Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.
About 2 ½ decades ago, the citizens of St. Petersburg voted for a Charter change that transformed St. Petersburg from a City Manager/Council form of governance to a Strong Mayor.
Essentially this took the management of the City out of the hands of a professional manager and put control of day to day operations in the hands of the elected Mayor.
What drove this change was the growth of St. Pete and the desire of few powerful and wealthy people to generate more “control” over the governance of the City by having the elected mayor become the administrative leader.
I remember clearly setting in a meeting with Mayor David Fisher the day after the election, and the Charter Referendum had passed. Fisher was Mayor under the council/manager system for the previous four years. He stepped up to the podium and said, “If I had known the Strong Mayor Referendum was going to pass; I am not sure I would have run for Mayor.”
We all laughed. Fisher was a great strong Mayor.
In fact, up to Rick Kriseman, the City was blessed with good strong mayors. Some more competent than others but none had ever politicized and taken advantage of the office while lying to and disrespecting the will of the citizens of St. Petersburg until Rick Kriseman was elected.
The ink was barely dry on the paperwork before Kriseman had populated the new “office of the Mayor” with nearly one-half million dollars’ worth of political cronies.
Kriseman is a consummate politician and has been since he was first appointed to St. Pete City Council in 2000. He was formally elected to City Council in 2001. All talk and no action on City Council it was all about Rick being front and center.
When Kriseman was elected to the legislature in 2006, it became clear he was ineffective as a legislative representative.
In the three-plus years, Rick Kriseman has been the Chief executive of St. Petersburg; he has denied the people the Pier they wanted, pandered to every group within the community while actually delivering very little to them, failed to maintain contact with St. Pete schools, let midtown slide back at least a decade, closed a water-treatment plant that never should have been shuttered, lied about the sewage disaster and grew the budget for every major public project.
Surrounded by a growing pack of “spokespeople” some of whom actually speak for his personal spokesperson, and a group of high-paid political lackeys that cater to his whims and trumpet his view of the future; Kriseman is the least effective of the strong Mayors.
Kriseman has time to ban president Trump from St. Pete, fret over global climate change and get into the social media storm over Trump’s latest tweet; however, he never found time to visit a St. Pete School or set down with the school board after the Failure Factories story broke.
Some fancy street scaping and development along 34th St. South are not going to solve the problems in Midtown. Losing the Wal Mart happened on Kriseman’s watch, and he is responsible. The people in south St. Pete and Midtown are not Kriseman’s people they are just his votes.
Kriseman oversaw the biggest denial of the rights of the citizens of St. Petersburg when through the CCNA process and Mike Connors, he used a carefully chosen selection committee and orchestrated the denial of the public’s choice for a new Pier. He later blamed Connors and forced him out, but nothing happens in a vacuum with Rick Kriseman.
Baker’s nine-year reign as St. Petersburg’s strong Mayor was not perfect, but he never had a crew of media spinning advisers concocting stories and lying to his constituents.
He proved beyond a doubt that pressure from a top elected City official can cause a change in the quality of education.
Baker went to midtown and south St. Pete; he attended neighborhood meetings; he helped advance neighborhood associations, encouraged his staff to do the same and never was even accused of outright lying to his constituents.
Rick Baker’s entire professional career in the private and public sectors has been about moving forward in a rational and measured manner, not about politics, a or promoting himself but about leading and serving his community.
Who do you want for St. Pete Mayor? A politician or a leader.
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Disclosures: Contributor to Rick Baker for Mayor Campaign
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