Thursday, November 23, 2017
Politics

Kriseman and Baker trade jabs at mayoral debate - not, this time, the crowd

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ST. PETERSBURG — Before the mayoral forum began Thursday, Pastor Clarence Williams urged a standing-room-only crowd to behave civilly.

"Be mindful of the rules and be mindful of your neighbors," Williams told the crowd of about 250 people in the worship hall at Greater Mount Zion AME Church in Midtown.

Unlike Monday's mayhem- filled debate at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront, there were no long outbursts. This debate didn't end in a shoving match.

But it did get rough.

Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker wrestled over the city's sewage crisis, police brutality, effectiveness of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area and affordable housing, among other topics.

Kriseman said serving as a state House representative with fellow Democrats Frank Peterman and Darryl Rouson taught him to fight against the establishment.

He said he was not part of the establishment as mayor, but was "fighting for the people," especially on jobs and restoring felony rights.

Baker said the city was near greatness and needed better management. He criticized the mayor for closing the Albert Whitted sewage plant.

"A 10-year-old could tell you if you close down Albert Whitted, you dump sewage," Baker said.

Kriseman said problems with the city's troubled system were evident under Baker. The mayor said Wednesday that he was taking the difficult step to repair the sewers to avoid spills, including 50,000 gallons of "mostly treated" sewage.

A member of the audience asked why all of the six qualified candidates shouldn't be allowed to participate in the July 25 debate sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9. The sponsors announced Thursday that attendance at the Palladium event would be by invitation only. Kriseman and Baker are the only two candidates invited.

"Now it's just two-headed Rick talking to his own people," said the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement-associated candidate Jesse Nevel. He challenged Baker and Kriseman to boycott the event.

Neither did. Baker said he would debate whoever showed up. Kriseman was noncommittal.

Both Baker and Kriseman used a chance to give closing statements to make their pitch to end the race in August.

Baker drove home his support for the public schools.

"Schools should be a major focus of the mayor of St. Petersburg," Baker said.

Kriseman told the crowd that his vision of a city was to create one of opportunity.

"It really is about being for everyone," Kriseman said. "Everyone should have the same opportunities."

It was an impassioned speech that sounded much like Baker's often-repeated dream of a seamless city.

Two other candidates, Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter and Anthony Cates III used the greater amount of time — without disruptions — to highlight their long-shot candidacies.

Lassiter pointed to her quarter-century of activism and her campaign theme of unity. She drew applause when she advocated redrawing the lines of the South St. Petersburg CRA to include the lucrative redevelopment possibilities of Tropicana Field's 85 acres.

Responding to a question about reducing auto theft, Cates said he and fellow activist Lewis Stephens had recruited 170 young people and obtained jobs and college opportunities for them without any city help.

"I'm 100 percent for the people," Cates said.

Paul "The Truth" Congemi is also on the ballot. He told the Times that an illness in the family had kept him from recent debates. A seventh candidate, Ernisa Barnwell, was disqualified this week for not paying her qualifying fee. She has said she'll fight that decision, but didn't participate at Thursday's forum.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 29 primary, the top two vote-getters will proceed to the Nov. 7 election.

The evening proved a victory for Williams, who playfully engaged the crowd throughout the night. He had predicted the Uhurus, and their chairman, Omali Yeshitela, wouldn't shut down the event. They didn't.

After one particularly long round of applause, Williams reminded the crowd to follow the rules.

"Amen. Amen," Yeshitela said in a booming voice.

At end of the debate, Williams called Yeshitela to the podium, where he thanked him for inspiring young people and getting them interested in the political process.

Williams and Yeshitela then embraced.

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