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Obama Noses Into the St. Petersburg Mayor’s Race

When George W. Bush left the White House in January of ’09, he returned to Texas to keep his own counsel, never lecturing his successor, no matter how much his successor needed it. George H.W. did it the same way.

Butting out when your time is up has been a presidential tradition honored through most of the history of the republic, born of courtesy, respect for the office, and the understanding, by those who have every reason to know, that the job is hard enough without some outside yahoo trying to throw partisan spanners in the spokes.

But politics is all for folks on the left, so don’t expect Barack Obama to honor this civilized tradition. Courtesy is pretty thin on the political ground these days. And Democrats only seem to respect offices when they are held by Democrats. So Obama has stuck his oar in on various partisan and policy matters. The latest is the current mayor’s race in St. Petersburg, Florida, where Obama has endorsed the current Democrat mayor for re-election. The election is nonpartisan, but everyone in the city knows that incumbent Rick Kriseman is a Democrat and his opponent, former two-term mayor Rick Baker, is a Republican. One would be hard-pressed to find a more partisan nonpartisan election anywhere.

“As mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman has taken on big challenges to move St. Pete forward,” Obama crooned in a statement. “From raising the minimum wage and fighting for equality, to bold leadership on climate change, Rick was a great ally on the priorities of my administration. I strongly endorse Rick Kriseman as the only choice for continuing progress for St. Petersburg.”

This, of course, is all vague boiler plate with no designative meaning. Anyone paying attention knows it’s just as hot of a summer day in St. Petersburg now as it ever was pre-Kriseman. St. Petersburghers enjoyed equality long before Rick Kriseman ever decided to run for public office. And the left is still trying to push the minimum wage to job-killing and small-business-destroying levels.

Kriseman answered boiler-plate with boiler plate. After going on a bit about how humbled he was by the Obama endorsement, he added, “From ending veteran homelessness to combating climate change, it has been my privilege to champion his priorities and apply them at the local level.”

Kriseman is playing up Obama’s endorsement before Tuesday’s primary. He was even dropping the name at campaign events before the endorsement. In 2008 and 2010 Obama won the city of St. Petersburg by comfortable margins. And he remains popular with black Democrat voters, a group Kriseman very much needs to turn out and vote for him if he hopes to win in politically purple St. Petersburg. A complicating factor for Kriseman is that the moderate Baker, unlike most Republicans, enjoys considerable support among black voters. He did well in black precincts while winning the mayor’s office in 2008 and 2010.

There are several vanity candidates in the race, the folks who seem to show up at every election with the price of a filing fee, time on their hands, and no prospect of winning. These supernumeraries complicate matters. If any candidate Tuesday gets 50% plus one vote, that candidate is the next mayor. If not there will have to be a run-off election on November 7. But the also-rans may draw just enough votes Tuesday to keep either of the two Big Foot candidates from winning, thereby sentencing St. Petersburg to 10 more weeks of an expensive and less-than-edifying campaign.

Hard to say if this is a signal that Obama plans to get involved in more local races. This is only the second mayor’s race he has endorsed in since leaving 1600. He also held his hand up for Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles. Obama knows bugger-all about St. Petersburg, or about Kriseman, come to that. But Kriseman endorsed Obama early on in 2008, and perhaps that’s all this is about. We can hope so.

Larry Thornberry
Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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