As St. Petersburg's mayoral race continues, the importance of the city's south side couldn't be more obvious. Incumbent Rick Kriseman's campaign acknowledged this Saturday as the mayor went door to door. This community is far from a lock for any candidate, even though some volunteers said they found that Kriseman is much more popular than has been reported.
In the seven-candidate race, Kriseman's strongest opponent, former mayor Rick Baker, has been hitting the south side hard, and is said to be favored in the predominantly African-American area. Despite his being a conservative Republican, Baker won a straw poll in the wake of a debate at a south St. Pete church last week by nearly two to one. But Kriseman allies aren't buying that Kriseman's progressive message isn't appealing to the overwhelmingly Democratic part of town.
“One thing that was abundantly clear is that there's a lot of propaganda on who our community is for,” said Matthias Byrd, a volunteer with the Kriseman campaign. “There was an overwhelming positive response to the mayor. People are still with him. There's a lot of confusion about what was and wasn't done.”
Byrd said he even met with residents who said signs supporting Baker were placed in their yards without their consent, and some supporters told him they'd had their Kriseman signs stolen — claims that CL has yet to independently verify, but would be explosive if true.
Among the major issues of concern for the community were felons' rights. The most positive response the Mayor got was towards his programs related to the issue, included banning the box on job applications that asks for conviction histories, and hard-to-hire and second chance programs.
Kriseman and his volunteers also appreciated the opportunity to face the criticisms that have come Kriseman's way and offer explanations. On the issue of the Midtown grocery store, canvassers explained delays were related to a larger project designed to include resident input into the future of the area.
Kriseman said his administration could easily find a quick fix for the situation that would make him look good during campaign season, but would rather work to find a permanent solution — and is reaching out to the community for input on how to move forward.
“This community wants tangible results, they don't want window dressing,” Kriseman said. “They want things that are going to be here for a while. What they don't want are stores and restaurants opening and closing and opening and closing. They want something that will be here for a while. That's really what we're focused on.”
With the election approaching in less than two months, Kriseman's major focus will continue to be at a grassroots level, with regular canvassing and local events.
“It's knocking on doors,” said Kriseman. “It's meeting people, it's talking to voters and answering questions and just going out and telling people what we want to do to keep the city going forward.”