Kriseman wins mayoral primary by 69 votes, faces Baker in November runoff

Plot twist!

click to enlarge Incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman addressed supporters as Tuesday's election results appear more and more in his favor. - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman addressed supporters as Tuesday's election results appear more and more in his favor.

In the six person quasi-primary for St. Pete mayor, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman eked out a first place win by 69 votes.

Sixty-nine votes.

He took 48.36 percent of total votes cast, besting former Mayor Rick Baker, who won 48.23 percent.

Since neither won more than 50 percent of the vote, the two will face off in November.

The slim margin by which Kriseman took the popular vote may not seem like much, but to the jovial crowd gathered at the State Theatre Tuesday night, it was a victory: Certain political prognosticators had predicted Baker would win outright on Tuesday. Polling commissioned by said prognosticators suggested such a fate was within the margin of error. The Tampa Bay Times seemed unabashedly pro-Baker. Going into Tuesday night, the conventional wisdom was that Baker would be the leading candidate; that he could even take the cake that night. That, obviously, didn't happen.

As Kriseman took the stage — once 92 of 92 precincts reported their tallies — the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tune "I Won't Back Down" played.

"We didn't back down, did we?" Kriseman told the cheering crowd. "We're not going to back down going forward, are we?"

Kriseman acknowledged how tough the past few months had been, especially since former Mayor Rick Baker, whose Republican Party ties give him access to seemingly unlimited resources, formally announced his candidacy in May.

"I know it hasn't been easy," he said. "Rick Baker's special interest friends have made sure about that. But tonight is evidence that the people of St. Petersburg, the people who prefer progress to politics, are more than ready to fight for our city and for our progressive values. That's really what this is about. That's what these next two months will be about."

Baker's campaign messaging relied heavily on the city's ongoing infrastructure needs, namely those of the city's wastewater system, which is currently being overhauled.

Kriseman, meanwhile, has sought to defend his seat by pointing to his administration's accomplishments on LGBT equality, the environment, the Rays, the Pier, transportation and more. A trump card for Kriseman is that, as a Democrat, his views dramatically contrast that of President Donald Trump. And given Baker's unwillingness to disavow Trump (who is objectively unpopular in St. Petersburg), that tack seemingly proved successful.

It certainly didn't hurt that former President Barack Obama announced Friday that he's in Kriseman's corner — something that underscored the importance of this race to Democrats, who view progressive cities like St. Petersburg the last stronghold for progressive policies on the environment, equality, workers' rights and guns.

"This election couldn't be more important." Kriseman, said Tuesday. "And I want to be clear about a few things. If Rick Baker is elected mayor, he will turn the clock back on St. Pete. He will take us back to a time of back-room deals, to a time when the rainbow flag and the flag celebrating Black History Month didn't fly proudly over City Hall, to a time when crime was up and opportunity was down. Those days were good for Rick Baker. But they weren't good for our city. Today, this city is all about moving forward, tackling the big problems, bringing jobs and opportunities to all corners of this city."

The runoff election is November 7.

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