BY CINDY CARTER, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Former Mayor Rick Baker hopes to have one more shot at running the city with the Primary Election just days away. With a strong passion to make real improvements throughout St. Petersburg, Baker’s connections in the business and political arenas, he feels, gives him the advantage to bring about change.
“You need to be able to call on resources with people everywhere,” said Baker who has actively criticized the Kriseman camp for making the traditionally nonpartisan election about party lines.
Baker prides himself on his ability to work with all party denominations. “Whether they are defined as progressive or not progressive or whoever they are, if they have the ability to impact St. Pete, I’m going to go talk to them.”
In the past, Baker has called on politicians from both sides of the aisle to alleviate blight and about bring much-need resources. He’s worked with such names as the late Rep. Bill Young not only in his endeavors as mayor but with his contributions to the Edwards Family Foundation Program, which provides hundreds of bicycles and toys for disadvantaged families come Christmastime.
He has a relationship with the governor and the Speaker of the House, along with our senator, who is a Democrat. Those relationships can serve you when you are trying to help the city.
“If you’re the type of person that is willing to work with everybody, which I’ve always been, then you’re going to accomplish a lot,” said Baker.
Like the post office in Midtown that Baker spent three years trying to open up to local residents, the request finally making it all the way to the White House. It was Baker’s connections that got him an audience with then President Bush and eventually raised the quarter million dollars to allow Midtown residents a place where they could buy stamps and pick up packages without having to wait outside at a window.
Or the Pinellas County Job Corps Center building that alleviated roughly 15 acres of blight and provided jobs for some and access to jobs for countless others.
“It was an environmental disaster,” said Baker, speaking of the abandoned buildings that once stood there, “a dumping site for people in the community.”
Baker used his connections to obtain grants that improved community resources, and yes, built buildings. He doesn’t take stock in the Kriseman rhetoric that his legacy is just a bunch of buildings though.
“I think it’s an excuse for not having more tangible results,” said Baker on Kriseman’s record, citing the building of the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Community Health Center is more than just a building to members of the community that rely on it.
“We need to continue to build,” explained Baker, marking Midtown and the Childs Park areas as making positive strides, but not enough to create sustainable change. “We’ve made progress, but they certainly don’t look like other parts of our community.”
Baker’s backing of the CRA should add to the solution; although, he plans to track the money and make sure it is targeted to programs and the developing of sites that will help the community as opposed to implementing development to gain political favor.
“I don’t care who they are,” he said. “I think it’s a huge mistake to exclude either side when you’re trying to gather resources for the community.”