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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker visits Clearwater to tap top GOP donors

Rick Baker speaks to supporters at a Clearwater fundraiser Wednesday evening

Charlie Frago

Rick Baker speaks to supporters at a Clearwater fundraiser Wednesday evening

CLEARWATER — Rick Baker traveled north Wednesday to the Pinellas County bastion of Republican politics: Clearwater.

His mission? Collect cash for a heayweight match of a mayoral race pitting the former St. Petersburg mayor against the incumbent, Democrat Rick Kriseman.

Baker needs every penny. Kriseman had already collected about $400,000 by the end of April and has a deep reservoir of Democratic Party clout to call on for fundraising, including Congressman Charlie Crist and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

But Baker, a GOP stalwart, also clearly enjoyed seeing old friends and fellow Republicans like Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers, Clearwater City council member Doreen Caudell and father-son duo Brian Aungst (senior, a former Clearwater mayor; junior, a rising political force) at the fundraiser held at the Island Way Grill in Island Estates, halfway between Clearwater’s downtown and its famous beach.

Baker joked at the often strained relationship between the Sunshine City and its northern neighbor by thanking Cretekos for granting him a visa to visit Clearwater. …

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Pier gets its Army Corps of Engineers Permit

After months of waiting, the city has at last received a key permit to build the Pier.

[Courtesy of St. Petersburg]

After months of waiting, the city has at last received a key permit to build the Pier.

ST. PETERSBURG – After months of waiting, the city has at last received a key permit to build the Pier.

Wednesday a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman said the agency had given its stamp of approval to the project. Piles for the overwater area of the Pier District are expected to start going in this month. 

The Pier District is a 26-acre expanse that includes the pier, which will extend 1,265 feet into Tampa Bay and include Spa Beach. The area also includes the pier approach, which will run from Spa Beach to the edge of downtown, following the waterfront from the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club to Pioneer Park and Beach Drive. 

 The target date for completion of the project is the end of 2018.

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Tampa Councilwoman Yolie Capin files for Hillsborough County commission seat

Tampa City Councilwoman Yolie Capin, seen here celebrating an election night win in 2011, filed Wednesday to run for Hillsborough County Commission.

Times File Photo

Tampa City Councilwoman Yolie Capin, seen here celebrating an election night win in 2011, filed Wednesday to run for Hillsborough County Commission.

TAMPA — Tampa City Councilwoman Yolie Capin filed paperwork Wednesday to run for Hillsborough County Commission in 2020.

But the District 1 county seat she’s seeking could open up much sooner than that. It’s current occupant, Sandy Murman, is running for a countywide seat in 2018. If she qualifies for the ballot, she must resign to run and that would require a special election to fill her seat.

By opening a campaign now, Capin is hoping to position herself in case that happens.

“I have the experience to help out at the county and I believe that the county needs a direction on planning,” Capin said. “I’ve done that for seven years at City Council.”

Capin, a Democrat, was selected to fill a vacancy on the Tampa City Council in 2010 and currently serves as council chairwoman. There was speculation she may run for mayor in 2019, and even recently wouldn’t rule it out. But she said Wednesday she is not running for mayor. …

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Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back

Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally

Charlie Frago

Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

It’s been a consistent message from Kriseman in the opening weeks of his electoral contest against former mayor Rick Baker, who held the Sunshine City’s top job from 2001-2010.

Does the city want to be a place where people felt safe to gather after last year's Orlando Pulse shooting, Kriseman asked? A city where all feel included?

“That’s what we’re going to be deciding in this election,” the incumbent mayor said.

Kriseman's speech was aimed at Baker, who had a rocky relatioinship as mayor with the city’s large gay community, which has emerged in recent years as a potent political force. As mayor, Baker didn’t march in the annual St. Pete Pride parade. Kriseman has embraced it. Last year, as the parade mourned the victims of the Orlando terrorist attack, Kriseman wore a superhero cape to the festivities.

When Baker announced earlier this month that he would run for a third term as mayor, he addressed the LGBT community, saying they were an important and valued part of the city. …

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Amy Foster is running for reelection to St. Pete City Council

St. Pete City Council member Amy Foster filed for reelection this week.

Foster campaign

St. Pete City Council member Amy Foster filed for reelection this week.

Four weeks remain before the qualifying period ends for St. Petersburg’s mayoral and City Council races, but one question has been formally answered.

Amy Foster is running for reelection.

The District 8 council member filed her paperwork on Wednesday, a day after a challenger appeared.

But that opponent quickly disappeared. Tharius Bethel dropped out Thursday informing the City Clerk’s office that he had discovered he didn’t live in the district, which covers Kenwood, Disston Heights and other neighborhoods west of I-275.

That Foster would seek reelection was a poorly-kept secret around City Hall.

She joins Council Chairwoman Darden Rice as the two council incumbents seeking another four-year term.

