By Jim Bleyer
Non-committal and nearly silent, mayoral candidate Rick Baker continued his passive campaign Sunday with another moral fail. He was seen standing on the fringe of a candlelight vigil at St. Petersburg’s Demens Landing that stressed community unity and condemned the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, VA.
The vigil, called on less than 24 hours notice, drew 800-900 people despite the Tampa Bay Times quoting an unnamed police source that 300-500 people attended. Considering the gravity of the event and its implications for the future of the city where it’s based, the Times coverage was embarrassingly minimal and inaccurate.
Baker’s first reaction was identical to President Trump’s, a tweet that failed to specifically condemn the perpetrators of the Charlottesville violence. “Racism has no place in America,” was the best he could muster on Saturday, tossing approximately 110 Twitter characters to the wind.
Given time to reflect about a more specific, definitive response, Baker tweeted on Sunday: “As leaders we must set an example of tolerance, working everyday to unite people instead of dividing them… Please join me in praying for yesterday’s victims – racism has no place in America.”
Pathetic. From the wannabe leader of a vibrant, up-and-coming, diverse city. Twitter followers asked him to specifically call out the hate groups—to no avail. Tampa Bay Beat left a request for an interview at his campaign office. Silence.
Baker’s response to the rabblerousing bigots in Charlottesville was essentially worse than Trump’s belated Twitter babble that finally called out the perps (though Trump inevitably walked that back a day later).
Editor’s Note: Baker tweeted a fourth time about Charlottesville shortly after this blog post was disseminated. He mentioned the KKK and Nazis.
Heartfelt emotion, specifics, and eloquence did not elude any of the speakers at the solemn Sunday ceremony.
In contrast to Baker, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, Baker’s main foe, stressed that all segments of St. Petersburg are strongly united, adding silence in the face of hate and bigotry is not an option. He specifically mentioned the hate groups. His remarks were interrupted several times with enthusiastic applause.
Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin noted that, on a recent trip to New York, her family was inspired by the Statue of Liberty, especially the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the pedestal. The words of “The New Colossus” resonate now more than ever, she said.
A former mayor wanting his old job back despite being out of the public spotlight, Baker leads Kriseman and five other candidates if local polls are to be believed. The primary is Aug. 29. If no one receives a majority, the two top candidates will vie on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Baker’s strategy is simple and transparent: don’t take a position on controversial issues, don’t offend his Trump/Republican base, and don’t admit ties to Trump and Gov. Rick Scott who are unpopular among St. Pete voters.
Baker’s tap dancing tweets and passivity at the pro-unity, anti-hate observance, essentially told concerned citizens–voters–that he cared less about fighting hate groups than offending them.
Trump and his bigoted sympathizers were targets of speakers at the vigil. Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch declared, “whom you associate with does matter. You cannot skirt past policies that divide and hurt our community.”
The Times, in thrall to its advertisers and local businessmen who have loaned it $15 million, actively participates in the Baker campaign with slanted news coverage and irrational editorials. Baker works for Bill Edwards, a heavy advertiser with a shady reputation. The Times claims Edwards is not one of its four anonymous bankrollers but won’t reveal any of their their names.
The financially-beleaguered Times has acted unethically for more than a decade but it has broken all generally accepted journalistic protocols with the current St. Petersburg mayoral campaign. Tax breaks, special exceptions, and the compromising of city hall news sources could be in play as much as the advertising largesse provided by Bill Edwards.
Meanwhile, as the St. Petersburg community emphasizes unity over divisiveness, Trump acolyte Baker flashes a tie replete with fish symbols in debates with his Jewish opponent and continues to tiptoe around the issues hoping to run out the clock with a healthy but hardly insurmountable lead in the polls.