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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Which Rick is worse at managing the city's piggy bank?

Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker battled again over the city's reserves at a Wednesday forum

Charlie Frago

Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker battled again over the city's reserves at a Wednesday forum

It may have been the final debate in the nearly six-month long trek that has been St. Petersburg’s most expensive, most scrutinized and, likley, most bitter mayoral race in its 114-year history.

 Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker grappled on well-trod ground: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, sewage woes, climate change and whether a non-partisan race should constantly invoke Donald Trump.

The hour-long debate Wednesday at the Sunshine Center drew about 40 people and just two reporters from the Tampa Bay Times and floridapolitics.com. Times metro columnist John Romano was there, too. The overflowing high-energy crowds and TV cameras that marked the numerous forums and debates before the Aug. 29 primary were a distant memory.

The news of the night was Baker’s ambivalance about the city’s universal curbside recycling program.

But the two Ricks also took up where they left off last week at a Disston Heights forum on a topic that may only quicken the pulse of those few dozen hardy souls who show up at the city’s budget summit in the dog days of summer each year.

Who is a worse steward of  the city’s reserves? …

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Rick Baker and Recycling: Will he keep it? It's complicated. Very complicated.

Rick Baker's position on the city's recycling program was the news of Wednesday's mayoral forum. On Thursday, the former mayor still demurred when asked if he would promise to keep the program as his opponent Mayor Rick Kriseman has done.

Cherie Diez (2017)

Rick Baker's position on the city's recycling program was the news of Wednesday's mayoral forum. On Thursday, the former mayor still demurred when asked if he would promise to keep the program as his opponent Mayor Rick Kriseman has done.

At Wednesday night’s Council of Neighborhood Associations’ mayoral forum, perhaps the biggest news of the night was former mayor Rick Baker’s remarks on recycling.

The Tampa Bay Times story on the forum noted his ambivalence about the program and reported that he didn’t promise to keep the program as it currently works: a monthly $2.95 charge for single-family homes for twice monthy curbside (or alley, depending on the neighborhood) pickup.

On Thursday, Baker said that his position has been misrepresented, taking particular issue with the following sentence in this story: “He would not promise to keep the program.”

His opponent, Mayor Rick Kriseman made such a promise. Baker did not. But the former mayor objected to the story, saying his position had been turned "upside down."

“I didn’t promise not to tear down the Sunshine Skyway bridge either,” Baker said.

But when asked again Thursday if he promised to keep the program, Baker demurred, saying he intended to keep it, but would evaluate its effectiveness, similar to his previous stance on the subject as reported in the Times.

“You don’t know 1000 percent certainty about anything,” he said. …

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Rick Baker's radio ad said Rick Kriseman missed NAACP event---but he didn't.

Rick Kriseman didn't skip recent NAACP event, but Rick Baker radio ad claims he did

Dirk Shadd (2017)

Rick Kriseman didn't skip recent NAACP event, but Rick Baker radio ad claims he did

A radio ad narrated by St. Petersburg civil rights activist Sevell Brown and paid for by a political-action committee supporting Rick Baker asserts that Mayor Rick Kriseman "couldn't be bothered to show up" for a recent NAACP event.

Except Kriseman did show up. And his supporters were livid on social media Wednesday as news of the Seamless Florida PAC radio spot spread around Facebook and Twitter. 

St. Petersburg NAACP chapter president Maria Scruggs confirmed that the mayor did attend the Oct. 7 event at the Enoch Davis Recreation Center for about 15 minutes. But she said Kriseman was disrespectful for not confirming his attendance prior to the event and then answering questions in canned, stump-speech responses.

"He is avoiding having any substantive discussion," said Scruggs, who said she wanted an extended conversation about the mayor's plans for Midtown, Childs Park and other south of Central Avenue neighborhoods. 

Kriseman campaign manager Jacob Smith said Kriseman had a busy campaign schedule that morning, but wanted to honor the NAACP by making an appearance. Smith acknowledged that the campaign didn't RSVP to the event, but said it was because of a busy slate of events. …

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New Baker ad labels Kriseman as incompetent

Former mayor Rick Baker unleashes a negative ad questioning Mayor Rick Kriseman

Cherie Diez (2017)

Former mayor Rick Baker unleashes a negative ad questioning Mayor Rick Kriseman

Rick Baker's campaign unveiled a new TV ad Thursday. Unlike some recent ads seeking to rebrand the former mayor, this one has Mayor Rick Kriseman squarely in its sights.

