By Jim Bleyer
With his chances of becoming St. Petersburg’s next mayor dissipating as rapidly as the ravaging winds of Hurricane Irma, Rick Baker exploited one of the worst natural disasters in the nation’s history to resuscitate his failing campaign.
Baker, his employer Bill Edwards and others billed as his political allies opened a “FEMA Disaster Recovery Registration Center” Thursday night.
Neither FEMA nor Google recognizes the term outside of Rick Baker references. Local media reported the location in upper case as if it were gospel. Tampa Bay Times, Baker’s mouthpiece, printed the candidate’s press release verbatim without fact checking. So did a local play-for-pay blog and the Sunshine State News, a GOP-centric “newsletter.”
The morning after is always sobering. The Times did not include the Baker-FEMA ploy among its top 70 stories in its digital edition. The non-story brought up the rear of the Pinellas news section. As far as Tampa Bay Beat could determine, no Times PR people attended Baker’s event and so far, there has been no reportage. Perhaps the Times will reprint a Baker press release on its “success.”
The Times more or less was obliged to not remove the original article from its Bay Buzz blog.
Attorneys and activists in St. Petersburg now question under what authority Baker opened a FEMA center and just how private information such as Social Securoty numbers will be used.
All personal information was inputted onto privately owned computers under the auspices of Edwards who is defendant in a civil case for fraud against the U.S. Department of Justice.
Besides, the event more resembled a campaign stop than a relief effort for struggling storm victims. Baker political signs were on full view as was Baker, waving, smiling, and shaking hands. Not very mayoral. Not very human. Insulting to crisis-drenched St. Pete residents.
Campaign workers took the names and phone numbers of those seeking federal aid, independent of any “official” forms that may have been filled out at the cubicles set up inside the building at 6090 Central Ave.
The names and phone contacts can be used by the Baker campaign to register new voters, recruit advocates, and ensure a few hundred more votes in the general election Nov. 7.
Despite leading in every local poll prior to the Aug. 29 primary, Baker flopped by finishing 70 votes behind incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman. Baker’s margin in the polls ranged from six to nine points. Tampa Bay Beat does not know who commissioned the survey but it has been flawed and/or biased. More on that in the coming weeks.
Baker, a Republican, couldn’t control his emotions on election night as results rolled in showing his Democrat adversary winning the primary. A frenetic Baker was loud, angry, and shaking during an election night harangue.
His unhinged demeanor is now a campaign issue.
The Times announced June 30 that a group of Republican heavy hitters invested in the economically struggling newspaper with a $12-15 million infusion. Ever since, the Times has pivoted 180 degrees from its decades old advocacy of progressive causes.
Baker is an extremist, Donald Trump disciple and man-made climate change denier who shuns diversity and waited nearly three days to denounce the white supremacists who violently attacked demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA.
The Times has gone all in on his candidacy, attempting to dictate the terms, issues, and timing of the race without regard to complete and factual reporting. Gene Webb, a local conservative blogger and Baker donor, challenged the Times on its desire to dictate the race.
News outlets are flooded with stories about Irma and its aftermath bringing out the best in Floridians. Rick Baker and his “allies” are among the exceptions.