Monday, December 11, 2017
Politics

Rick vs. Rick Coda: No concession call, just a text

ST. PETERSBURG — When he lost the 1968 presidential election, Hubert Humphrey called President-elect Richard Nixon the next morning to concede the race. "I know how it feels to lose a close one," Nixon told him.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Rick vs. Rick: St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman completes comeback

Before then, candidates conceded races in telegrams and radio speeches. Humphrey made the first concession phone call in presidential history, according to atlasobscura.com.

Now pretty much every U.S. politician concedes by phone. The concession call has become as much a part of American politics as robocalls, attack ads and the high-priced consultants paid to come up with the first two.

Al Gore called George W. Bush twice in the 2000 presidential race — once to concede, the second time to take it back. In her book What Happened, Hillary Clinton recounted calling Donald Trump on Nov. 9, 2016.

"It was mercifully brief ... ," she wrote. "I was numb."

But when Rick Baker lost a tight mayoral race to incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman last month, he didn’t call to concede that night.

Nor did Baker, a former St. Petersburg mayor himself, mention Kriseman in his concession speech. It wasn’t until three days later — at 7:06 a.m. on Nov. 10, to be precise, the Friday after the election — that Baker finally conceded.

He did so via text message.

"Congratulations on four more years. I care a great amount for the people of our city so I hope for you to succeed in making the lives better for those who live here---especially those in the most need," Baker wrote to Kriseman.

That was 28 days ago. Baker still hasn’t called his opponent.

They still haven’t even spoken to each other, even though they’ve attended the same events. They were at the mayor’s prayer breakfast on Nov. 14.

Kriseman released the text message at the request of the Tampa Bay Times, which asked the mayor if he had heard from Baker after his 2,186 vote win in the most expensive and nastiest mayoral race in city history.

Emotions ran high on both sides throughout the election. In his victory speech, Kriseman referred to his win as a victory of light over darkness. But he also called for unity:

"When the dust settles, I believe Rick Baker and I can work together and put St. Pete first," the mayor said, "and if we can do it then every citizen of our great city can do it."

Four weeks later, Kriseman said Monday he has put that breach of political etiquette behind him: "At this point, I’ve kind of moved on."

And if Baker had won instead?

"I would have called him. I probably would have included him in my comments (in a concession speech)," Kriseman said.

When he lost his first political race for City Council in 1999, Kriseman said he called the candidate who beat him, Bob Kersteen, to schedule a lunch. The two later broke bread and "just talked."

"Everyone deals with it differently," Kriseman said. "Sometimes people disappear or they decide to stay engaged.

"He knows how to reach me."

This was Baker’s first political defeat after winning two terms as mayor from 2001-10. He did not return a call requesting comment Monday.

Instead, he texted a Times reporter: "I am happy to work with anyone in the effort to make St. Pete better."

He isn’t the only candidate who chose not to call, of course. When Nixon won re-election in 1972, George McGovern did not call the President.

He sent a telegram.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

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