The ad, complete with the stantard attack-ad voice narrator, presents of laundry list of alleged Kriseman failures including spending too much money on the new pier, a bloated mayor's office staff, the slow pace of hurricane debris removal and, you guessed it, sewage. 

Kriseman's campaign manager Jacob Smith said the ad was "Trump-like" and an angry attempt by Baker to change the subject from climate change and gun safety.

"After nine years as Mayor, Rick Baker left the city with a police department in chaos, no solutions on the Pier, no leadership on the Rays and a sewer system that was nine years older. Today he has no plan for climate change or sea level rise. Rick Kriseman has moved St. Pete forward and taken strong stands on climate change and protecting our city from illegal guns. Voters approve of the job he's doing, and they like where their city is going. They don't want to go backward," Smith wrote in an email.

Here's the ad. 

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St. Petersburg City Council pushes ahead on living wage ordinance

Council member Karl Nurse had been pushing for the city to require contractors to pay workers $13 an hour for months.

[Times files]

Council member Karl Nurse had been pushing for the city to require contractors to pay workers $13 an hour for months.

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council members on Thursday set the stage for adopting what may be the most significant “living wage” measure in the Tampa Bay area.

The proposal would require businesses seeking city contracts of more than $100,000 to pay their workers a living wage, which after some discussion was set at $12 an hour. Four council members meeting as the budget, finance & taxation committee unanimously approved the idea at the behest of Council member Karl Nurse, who is term-limited and serving his last weeks in office.

“These are not children,” Nurse said. “These are full-time jobs for adults. I think it’s immoral that you pay them so little in wages that you guarantee that they are living in poverty.”

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race.

By approving the measure, the committee set the stage for the full City Council to vote on it. They’ll likely approve the ordinance before the end of the year.

Nurse sought to have the city require contractors to pay workers $13 an hour for months. …

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Rays give $50,000 to Rick Kriseman's campaign

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has received at least $81,500 from Rays owner Stu Sternberg (right) and other team executives.

Will Vragovic (2016)

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has received at least $81,500 from Rays owner Stu Sternberg (right) and other team executives.

A $50,000 contribution to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s releection campaign from the Tampa Bay Rays is the latest monster donation in a mayoral race that long ago pierced stratospheric heights in spending, obliterating previous records for Sunshine City elections by an exponential amount.

The Rays, both as a team and through individual donations by owner Stu Sternberg and executives, have donated at least $81,500 to Kriseman. Their latest, and largest, contribution on Sept. 22 went to Kriseman's Sunrise political action committee.

Both former mayor Rick Baker and Kriseman have raised nearly $2.5 million in their quest for the right to preside over Florida’s fifth largest city for four years.

And most observers expect the total cash haul to finish well north of $3 million by the Nov. 7 election.

Kriseman traveled to Puerto Rico Wednesday with Rays officials on a relief mission. But both the mayor and the team had prepared statements about the cash infusion at the ready.

Kriseman said he was grateful for the team’s support, calling them a “great partner.” …

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Immigrant coalition seeks to boost voter turnout in St. Pete election

A statewide immigrant rights group launched a get-out-the-vote effort in St. Petersburg Tuesday with the aim of educating voters about a range of issues affecting immigrant communities.

Ten paid canvassers plan to knock on 7,000 doors, said Francesca Menes, policy director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a Miami-based group, which has a regional office in Tampa.

The coalition won’t formally endorse anyone, but will talk about positions of elected officials that support immigrants, she said.

Would one of positions be Mayor Rick Kriseman’s February declaration that St. Petersburg would be a sanctuary city?

“Exactly,” Menes said.

Kriseman later clarified that statement, acknowledging Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has the legal jurisdiction to decide whether to notify the federal government of an accused criminal’s immigration status.

The mayor made his statement shortly after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to remove federal funding from cities and counties that willfully violate federal law regarding immigration. …

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Anthony Cates endorses Rick Kriseman for mayor

Anthony Cates, who finished fifth out of six candidates in the St. Petersburg August mayoral primary has endorsed Mayor Rick Kriseman

Lara Cerri (2017)

Anthony Cates, who finished fifth out of six candidates in the St. Petersburg August mayoral primary has endorsed Mayor Rick Kriseman

Two-time mayoral candidate Anthony Cates netted 388 votes in the Aug. 29 mayoral primary, finishing fifth out of six candidates on the ballot with 0.69% of the 56,509 ballots cast.