Rice has an opponent, Jerick Johnston, a first-time candidate.

Two other council members, Karl Nurse and Jim Kennedy are stepping down because of term limits.

A bevy of candidates has lined up to replace them.

The primary is Aug. 29. 

 

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Yolie Capin for Tampa mayor? Not out of the question

Yvonne Yolie Capin

City of Tampa

Yvonne Yolie Capin

Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin got The Question well into her appearance at the Friday morning public affairs discussion group Cafe Con Tampa.

Does she plan to run for mayor in 2019? County Commission?

“I will tell you this,” the two-term Democrat told about 75 people at the Oxford Exchange. “I was asked by someone, ‘Tell me what you’re not running for.’ I said, ‘I’m not running for governor.’ ”

Capin spent most of time Friday discussing the city’s $905 million budget and urging the crowd not to approve an expanded homestead tax exemption that the city estimates would take an estimated $5.6 million to $5.9 million.

“That is a hit that is very, very severe,” she said.

She also talked up the potential of leveraging cultural assets like museums, theaters and even food. The City Council voted Thursday to de-commission a city advisory committee on using cultural assets as an economic engine. But she has been talking with County Commissioner Ken Hagan about starting a similar commission on the countywide level, and expects some movement later this summer. …

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Air tests at Tampa golf course do not find controversial pesticide at levels deemed hazardous by EPA

A contractor for the Tampa Sports Authority applied the pesticide Curfew at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course on May 9.

Times files

A contractor for the Tampa Sports Authority applied the pesticide Curfew at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course on May 9.

Environmental monitoring at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course in Forest Hills found amounts of the controversial pesticide Curfew far below limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission set up an air-sampling canister on the edge of the 16th fairway at the golf course on May 9, the day that a contractor for the Tampa Sports Authority applied the pesticide. The canister was installed during application, was placed outside the 30-foot buffer zone that regulators require and remained in place for another 24 hours.

Lab analysis of the sample showed a 24-hour average concentration of the active ingredient in Curfew of 7.7 parts per billion. The EPA says the range at which you could expect to start seeing short-term effects on human health is 5,000 parts per billion.

“This is over 500 times what was recorded by EPC’s sampler,” EPC air management division director Jerry Campbell said in a letter to Tampa City Council member Luis Viera. “Thus it can be stated that our sample more than complied with the EPA’s referenced concentration.” …

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Rick Baker releases first campaign ad

Rick Baker's campaign released its first TV ad Wednesday

[Photo from video]

Rick Baker's campaign released its first TV ad Wednesday

Former Mayor Rick Baker's campaign released the first political ad in his quest to regain the mayor's office today.

On Tuesday evening, Baker debuted a slightly differerent version of the  ad to a crowd of several hundred supporters at a fundraiser held at the Morean Arts Center.

The theme of a "seamless city," prominent in the ad is also the title of one of Baker's books. Appealing to a unified city, with special emphasis on Midtown's black voters, is also likely his most realistic path to victory in a campaign where incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, has already pointed out Baker's past support of controversial Republicans like Herman Cain and Sarah Palin.

(Update:  Baker campaign spokeswoman Brigitta Shouppe said the ad sent to the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday was a different version that one screened at a Tuesday fundraiser. The ad shown Tuesday was intended for online audiences. The ad released Wednesday for cable TV, she said. 

When asked why the ad shown below didn't have a disclaimer as required by Florida statute 106.71 (2), the campaign issued the following statement: …

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Baker fundraiser all about "Seamless City"

Rick Baker speaks at a fundraiser at the Morean Arts Center Tuesday

Charlie Frago

Rick Baker speaks at a fundraiser at the Morean Arts Center Tuesday

Rick Baker kicked off a fundraiser Tuesday night at the Morean Arts Center making light of his 40-minute announcement speech two weeks ago on the steps of City Hall.

“I apologize for cutting it short,” Baker quipped. “I’m fully prepared to give the second half of that speech.”

The former two-term mayor didn't quite do that. His speech before several hundred supporters last just over 20 minutes.

Baker told the crowd he wanted to focus on where the city was going instead of criticizing his opponent, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, something he did plenty of during that May 9 announcement stemwinder.

But Baker couldn’t resist poking Kriseman on the city’s sewage crisis, saying it’s hard to be seen as strong on the environment if you are responsible for dumping 200 million gallons of sewage.

He also blamed Kriseman for losing Midtown’s Walmart, vowing to find another grocery store to fill the space vacated by the grocery giant in January. …

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Kriseman to open campaign office

Mayor Rick Kriseman will open his campaign office Friday with Congresman Charlie Crist in attendance.

The new office, 1638 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N, will house campaign staff. The 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. opening will have speeches by Kriseman and Crist among "other special guests," according to a campaign Facebook post Monday.

Kriseman is in a race against former mayor Rick Baker. 

