By Jim Bleyer
Overcoming moneyed right-wing interests, a local newspaper that was paid by a spate of new investors to advance the cause of Trump acolytes, and dirty campaign tactics, incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was re-elected for a second four-year term Tuesday.
Kriseman’s 3.1 percentage point win over Rick Baker is seen as a victory for progressivism, diversity, and inclusion as well as a rejection of unethical journalism by Tampa Bay’s sole daily newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times.
Architect of the general election campaign was Omar Khan, a veteran political operative. He was responsible for obtaining Kriseman endorsements from Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
On loan from Chris King’s gubernatorial quest, Khan took the reins of Team Kriseman after the mayor led the primary by a threadbare .13 percent but with momentum leading into the 10-week runoff.
Kriseman/Khan more than held serve, battling against a cascade of predictable attack ads by an intemperate, unhinged Baker and slanted coverage in the Tampa Bay Times that amounted to in-kind campaign contributions.
On Election Day and the week leading up to it, a desperate Baker campaign confiscated Kriseman signage, attempted to mislead voters at polling locations, and peppered the airwaves with false claims and accusations.
The Kriseman win also emphasized the impotence of the Times and its parent, the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. The newspaper supported three losers Tuesday: Baker, Justin Bean, and Barclay Harless.
The Times did support a victorious Darden Rice, widely admired city councilwoman and a slam dunk, whose youthful opponent’s name still escapes most voters.
But the Times, since it was taken over by right-wing billionaires, is zero for four in highly competitive races. Last month, Lawrence McClure waxed Times favorite Yvonne Fry in an East Hillsborough County special election for the Florida House.
The Times whined incessantly about McClure’s campaign ads asserting they were negative and false. But Baker, the Poynter/Times candidate ran nothing but misleading attack ads throughout the runoff without any admonishment from the biased journalistic entities that sponsored him.
Baker’s dirty campaign tactics and the Times silence were a national embarrassment.
Then there was city council candidate Justin Bean who was arrested six times including once for resisting a law officer. A Trump enthusiast who attended the inaugural in Washington D.C., Bean, with the thinnest of resumés in an original field of eight, was backed by the Times.
The Times originally reported Bean was arrested once, then after Tampa Bay Beat exposed Bean as a fraud, acknowledged only a second arrest. Any ethical newspaper would have withdrawn its endorsement and excoriated the candidate.
Here is the difference in the influence of the philosophically overhauled Times in Pinellas and Hillsborough: in Pinellas, the Times influence is inconsequential; in Hillsborough, Times support works to the detriment of a candidate or issue.
The Poynter/Times off-the-hook activism has come to the attention of the Internal Revenue Service. A complaint was filed with the IRS in October challenging the Poynter Institute of Media Studies’ status as a non-profit entity. Participation in political activity is prohibited for entities claiming to be a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
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 501(c)(3) status would be revoked.