On Monday, Cates threw his support in the Nov. 7 election behind incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman.

In a statement, Cates said Kriseman was the better choice for the city over former mayor Rick Baker.

"Over the past month, I have seen firsthand the perspectives and agendas of both candidates in the upcoming election. Mayor Kriseman's honest, pragmatic, and hopeful insight into our community's most pressing issues—such as affordable housing, infrastructure, and economic development—is reassuring. Mayor Kriseman's determination to understand and correct wrongs in our community sets him apart from his opponent.

"I consider St. Petersburg home, and if we want our city to move forward—not backwards—then Rick Kriseman is the only choice for mayor."

Mayor Rick Kriseman praised Cates’s civic activism, saying he welcomed his endorsement. …

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St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Baker goes to church

ST. PETERSBURG -- Mayoral candidate Rick Baker took his campaign to Bethel Community Baptist Church on Sunday. It's not uncommon for politicians from both parties to stop in at the church and speak to the congregation -- Gov. Rick Scott visited in 2014..

Baker entered shortly after the service had started, and brought with him his wife and a group of supporters: former Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter president Sevell Brown, former assistant police chief Cedric Gordon, reitred police sergeant Al White.and retired major Donnie Williams

Before Baker got up to speak, a musical group had performed a song called "All In His Hands.” When Baker stood up, he made reference to that by saying, “I put it all in His hands,” and then talked briefly about his own religious faith.

After introducing the former police officers who accompanied him, Baker mentioned former deputy mayor and police chief Goliath Davis. When Davis was police chief “I had such a confidence level” that the police department “would treat everyone with respect,”  Baker said. …

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Lisa Wheeler-Bowman to appear on Tamron Hall's crime show

St. Petersburg City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman (left) will be featured on Tamron Hall's true crime show on Investigative Discovery on Sunday

Luis Santana (2017)

St. Petersburg City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman (left) will be featured on Tamron Hall's true crime show on Investigative Discovery on Sunday

St. Petersburg City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman has a local reputation for her fearless search for her son's killers.

On Sunday, a national audience will learn the story of how Wheeler-Bowman found justice for her murdered son, Cabretti, a feat that sparked a civic engagement that led with her election to City Council in 2015.

Wheeler-Bowman taped the show in March, leading Hall through the events before and after her son Cabretti's 2008 murder.

Hall's show "Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall" will air  at 10 p.m.  on Investigative Discovery. Check out the trailer here

Wheeler-Bowman hasn't seen the episode, which used dramatic reenactments. On Thursday, she admitted to some nervousness mixed with the excitement. 

She'll have a watch party at the Dog Bar, 2300 Central Avenue, on Tuesday. 

 

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Is the Sunshine City headed to the U.S. Supreme Court? St. Pete passes historic campaign finance limits, faces likely legal challenge

St. Petersburg City Council members spent hours debating a historic campaign finance ordinance before approving it by a 6-2 vote.

Cherie Diez

St. Petersburg City Council members spent hours debating a historic campaign finance ordinance before approving it by a 6-2 vote.

ST. PETERSBURG — Seeking to stem the influence of big-money interests in local elections, St. Petersburg became the first city in the nation Thursday to limit contributions to political action committees.

It also may have opened residents to millions in legal costs, city attorneys warned.

The 6-2 vote by the City Council serves as a rebuke to Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission, the controversial 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on how much outside groups can spend to influence elections. The council’s vote instead seeks to limit how much money individuals can give to PACs that seek to influence city elections.

The ordinance caps at $5,000 a year the amount of money an individual can give to PACs involved in city elections. It also requires more extensive disclosure by donors.

“This is an historic vote. . . . It’s a model law for the nation,” said John Bonifaz, a constitutional attorney from Massachusetts whose group Free Speech for People pushed the initiative.  …

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Rick Kriseman says he wants big money out of St. Pete elections

League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area gathered outside City Hall Thursday morning in support of an ordinance limiting PAC and foreign money in city elections

Cherie Diez

League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area gathered outside City Hall Thursday morning in support of an ordinance limiting PAC and foreign money in city elections

A large crowd cheered Mayor Rick Kriseman and several council members Thursday morning as they vowed to rid St. Petersburg of big money influencing local elections.