Baker was the campaign chair for former U.S. Rep. David Jolly who lost to Crist, a Democrat, last November.

The mayoral primary is Aug. 29. 

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Four-term Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee to retire Sept. 30

Sheriff David Gee will soon retire after 13 years at the helm of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He will retire effective Sept. 30.

[Times files]

Sheriff David Gee will soon retire after 13 years at the helm of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He will retire effective Sept. 30.

TAMPA — Sheriff David Gee announced Friday he plans to retire on Sept. 30 after nearly four decades in law enforcement and 13 years at the helm of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

“This decision has not been made lightly and was one of the most difficult decisions that I have made in my career,” Gee said in an e-mail to his staff. He said he wants to devote “full attention and support” to family.

Under Florida law, Gov. Rick Scott will appoint an interim sheriff who will serve until a new sheriff is elected at the next general election in November 2018. The Sheriff’s Office has a tradition of grooming sheriff’s from within, and potential successors include agency veterans Chad Chronister and Donna Lusczynski.

Former sheriff’s Col. Jim Previtera said Gee professionalized the Sheriff’s Office and made sure the agency evolved as Hillsborough County’s population mushroomed. …

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Another departure at Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board

The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is located in a Largo office complex.

SCOTT KEELER i Times

The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is located in a Largo office complex.

Amid ongoing scrutiny at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, another investigator has left the agency.

Paul Roberts retired Thursday, the second investigator to leave since late April.

"It was time to retire," Roberts said Friday, declining to comment further.

Interim executive director Gay Lancaster declined to comment.

The board's investigators look into complaints against contractors. The agency is down to one investigator who searches for construction violators.

The latest departure compounds the agency's woes from declining revenues as fewer fines have been collected in the past year.

The agency operates solely on what it raises in license fees and fines from contractors. County officials have told the agency it must somehow raise revenue to stay in the black.

The licensing board is under so much financial distress that it has been forced to siphon nearly $400,000 out of its reserves just to stay afloat in recent months. Last year it had an annual budget of $1.8 million.

The governing board, a mix of public officials and private contractors, are scheduled to receive a financial update on Tuesday, records show. …

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Here come the "Influencers;" St. Petersburg's new social media marketing strategy approved

ST. PETERSBURG — The social media marketing strategy that was met with a chilly City Council reception earlier this year, won approval Thursday. The City Council signed off on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s “Influencer” strategy.

By a 5-2 vote (Council chairwoman Darden Rice wasn’t present), the council approved a $92,500 request to hire “influencers” — people with large social media followings who are paid to visit the city and tweet or post about its economic development and arts and culture.

Council members Amy Foster and Ed Montanari voted against the measure. Council members Charlie Gerdes, Karl Nurse, Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, Steve Kornell and Jim Kennedy voted for it.

The program could begin within six week or so, in the midst of Kriseman’s reelection campaign. His staff have said that the tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts won’t have any political content, but will be aimed at attracting young in-demand workers and investment.

While the region's tourism agencies have long used this strategy to attract visitors, Kriseman said "influencers" will be used to elevate the city's culture and economic development. …

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Victor Crist, Sandy Murman to seek new Hillsborough commission seats

Republican County Commissioners Victor Crist and Sandy Murman, both of whom hold district seats on the board of commissioners, filed Thursday to run in 2018 for separate countywide districts – Crist in District 5 and Murman in District 7.

Crist faces a term limit next year in his current seat representing District 2; Murman faces term limits in her current District 1 seat in 2020.

So far, Crist faces only a comparatively little-known Democrat, Elvis Jamine Piggott, and local tea party leader Tim Curtis as a primary opponent.

A comparatively little known Democrat, Sky U. White, has already filed in the District 5 race Murman is entering.

In an interview, Crist said, “During these challenging times Hillsborough County needs an honest leader with the experience, knowledge and proven track record of getting the job done. … Much has been accomplished since my joining the County Commission in 2010 and I look forward to an opportunity to continue serving the constituents of Hillsborough County.”

Murman couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. …

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St. Petersburg City Council tells Mayor Rick Kriseman to spend Penny for Pinellas money on housing, transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration prepared a $326 million wish list for the city's share of proceeds raised by the next decade of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. It includes many priorities long clamored for by the City Council: sewage system fixes and a new Shore Acres Recreation Center.

But Kriseman’s list didn’t include money for affordable housing or transit. So in front of a room full of Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) members — who last month urged council members to dedicate 10 percent of the city’s portion of the 1 percent countywide sales tax to affordable housing — the council told the mayor's office to tear up that list and come back next month with one dedicating at least $15 million to those needs.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said the city would have a revised list ready by the June 8 meeting. The county wants the city to outline its spending plans by early July deadline for the next round of funds raised by the Penny for Pinellas. It will begin in 2020 if voters approve renewing the 1-cent sales tax in November. …

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