By Jim Bleyer
St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker and City Council aspirant Justin Bean are both frantically attempting to erase their pasts in order to woo voters in a city where environmentalism, tolerance, respect for the law, and diversity predominate.
The tactic of running from their utterances, actions, and beliefs is not working for Baker and Bean. In the past week both have lied to the media.
A clear majority of St. Petersburg voters are anti-Trump and Democrats outnumber Republicans, 46.3 percent to 27.8 percent. Those expressing “no party affiliation” account for 25.9 percent. In raw numbers, there are more than 31.000 Democrats than Republicans.
At the outset of the non-partisan campaign, the Baker-Bean smokescreen, orchestrated by Republican operatives behind the scenes, was evidently effective. The public, despite misinformation spread by the newly Republican-controlled Tampa Bay Times, has wised up to the makeovers.
While voters glean factual information from community foums, talking to neighbors, and social media, the influence of the propaganda complicit Times is receding as rapidly as the water in Tampa Bay pre-Hurricane Irma.
St. Pete Polls, known as specious and unreliable, showed Baker with a seven-point lead going into the primary but he finished second to incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman. That is outside a toddler’s margin of error even using his toes.
But the result somehow surprised Baker who became unhinged primary night with a now-famous election night tirade. No one ever mistook the gangly, awkward 61-year-old as an ultra-cool, hip dude but that’s the message Baker’s campaign team is laughingly now trying to convey in order to save a sinking campaign. Voters interviewed by Tampa Bay Beat remember Baker instead for his loud, angry outbursts, intolerance for the LGBT community, and friendship with Trump insiders.
Steve Wynn, Trump’s main money man and bundler, sent $25,000 to the Baker campaign just last week.
While the nonsensical, reconfigured image flounders, so are the issues Baker clings to. A decades old city sewage problem—dating back to Baker’s stewardship—remains the centerpiece of his rhetoric. He called Kriseman, who is enthusiastically backed by the Sierra Club and other environmental interests, as the Bay area’s biggest polluter.
The accusation fell flat in the primary but Baker operates from a threadbare arsenal. Pathetic.
Bean led eight candidates into the runoff by a healthy margin but as information emerged about his numerous run-ins with the law and love for Trump—Bean attended the inauguration—his lead has vanished and he is now running behind his opponent, civic activist Gina Driscoll.
Like Baker, Bean continues to try to spin the narrative away from his transgressions. He incredibly labeled revelations of his various arrests “a hit piece” in a widely perceived pay-for-play blog. After shielding his record from voters, Bean adopted the role of victim after the disclosures.
Meanwhile the Poynter Institute, the parent of the Times, must deal with a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service challenging its non-profit status. The Poynter/Times active participation in politics beyond mere editorializing was one of the violations cited.
If the IRS finds that Poynter misappropriated or co-mingled funds, violated its mission statement, failed to adhere to the wishes of its founder Nelson Poynter or participated in political activity, the Institute would be on the hook for back taxes and penalties. In addition, its status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization would be revoked.