clubs. 

The St. Petersburg Republican Club President is Barbara Haselden. Readers might remember her from her days as an anti-transit activist rallying (successfully, to her credit) against the long ago failed Greenlight Pinellas referendum. The club has a “MAGA committee,” and is more a fan club for former President Donald Trump than a political body aiming to further the GOP’s relevance in Pinellas County. While the GOP are running this cycle on a hard-line approach to immigration, those in official leadership positions know that words matter. Haselden, meanwhile, recently called undocumented immigrants “illegal people,” speaking on an episode of WEDU’s Florida This Week late last month. As we all know — Republicans included — people can enter the country illegally; people themselves cannot be illegal. Maybe she misspoke, but I’m going to page Dr. Freud on this one. 

To the St. Petersburg Republican Club’s credit, it has a respectable(ish) 1,000 followers on Facebook. That’s more than can be said for the St. Pete Democratic Club, which suffers an abysmal following of just 825. It doesn’t have a website and, as far as I can tell, the club’s leadership isn’t listed anywhere. Jim Donelon, who the Times quoted as part of its claim that the “parties agree,” isn’t even the club president. According to the Times, he’s the past president who now serves as treasurer. 

My final piece should be glaringly obvious to anyone who read the Times’ farce this week. At the same time it used a St. Petersburg Republican Club meeting to make the case that Republicans opposed the Rays/Hines deal, it also rightly pointed out that the guest speakers at the meeting — both Republicans — actually support the deal. 

Guys, you just can’t make this sh*t up. The Times has stretched so far to support a hypothesis it’s possible they missed their calling as gymnasts.

If the Times’ Editorial Board wants to take a stance on the Rays/Hines deal, they are free to do so, as they do with candidate recommendations in literally every single election cycle. They weigh in on ballot questions and all sorts of issues that affect the public. If they want to push the city of St. Pete and Pinellas County government to try to negotiate a better deal, the editorial board process is the appropriate and customary channel for which to do so. 

But to have a reporter editorialize to this degree — taking liberties about who represents parties that aren’t even a stretch, they’re just wrong — is catastrophically irresponsible. Times readers — everyone in the county whether they read the Times or not, really — should make up their own minds about this deal without being intentionally misled by a paper whose leadership appears to have some sort of beef with either the Rays or possibly the Ken Welch administration (or both).

My hope is that Pinellas County residents — from Tarpon Springs to Greater Pinellas Point — will see this reporting for what it is, biased garbage that a high school student could easily debunk. 

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


  • Neil Metnick

    April 18, 2024 at 4:38 pm

    I can’t believe the Rays wanna stay in downtown St Pete! It’s the worst decision they could make! The stadium would be much better on the Tampa side. St Pete is not a big league city for many reasons-it never has been!


      April 18, 2024 at 11:50 pm

      The stadium and where the Rays play isn’t the issue here. It’s a land grab of 86 acres in prime downtown St. Petersburg, adjacent to the thriving Edge District. For years, we will see no construction, except for a stadium and some parking structures, but Sternberg/Hines will control all that surrounding real estate.

  • Karyn Mueller

    April 18, 2024 at 11:22 pm

    I attended the Republican club meeting and the majority was opposed. The Democratic Club unanimously was opposed.

    Check out the responses from the residents of St Petersburg to this article on the Reddit St Pete subreddit! Not very many people happy about this project!


    April 18, 2024 at 11:54 pm

    Peter, an easy way to determine the veracity of the Times article is a referendum. The Council actually voted 5 to 3 to have a referendum…unfortunately, this was 1 short of the super majority needed to put it on the ballot. Bottom line, it’s a terrible deal, and people are beginning to understand that.

    • Adrian Gansen

      April 19, 2024 at 7:28 am

      Was there an explanation of why the council voted down a referendum? The magnitude and profound economic impact of this project needs to be decided by the taxpayers, not 8 people at city hall. Let the people decide!

  • Christopher Lerbs

    April 19, 2024 at 2:24 am

    Voters in Kansas City rejected spending public funds on two stadiums. The Virginia legislature refused to fund a NHL arena. There is a national trend and St. Petersburg and Pinellas County voters understand that gifting money and property to team owners in return for goodwill is foolish. Our City needs attainable housing, senior housing, storm water management, better schools, daycare for children and seniors and lower taxes. Voters know a bad deal when they see it.

    • Lyn Wilkinson

      April 19, 2024 at 7:28 am

      Sadly Christopher, the public isn’t getting a vote – the Rays made sure of that! The Mayor and City Council are using special tax district trickery in order to get this deal done. And has Hal pointed out, for them it’s really about control of 66 acres, which they are buying at the fire sale price of $1.5M an acre – laughable!

  • Bill Parker

    April 19, 2024 at 10:28 am

    Another slanted, biased thinkpiece from the premiere source of slimy, pay-to-play political coverage.
    God knows how much the team and its lackeys are paying FL Politics, but dancing around the disgusting giveaways and the complete lack of binding restrictions OR profit share can’t make this deal any less of a giant turd sandwich for everyone living in the area, not named “Sternberg” or related to the mayor. If any of the paid off experts or deluded supporters actually believed this was such a winning proposal, then they’d welcome a public VOTE and a lengthy, tough negotiation.

    This deal is rife with corruption and loopholes that pose a giant threat to the financial and civic health of the area. Any public official with a shred of integrity must vote “NO”.

  • Polita Glynn

    April 19, 2024 at 2:10 pm

    Let the people vote. Hold a referendum. This is a major redevelopment project in the heart of St. Pete on prime real estate and there are many questions about the actual financial impacts to taxpayers over the next 30 years.

  • Neil Metnick

    April 20, 2024 at 3:08 pm

    I think the poor location of the stadium has always been an important issue.

Comments are closed.


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