Former HUD secretary Julian Castro to campaign with Rick Kriseman Friday

Once a possible Clinton VP pick, Castro will join St. Pete's incumbent mayor 11 days ahead of the election.

click to enlarge Former HUD secretary Julian Castro to campaign with Rick Kriseman Friday
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Election Day is just a hair over two weeks away in St. Petersburg, and polls suggest the race between former Mayor Rick Baker and current Mayor Rick Baker is still about as close as it gets.

And though it's ostensibly a nonpartisan affair, party involvement has been big for both candidates — Baker has had financial assistance from many a fellow Republican, while before the primary Kriseman landed an endorsement from none other than Barack Obama (and plenty of other high-profile Dems).

Observers on both sides see this election as something of a litmus on Trumpism; whether a categorically unpopular president may motivate people to turn out in an election in which they may normally not — or if enough of the city's Democrats will overlook party affiliation and support Baker.

On Friday, a Dem that's somewhat high-profile at the national level is coming to town to help drive home Kriseman's Democratic cred.

Julian Castro, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama from 2014 through the end of the president's second term, will participate in a roundtable with Kriseman and others at the Station House in downtown St. Petersburg. The public is invited but space is limited and, presuming you go with the suggested donation and don't apply decimals in the quantity field, tickets aren't cheap.

A former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Castro was on the short list of potential running mates for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Of course, it was Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine who won that honor, ultimately, but the inclusion of his name underscores his status as a rising star in national politics.

Castro's visit, meanwhile, underscores how close the race is despite St. Petersburg's large Democratic and progressive presence. This may be attributed to Baker's longtime alliances with some key members of St. Petersburg's African American community, which date back to his first administration, a time when party involvement in nonpartisan political races was less of a thing — and there was less outside money funding attack ads that work to steer the narrative in one direction or another (namely, spinning of St. Pete's decades-in-the-making infrastructure woes vs. whether Baker is in line with Donald Trump's agenda, something even the Tampa Bay Times, a key media ally of his, has pointed out).

Baker has said repeatedly that party affiliation is not relevant in municipal governance, where playgrounds and potholes see neither red nor blue. Kriseman heartily begs to differ.

Kriseman insists that one belongs to a political party because its values align with his or her own values; that belonging to a party that prioritizes tackling climate change and having a more compassionate approach to immigration or healthcare signals one's character — as does belonging to one that elects someone who jokes or brags about assaulting women solely because said braggart wants to lower taxes, abolish regulations and reduce access to healthcare.

It's unclear what kind of a dent Kriseman's Democratic espousal will make in the general election (he unexpectedly bested Baker by 70 votes in the primary). Mail ballots are out and early voting begins this weekend.

Castro and Kriseman, meanwhile, will be at Station House Friday, Oct. 27 at 10:30 a.m.

Find tickets here.

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