By Jim Bleyer
The biased coverage of the St. Petersburg mayor’s race by the Tampa Bay Times continues days after Rick Kriseman won re-election over Rick Baker.
The Times, who went all-in for Baker on its news pages as well as in its editorials, lacks resiliency when it loses—and it is losing often. This shockingly shabby post mortem of the race by Adam Smith, who carries the oxymoronic title of Political Editor, is typical of the sour grapes regularly spewed by the Times with the obvious blessing of its parent, the Poynter Institute of Media Studies.
First, this was never going to be an easy race for Kriseman. He was facing a former mayor who had banked gobs of goodwill during his eight-year tenure. More recently, Baker earned a positive high profile working successfully to pass a referendum on behalf of the popular Tampa Bay Rowdies.
In addition, Baker’s Republican bona fides gave him access to tons of cash from the deep-pocketed GOP. This race was actually a tossup going in.
The Times would love for local politicos to overrate its influence by scamming them imto thinking it helped shrink a fictitious Kriseman lead.
The truth is that Baker’s failure to win the six-way primary sealed his fate. Here is how Kriseman secured a second term at City Hall
1) The mayor parried Baker’s accusations that Kriseman was solely responsible for St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis. With that line of attack neutralized, Baker’s operatives—and the Times—continued to parrot the charges during the runoff campaign. It didn’t gain the challenger any new converts as voters tuned out.
2) Kriseman’s team successfully linked Baker to the locally unpopular Donald Trump. Baker didn’t help himself by being slow to criticize the white nationalists who wreaked havoc and killed an innocent young woman in Charlottesville.
3) Overreach by the Tampa Bay Times and the ensuing backlash played a significant role. Biased reporting by beat writers, omissions of legitimate news detrimental to Baker, at least one article that was outright fiction, and attempts to dictate the parameters of the campaign were too much for many voters. Subscriptions were canceled and Kriseman’s ground team was energized.
4) The appearance of close Kriseman ally Darden Rice’s name on the general election ballot was absolutely huge. Not only is the city councilwoman the most popular officeholder in St. Pete, she is highly regarded throughout the Bay area for her diligence on issues and responsiveness to constituents. With only one token opponent, Rice’s race was sidelined for the primary.
5). The unhinged, angry rant by Baker on primary night handed the Kriseman team a new, high-profile issue—the challenger’s temperament. The video of Baker’s harangue was widely circulated on social media. And the Times left no doubt that it was in the tank for Baker when it described his frothing diatribe as “animated.”
The Times pulled the same crabby, crybaby attitude after Lawrence McClure beat Yvonne Fry in a Hillsborough County special election for House representative. McClure’s campaign tactics were decried by the newspaper.
Since it was taken over by right wing investors earlier this year, the Times has gone zero for four in highly competitive political races. By now, it should have had sufficient practice in becoming a gracious loser.