It was a fairly packed ballroom inside the St. Pete Yacht Club on Thursday when the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club hosted a debate on the Greenlight Pinellas initiative.
If it at times veered into the realms of incivility (see our story here), it also had plenty of facts and figures, though PSTA Chair Ken Welch and No Tax For Trax head Barbara Haselden often disagreed about what they were. And though it appeared from an outsider's perspective that many in the audience had already made up their minds on the intense issue, not everyone falls in that camp.
"I have taken a position yet, that's why I came here today," former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker told CL. "I wanted to find out more about it."
But with even some of the most relatively mundane facts seemingly in dispute between the two camps, did he learn anything after it was said and done?
"I learned a lot about it on both sides," he told CL. "But I'm going to continue to learn a little bit more about it."
Current St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is a big supporter of the measure, as are Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and Tampa's Bob Buckhorn. Buckhorn carved out space in his state of the city address late last month to advocate for it, saying "we need to do everything that we can to make sure that succeeds."
But Baker remains unmoved as of now.
People ask me, 'what do you think about transit?'" he says. "To me, that's like asking, 'what do you think about cars?' Some cars I like, some cars I don't like. I'm certainly not against it, but I'd like to learn more about it."
Baker's ambivalence is noteworthy in that he still maintains a high level of respect in St. Pete, and an endorsement for the measure might change some skeptical minds.
But it also would be nice to go with a winner, and right now it's truly uncertain which way the measure might break. Why go out on limb this early? Baker might be thinking.
Although Yes on Greenlight chairman Joe Farrell says that internal polling contradicts a St. Pete Polls survey that shows the measure trailing badly at this point, he notably hasn't released that polling information. And let's not forget that a very unscientific survey by the People's Budget Review showed an overwhelming amount of people say they know little about the measure.
In his uncertainty, Rick Baker might be speaking for a great many people in Pinellas County.