Kriseman, who has raised nearly $1 million for his reelection effort, praised a proposed ordinance that would limit donations to political action committees to $5,000 and ban contributions from corporations with significant foreign ownership in city elections was a “righteous” cause.

"I look forward to the day where millions of dollars aren’t making their way into a mayor’s race or any race in this city,” Kriseman said.

His opponent, former mayor Rick Baker, has raised well north of $1 million in his effort to unseat Kriseman. Baker has said he opposes the measure.

Council chairwoman Darden Rice, who has led the effort to pass the “Defend our Democracy” ordinance, told about 50 people gathered outside City Hall for a early morning rally that she had fought for other causes once considered longshots:  combating climate change and implementing curbside recycling.

She said local campaign finance reform would also eventually become law. …

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St. Pete District 6: Bean, Driscoll announce endorsements

Left to Right: St. Petersburg City Council Candidates, District 6, Gina Driscoll and Justin Bean, share a laugh in the parking lot of the Coliseum Ballroom, 8/29/17 on election day as they greeted voters.

[SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Left to Right: St. Petersburg City Council Candidates, District 6, Gina Driscoll and Justin Bean, share a laugh in the parking lot of the Coliseum Ballroom, 8/29/17 on election day as they greeted voters.

ST. PETERSBURG – The two candidates vying for the City Council District 6 seat are both touting endorsements.

The campaign of Justin Bean announced Wednesday that the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association has endorsed the 30-year-old business development sales manager.

St. Petersburg District 6 City Council race: Justin Bean vs. Gina Driscoll

“I am humbled and honored to receive the endorsement of those who run toward danger to protect us," Bean said in a prepared statement.

"I know our Police Department is critical to the future success of St. Pete and I look forward to working with them to build a St. Pete that works for everyone.”

His opponent, Gina Driscoll, 46, has been endorsed by the Florida National Organization for Women (NOW) PAC.

The organization has also endorsed Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is in a tight race with former Mayor Rick Baker. Council member Darden Rice, who is being challenged for the District 4 seat by first-time candidate Jerick Johnston, also has been endorsed by the Florida NOW PAC.

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Hurricane Irma cleanup not fast enough, some Hillsborough commissioners say

Flood damaged belongings sit on River Drive in Hillsborough County after being removed from houses that flooded when rivers crested following Hurricane Irma. Some Hillsborough Commissioners aren't happy with the pace of the cleanup.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Flood damaged belongings sit on River Drive in Hillsborough County after being removed from houses that flooded when rivers crested following Hurricane Irma. Some Hillsborough Commissioners aren't happy with the pace of the cleanup.

TAMPA -- Some Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday criticized the speed of debris pick up after Hurricane Irma and said residents aren’t being told how long it will take.

Commissioner Ken Hagan said he has heard the date for removal pushed back several times and noted the county took down a website map that told residents when their debris might be picked up.

“I see piles and piles of debris everywhere,” Hagan said.

Ditto, Commissioner Stacy White said. And Commissioner Victor Crist said residents are confused by what can be left at the curb.

County staff said they can get a map up by the end of the week identifying which areas have already been cleaned and what neighborhoods are prioritized. The City of Tampa produced a similar map this week.

Clean up efforts began Sept. 18, soon after Hurricane Irma passed through the Tampa Bay area. The problem, County Administrator Mike Merrill said, is the amount of debris left behind is “the size of Raymond James Stadium and the height of this building,” meaning the County Center, a 28-story tower. And it is spread throughout a county that is the size of Rhode Island. …

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Tampa launches online updates on Hurricane Irma debris pickup

Tampa's debris pickup update map at Tampagov.net/SolidWaste shows what neighborhoods have been picked up, which ones are in progress and which ones are next.

City of Tampa

Tampa's debris pickup update map at Tampagov.net/SolidWaste shows what neighborhoods have been picked up, which ones are in progress and which ones are next.

With Hurricane Irma debris picked up in 20 percent of the city, Tampa officials have launched an online map to give residents a better idea of what neighborhoods the cleanup has reached and where it could go next.

Want to drop off storm debris? Take it to McKay Bay Disposal Complex at 112 S 34th St.

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