Top St. Pete officials endorse Charlie Crist's fan

As St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice commenced a press conference featuring herself, three of her colleagues and one Charlie Crist, Florida's former governor, there was a car parked nearby with its engine running.

Rice asked what was up with the seemingly unnecessary din; a Crist staffer replied:

The car was providing essential fuel for an essential attendee: the small electric fan that accompanies Crist to most, if not all, of the politician's public appearances (the fan was the source of much political humor in 2014 during Crist's run for governor after Governor Rick Scott nearly refused to debate him because it was onstage).

Four of the eight St. Pete Council members had gathered to voice their support for Crist in his new endeavor, his campaign to become the representative of Florida's 13th Congressional District, which now encompasses the central and southern portions of Pinellas County (it previously had been drawn to slightly favor Republicans, of which Crist is no longer one.).

“I know that Pinellas County deserves to have our voice heard in Washington," Rice told reporters. "But Congress is more interested in obstruction and partisan battles. And that's why I believe that Charlie Crist is the best person to get the job done. The valies that we fight for on St. Pete City Council are the same value that he will fight for in Congress, like ensuring fair wages, protecting our environment and investing in smart infrastructure.”

Crist is running for the Congressional seat to replace Republican David Jolly, who is vacating the (again, now Democrat-leaning) seat in order to run for the U.S. Senate seat Marco Rubio vacated to pursue his now-failed presidential bid.

The three other members present were Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Councilmen Jim Kennedy and Karl Nurse. Those not present but whose names were listed on a media release indicating support were Council chair Amy Foster and Vice Mayor Kanika Tomalin.

“The reason that I endorsed Charlie Crist is that he has the same ability to work in a cooperative fashion to get things accomplished," Kennedy said. "Charlie listens to the people and he does what he needs to do to help the people on the real issues that affect us.”

There's no word on whether the remaining members will make an endorsement.

Mayor Rick Kriseman has endorsed his primary opponent, Eric Lynn.

Crist said he was "overwhelmed and humbled" to have their support, and thanked the Florida Supreme Court for determining last summer that the seat he's running for was unconstitutionally drawn in 2012.

“This is a race for a new Congressional seat, let's face it," he said. "It brings in downtown and South St. Petersburg for the first time in a very long time.”

A longtime St. Pete resident, Crist was a popular governor from 2006 to 2010. He lost a Senate bid to Rubio that same year and nearby pulled off a win against Scott for the Governor's mansion in 2014 (though Scott's own money stepped in at the last minute to change that; stupid off-year elections Democrats never show up for.).

He faces Lynn, a former Pentagon official who's been in the running for a year, in the August primary, and a recent poll shows Crist is a shoo-in against Lynn with over 70 percent of the vote.

“I'm delighted in it," he said of the poll results. "I will not rest on our laurels, though. Things are always subject to change."

Perhaps a more ominous figure potentially on the horizon is former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican who may run for the seat. Baker was a popular mayor, especially on St. Petersburg's predominantly African-American South Side (which was just reintroduced to the district).

Crist seemed to take in stride rumors that Baker is thinking about jumping into the race.

“I think anybody who wants to run should run," he said. "That's what democracy is all about. And so we'll see how that plays out.”

After the event, Rice elaborated on why she supports Crist over Lynn.

"I really think it's going to be hard [for Lynn] to overcome the decades of name recognition and the relationships that Charlie has with the community," Rice said. "[Crist] remembers people's names. He knows who your family is. And he has these strong relationships throughout the community. And I think it speaks to his genuineness and just what a great people person he is. Charlie Crist has really raised the standard on personal interactions with constituents. And that's going to be tough to beat.”

As for Baker, she said, while he was a popular mayor a decade ago, it might be harder for him to reach voters as a Republican.

“It's been quite a while since he ran for office," Rice said. "He's not running for mayor this time. It's not a nonpartisan seat. He's going to have the experience of running in a nonpartisan race... Looking at this presidential election, it's just not a normal election cycle. I think having Hillary at the top of the ticket is going to be huge. I think having Donald Trump, possibly, at the top of the ticket is going to be a negative for candidate Baker to have to come to terms with. And the city has changed a lot since Rick Baker was mayor. That doesn't take anything away from what a great mayor he was. But it's been several years since he's been in office."

Plus, she said unlike Crist, who served as a state lawmaker, Baker might not be suited to serve in a legislative role.

“He's also an executive," Rice said. "And he'll have to adapt to a whole new way of leading and governing, being one of 435. And most people who know Rick Baker very well are betting that won't be an easy transition.”

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