By Jim Bleyer
Back on his heels after woefully underperforming in the primary, an incensed Rick Baker will dramatically amp up his campaign to unseat St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman in the two months leading up to the Nov. 7 “nonpartisan” election, sources have told Tampa Bay Beat.
The undertaking reportedly will include nonstop attacks including opposition research not only against Kriseman but some of his high profile supporters. The object: to destroy the credibility of any Baker critics and to throw shade and hope it sticks.
In fact, the unhinged Baker wasted no time in launching his smear campaign. Less than two days after the primary, he accused Kriseman of promoting mandatory use of solar panels. Although the remark merits a “Pants on Fire” on the Politifact meter, the Tampa Bay Times irresponsibly ran with the desperate candidate’s idiotic claim.
Baker’s overall strategy likely does not include a deceitful tactic known as “doxxing,” short for document tracing, but his angry, crazed behavior so publicly on display during election night could portend a win-at-all-costs campaign toolbox.
Extremist political groups and racist organizations are prime users of doxxing, posting private information about opponents online with the intent to harass, threaten, and intimidate.
Most jurisdictions view doxxing as a crime and there is a proposed law to make the practice illegal on a federal level. Those who order or pay for doxxing have faced conspiracy charges. There have been civil suits as well.
Baker’s brain trust also plans to steer the narrative away from its candidate’s association with Donald Trump, clearly toxic to a majority of city voters.
Baker, a Republican, couldn’t control his emotions on election night as results rolled in showing his Democrat adversary winning the primary. Kriseman’s victory defied conventional wisdom and a local poll showing Baker with a seven-point lead. A frenetic Baker was loud, angry, and shaking as he addressed what remained of his cadre of supporters.
The video of Baker’s rant has gone viral and now his erratic demeanor has become an issue with many voters.
Baker can count on the Tampa Bay Times, his primary public relations arm for cover. Instead of questioning Baker’s stability or at least his total lack of discipline after his off-the-rails harangue, the Times advised him to “cheer up” in a headline.
The Times quoted Baker’s every utterance regardless of its truthfulness and suppressed any adverse information during the entire primary process. That can be expected to continue. But with wealthy Republican donors saving the failing newspaper from imminent bankruptcy, voters view the Times pivot from its historic progressive values with skepticism if not outright condemnation.
From the outset, the Times has tried to define the parameters of the campaign. As a sponsor of mayoral debates, it marginalized four lesser known candidates excluding them entirely. Editorial writers, tried to dictate the issues, maintaining Baker’s standing as an ardent Trump supporter should be off limits in any campaign rhetoric. The Times encouraged focusing on the city’s sewage crisis and blaming Kriseman for a problem that predated his stewardship.
The Times editorial stance consistency bleeds into its news coverage, a journalistic taboo. Abandoning traditional practice, the Times’ mission is to elect Baker, not merely endorse him.
Baker is employed by local wealthy impressario Bill Edwards, a major advertiser. The Times has denied that Edwards was one of those that bankrolled a hefty multi-million dollar loan but Times publisher Paul Tash refuses to name all the so-called “investors.”
Edwards hurts Baker by being an unabashed Trump worshipper and the target of a major lawsuit involving predatory lending. Baker asserted, if elected, he will not recuse himself from any deliberations or decisions involving the Edwards empire.
The incestuous relationships of the Baker-Times-Edwards triumverate go even deeper. Tash’s daughter, a commercial litigation attorney, is defending Edwards in at least one of the lawsuits he is involved in.
Now the transparent Times says Trump and sewage should not be discussed during the runoff campaign. That would be great for their candidate. The Trump strategy gained traction and boosted Kriseman; carping on a decades old sewage problem was a major Baker failure.
Some enterprising citizen at a public forum should ask Baker which of these (in)actions he agrees with. It all pertains to his philosophy of government but you can bet he won’t answer such questions if the primary campaign was an indicator. Baker has been mired in sewage and would have to switch gears.
By bending over for its GOP patrons and begging the public to overlook Baker’s Trump albatross and his unbalanced behavior, the once highly regarded Times has a lot to answer for: to its peers, to its shrinking readership, to many of its advertisers, to media watchdogs, to friends and family of Nelson Poynter, and to government agencies.