ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — The race for St. Petersburg’s next mayor is turning into the battle of “The Ricks.”
Incumbent Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman will face off against the man who held his job for 8 years, former Republican Mayor Rick Baker.
Early poll numbers show Baker opening a 13-point lead, and News Channel 8 wanted to know how Mayor Kriseman plans to close the gap.
Kriseman went one-on-one with News Channel 8’s Paul Mueller Sunday morning.Paul Mueller:What do you say to voters who supported Rick Baker twice before? Why would they want to vote for you this time?Kriseman:Well, I think it’s really looking at what’s happened in the last four years. If you look at everything we’ve been able to accomplish in the last four years, all the things that were stuck and we’ve been able to move the needle on. Things like investing in our Southside CRA, which is the largest CRA in Pinellas County, and we’re doing it differently in how we are investing those dollars. Investing instead of just buildings and infrastructure, investing in people and seeing the results of those investments where we are starting to see poverty starting to go down at a rate higher than the national average. Mueller: There are a number of issues Baker has already called you out on like not paying attention to crime in the midtown area, the city’s sewage dumping problem and spending too much money on marketing. How do you respond to him?Kriseman: Well, I look at our police department and I am incredibly proud of the men and women that serve us and the relationship they’ve been able to build over the last four years with the community. Because of the relationship, because of the chief, like Chief Holloway, he’s brought in a program like park walk and talk, we are solving more crime than we used to and not having the turnover we used to. Two officers would leave the department every month. It was a rotation with a revolving door. We have officers coming from other departments into the city. Crime is being reduced by six percent overall, 26 percent in violent crime.Mueller: Let’s talk about the city’s sewage problem and Mr. Baker attacking you on that issue.Kriseman:Well, it’s totally on my mind too because it’s a system that for years, certainly for the last ten years — Mueller: While Baker was mayor?Kriseman: While Baker was mayor, before Baker, after Baker. The city spent money on the system but we didn’t spend enough. If we had spent enough we wouldn’t have had the problems we’ve had in the last 18 months. My administration is working in partnership with City Council, we’re committed to fixing the system and investing $305 million over the next 10 years and then continuing to invest after that because we can’t declare victory at that point we have to keep investing.Mueller: Let’s talk about the Rays. As part of your Forever Baseball campaign, you rolled out a bold new plan last month to build a new stadium and redevelop the area at Tropicana Field. Some say this isn’t realistic and want to know how you are going to pay for it.Kriseman:I think we in Pinellas County, we have some opportunities here, both county wide and in the city, to fund a stadium in ways that across the bay are a bit more challenging. Having the TDC funding available, that extra percent that they don’t have in Hillsborough County, that’s about $150 to $200,000 standing alone, that pot of money. In addition, you have the development rights on that site. I’ve been very clear about this, I’ve told my taxpayers, we’re not going to raise millage rates one penny in order to pay for a stadium. We think there are ways of doing it without that. Mueller: The pier rebuilding has also become a flash point for you. The current estimate comes in around $60 million and that’s with $14 million worth of improvements over the original plan. Is it worth it for taxpayers?Kriseman:So the pier, first off, is in budget. There are two parts to the pier district. There is the pier itself and then there is the waterfront master plan first phase. Both of those are in budget. The $14 million that you are referring to, we are looking at maybe $10 million of it to do some enhancements that we think might be something the city would want to do down the road. It’s cheaper to do them now and it’s more efficient to do them now. But even if we don’t do them, we are going to have a fantastic pier that this community is going to be proud of.Mueller: St. Pete Pride is just around the corner. You’ve criticized Rick Baker for not embracing the LGBTQ community. You clashed with Pride organizers when the plan surfaced to move the parade to the waterfront from Grand Central, even threatening to withhold money for the event. Not everyone’s happy with that plan.Kriseman: Well we’ve reached what we think is a great compromise in working with St. Pete Pride to come up with a solution to the idea of moving it from where the parade was born to a portion of the weekend being in downtown St. Petersburg. It’s something Pride had wanted to try. It impacts the businesses that are in the Grand Central district that have historically benefited from Pride so we’re going to try it and see how it works. It’s an incredible event. It has an incredible economic impact on the city of St. Petersburg. It’s something every mayor should be supportive of. I certainly always have been. I’m gonna walk in the parade again we’re going to celebrate Pride and raise the flag over city hall.Mueller: You said every mayor should be supportive of, we know that Rick Baker was not necessarily on board, if you will.Kriseman:If you’re the mayor, you’re the mayor for the whole city. That includes everyone, no matter who they love and if we’re really going to be that city you get behind the entire community. The LGBTQ community is a big part of the city of St. Petersburg. So I am a big supporter of what they are doing in Pride.Mueller: Democrat, Republican or Independent. What is the top reason people should vote for you?Kriseman: Regardless of party, you look at the city of St. Petersburg and where we are today, how thriving our city is, how our economy is thriving, the quality of life is improving. And public safety, which is the number one job of a government, how great our police department and our fire department are. It is a safe city. It is a welcoming city. It is a diverse city. It is a city that people are thriving and people are coming to in flocks. It’s a great place to live.Mueller: Would you say it’s thriving more so than with Rick Baker?Kriseman: We have record numbers for economic development. Every day I have businesses that are coming to us and we are meeting with them, whether its myself or my staff, that are interested in relocating. People who are moving here. We are thriving like we never have before.
News Channel 8 has reached out to Rick Baker’s campaign and are still waiting to hear back about a potential time for an interview.
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