It was just over two months ago that Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” blared in the cavernous State Theater as a jovial Rick Kriseman took to the stage to herald the night’s surprising turn of events.
The results were in; despite a nasty primary battle he had come out on top of the six-way race by some 70 votes.
This, despite bruising attacks from former Mayor Rick Baker’s campaign (with help from the Tampa Bay Times, a key Baker ally).
Just a few blocks away, Baker seemed livid as he addressed supporters. Polling had suggested he would easily come in first, meeting the 50-plus-one percent vote threshold and thus avoiding a November 7 runoff.
But that wasn’t to be. Has enough happened since then to tip the scales in either direction in this reportedly very tight race? Possibly.
Here’s a recap of some of the more notable happenings that have unfolded since August 29.
Sept. 1: The solar controversy that wasn’t
A few days after the primary, Baker’s team, with an assist from the Times ed board, were ready to go after Kriseman for something he had nothing to do with: preliminary discussion of a citywide solar panel policy. St. Petersburg City Council’s Energy, Natural Resources and Sustainability Committee had a forum on a potential policy based loosely on South Miami’s recently passed ordinance, which among other things requires solar panels on all new rooftops. Councilman Steve Kornell, who brought it up, said it was never his intention to mandate solar panel installation, but to develop a more practical policy tailored to St. Pete’s needs and economic realities. Well, in an editorial on the heels of that meeting the Times came out in furious opposition to what they portrayed as a Kriseman-led effort to force residents to buy solar panels. Hours later, the Baker campaign released a blistering yet misleading ad accusing the mayor of the same thing.
Again, despite Kriseman’s support for sustainability initiatives in general, nowhere was his name on this one.
The issue’s since been tabled.
Sept. 10: Hurricane Irma hits
As what appeared to be a potentially catastrophic hurricane approached the Tampa Bay area, the politicking stopped... sort of.
Kriseman was front and center as the storm approached as well as during its aftermath, giving updates and encouraging residents to make good decisions. The city opened up rec centers where power had been restored and invited residents to come hang out in the AC and charge their devices. That’s, of course, what a mayor does in such circumstances. Despite all this, Kriseman critics spread a rumor that he had left town during the storm, which, unless he is the only person on the planet to own a teleportation device, was totally false.
Baker didn’t have a podium to stand behind, but he and his boss, billionaire developer Bill Edwards, invited residents to apply for FEMA assistance and plug in their phones at the headquarters of Edwards’ Mortgage Investors Corp., which apparently had power when many residents did not. Jameis Winston even showed up. Baker skeptics, meanwhile, questioned whether he and his boss would have done this were it not an election year. That may be impossible to know, but, hey, gift horse, mouth, etc.
Sept. 22: Rick Baker’s hipster makeover
The Irma dead zone lasted for a good two weeks, at least as far as campaigning went.
What seemed to mark its informal relaunch was news of a Baker campaign rebrand — from his website to his outfits. The apparent aim was to cast Baker as a laid-back guy, untucked pastel shirt, aviator sunglasses and all, a counter to the image of a shouting, angry man voters saw the night of the primary, when he didn’t come in first.
A couple of short campaign spots highlighting his role in making St. Pete “cool” during his two terms ensued, though they fell a little flat, at least among the millennials at which the ads seemed to be aimed.
Kriseman, meanwhile, stuck to his unapologetically normcore getups and didn’t seem to suffer for it.
Sept. 27: A not-so-great debate
At the first of only two or three showdowns between the two Ricks, not much new was revealed. Instead, they traded barbs over the Pier, the Rays, zzzzzzzz. A couple more forums happened in the ensuing weeks.
Oct. 20: Kriseman pulls ahead
So, polling ahead of the primary painted a bleak picture for Kriseman, but he came out on top anyway, albeit narrowly. Surveys conducted since the primary suggested he was gaining on Baker, the most recent (publicly released) one of which showed Kriseman nearly a percentage point ahead (though, again, polling isn’t always accurate). With that in mind, wait for it... wait for it...
Oct. 24: A shitstorm begins
You know where this is headed: the gutter. Baker and the Times dropped the nice guy routine (as if they’d had one) and went for the throat, releasing ads/editorials featuring personal attacks and/or trumped-up accusations. They even went after a Kriseman staffer’s past. Suddenly everyone cared whether the Rays might leave St. Pete. The sewage stuff burbled back up via a leaked report, possibly from a well-placed Baker ally at the state level. The timing of it all was ...special.
Oct. 26: Uncle Joe sends his regards
Barely a week out from the election, Kriseman got an endorsement from Ray-Ban spokesmodel and former Vice President Joe Biden. “If you voted for Barack and me when we were on the ballot, then we need you to get out there and vote for Rick Kriseman,” he said in a written statement (and recorded a robocall to that effect).
Oct. 26: Times “decries” partisanship
Times Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens went to bat for Baker, and found some Democrats who apparently won’t be following Ol’ Joe Biden’s advice, providing a laundry list of reasons why Baker’s conservative Republican leanings and unwillingness to condemn Donald Trump even just a little should not be turnoffs for St. Pete’s many Democratic voters. These Dems include activist Sevell Brown and outgoing City Councilman Jim Kennedy — neither of whom seem to mind that monied GOP donors and fundraisers are pumping tens of thousands into Baker’s political action committee. (The Baker campaign assembled a press conference on Tuesday to reiterate the column.)
Oct. 27: “Dropping” an R&B album
Someone on Baker’s creative team (the people who brought you “cool” Rick Baker) thought it was a good idea to create an image mimicking a hip-hop album promo that featured an image of “laid-back” Baker and a list of his “hits,” such as “Jobs Jobs Jobs” and “Clean Water Clean Streetz” (yes, with a “z”). Not sure if it was an attempt to appeal to black voters or to that coveted demographic, suburban white kids who had The Chronic on CD in high school. Either way, critics called it insensitive at best.
Well, that about does ’er. Certainly over the next few days there will be other last-minute election cycle antics, impassioned pleas and frantic sign-wavings. Early voting ends on Sunday and polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. throughout the city. Find your precinct at votepinellas.org.