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‘One more time’ — Rick Baker seeks to unseat Rick Kriseman

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Six days after he led a successful push for the Tampa Bay Rowdies to extend its lease at Al Lang Stadium, Rick Baker pulled the trigger on a bid for a third term as Mayor of St. Petersburg, a job he held from 2001-2010.

Baker personally filed his paperwork with the City Clerk’s office Monday. A phone number listed on his intent-to-file form was actually for another candidate who ran for Pinellas County Tax Collector.

Baker’s entry into the contest had been rumored for months, but he steadfastly refused to comment while he engaged in a mini-campaign advocating for the approval of the Rowdies referendum, part of his job working as president of the Edwards Group, led by entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

In addition to eight years as St. Petersburg mayor, Baker previously served as president of the Fisher and Sauls law firm, chair of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and has been with the Edwards Group since December of 2012. He also worked as Vice President of Economic Development at the University of South Florida.

Since ending his second term as Mayor in January of 2010, Baker has been rumored to be a candidate for a number of political seats, but ultimately declined to run for any of them.

Although a series of polls show Baker leading incumbent Rick Kriseman, it will not be easy. Baker hasn’t been in a serious race since his first election in 2001, where he came out on top in what was a nine-person field. He easily defeated Democratic activist Ed Helm in his re-election bid in 2005.

Kriseman has been gearing up for the race for some time and has already raised more than $400,000 for his re-election effort. And his campaign team is prepared to make what is considered a nonpartisan race a very partisan one. Kriseman is a Democrat, Baker a Republican.

Many predict the intensity among progressive voters will have implications in the mayoral contest.

“It’s going to be somebody who stood on stage with people like Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, where Rick Kriseman was out knocking on doors for Barack Obama, right?” Kriseman’s campaign manager, Jacob Smith, told SPB back in March. “I think that is a dynamic that will absolutely come into this race. A lot of the most fired up people right now are the people who stand with Rick on a lot of issues.”

One factor that could also make this race interesting is the city’s black community.

When Baker last won re-election in 2005, he took every precinct in the city, including those areas where blacks were the majority. Much of his success was from his re-election platform — the “Baker Plan” — which addressed five key issues: education; economic development, particularly in Midtown; public safety; neighborhood associations; and improved access to city services. Black voters had been a deciding coalition for Baker in 2001 and successor Bill Foster in 2009.

Baker, who received widespread recognition for his concept of a “seamless city, had made significant strides during his time at City Hall in the relationship with the city’s south side. As mayor, he was able to prove that a Republican can be both tough on crime and strong on the environment.

Upon finishing his final term, Baker opted out decided from mounting a statewide campaign, citing more time to be with family.

Of course, this year, Kriseman is a stronger opponent those Baker has faced before, as well as an advantage as the incumbent.

In a campaign statement, Kriseman responded to Baker’s entry in the race, pointing out specifically that the former mayor is filing for “a third run.”

“I welcome all candidates to this race,” Kriseman said. “In just a few short years our community has moved forward on issues big and small, creating a city of opportunity and elevating St. Pete as a bold, progressive city. I’m proud of how far we’ve come and look forward to sharing our accomplishments and vision for the future on the campaign trail.”

“Rick Baker had eight years as mayor and is now asking voters for more,” campaign manager Smith added. “Unfortunately for Rick Baker, this city is eager to pursue its future, not turn back the clock and unwind our progress with the Rays, the Pier, the police department, and economic development and opportunity creation in South St. Pete. Rick Baker is simply out of step with St. Pete. His refusal to embrace all individuals in our diverse community, especially our LGBT citizens, and his high-profile work against our first African-American president disqualifies him from governing a city as inclusive as St. Petersburg.”

Baker’s campaign announced they will hold a media event on the steps outside the St. Petersburg City Hall Tuesday morning at 8 a.m.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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