Former City Councilman and Democratic Rep. Rick Kriseman scored the second big victory for Florida Dems in as many months, defeating de facto Republican Bill Foster 56 to 44. It marks the first time since St. Petersburg adopted a strong-mayor municipal structure in 1992 that an incumbent has been toppled and — perhaps — a significant shift in the politics of west central Florida.
Kriseman’s victory, like Amanda Murphy’s over RPOF favorite Bill Gunter a few weeks ago, offers real solace for browbeaten I-4 Corridor Democrats like myself who have seen winnable legislative seats go to out-of-touch ideologues like Dana Young, J.W. Grant and Jeff Brandes of late.
Bill Foster originally decried Kriseman’s official FDP backing but by the end of this technically non-partisan contest, neither party was shy about pumping in direct support for their candidates. The state party, which deserves major credit here, is showing some serious chops lately by shrewdly targeting this seat early on and equipping Kriseman with a competent staff led by (fellow DFA alum) Cesar Fernandez.
The Tampa Bay area is basically progressive territory, though its actual character is obscured by the current state House and Senate maps. Kriseman, who began his political career on the little-known St. Pete Nuisance Abatement Board, represents an ideal addition to the Democratic bench. Homegrown talent is exactly what we need to turn the tide in Pinellas County and regaining historically left-leaning downtown St. Pete seems like an excellent place to begin.The electoral success of Mayor Bob Buckhorn and about five legitimately liberal City Councilors in Tampa has not translated to similar success at the state government level, but Pinellas in 2014 might well be different.
The story of this election, like all municipal elections, was primarily about hyper-local issues: the failure of Mayor Foster to deal gracefully with the St. Pete Pier renovation, the threat of losing the Rays to Tampa and a general sense of diffidence emanating from City Hall since Republican dynamo Rick Baker termed out in 2010. Still, the networks of support mobilized by the Kriseman campaign in opposition to lousy conservative governance combined with tactical FDP assistance could again prove decisive in next year’s midterms.