Baker and Kriseman agree: St. Pete is awesome
The two Ricks turned over a new leaf Wednesday. Or maybe they just took a break from the cage match of a nasty, expensive mayoral race during a sedate forum in which Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker attempted to outdo one another in praise of the beauty, uniqueness, character and plain awesomeness of the Sunshine City.
A nearly two-hour forum at the Museum of Fine Arts was by invite only. About midway through the crowd started to thin. By the end, Kriseman felt obliged to thank the hardy audience who stuck it out.
Organized by St. Petersburg Preservation, the topics were limited to the “four cornerstones” of the city: the arts, historic preservation, locally-owned businesses and neighborhoods.
Gary Mormino, a renowned historian of Florida who moderated the event, cautioned Kriseman and Baker from deviating from those topics and “to avoid the temptation of wading in to sewage plants.”
Baker and Kriseman obliged. They also managed to avoid tussling over crime rates, who cares more about Midtown and who is taking the city forward or backward.
There were a few points of disagreement.
Kriseman supports allowing small pockets of the city--like single blocks-- to apply for historic designation status. Baker is skeptical of the idea, but wouldn’t rule out supporting it.
They also differ on how to preserve opportunities for small, locally-owned businesses.
Kriseman says he has “thrown out” the idea of preserving corridors like Central Avenue and Beach Drive for local businesses so the city doesn’t turn into a characterless void. He mentioned Atlanta and Boston as examples of cities that have lost their souls to development.
Baker said Kriseman’s plan was divisive. He would bring together landlords and tenants to find solutions as he said he recently did in the fast-growing Edge District near Tropicana Field.
“You don’t throw out ideas that are dividing people into two groups,” Baker said.
Kriseman countered by mentioning several local businesses that had been forced out by rent hikes.
“Who owns those buildings and who do they support? “ asked the mayor.
But, mostly, the two longtime St. Petersburg politicians talked up their town. They agreed that the Detroit Hotel is the coolest old building in town. They agreed that the Jannus Landing block should be preserved.
And neither took the bait on naming a favorite neighborhood, restaurant or preferred spot to show visitors. Too many to name, they both said.
It was only after Mormino thanked Baker and Kriseman for keeping it civil and providing a respite of “moral uplift” amid a coarsened, mean-spirited political climate, that the two rivals snuck in a few quick, if muted, hits.
Baker said he wouldn’t be an isolated mayor in City Hall.
“I won’t be governing from afar,” he said, alluding to his previous attacks that Kriseman is disengaged and prone to delegate to aides.
Kriseman took a not too subtle dig at Baker’s history with the city’s LGBT community. Baker has still not marched in a Pride parade.
“We want to stand up for everybody,” Kriseman said.