ST. PETERSBURG — Mayoral candidate Rick Baker took his campaign to Bethel Community Baptist Church on Sunday. It’s not uncommon for politicians from both parties to stop in at the church and speak to the congregation — Gov. Rick Scott visited in 2014..
Baker entered shortly after the service had started, and brought with him his wife and a group of supporters: former Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter president Sevell Brown, former assistant police chief Cedric Gordon, reitred police sergeant Al White.and retired major Donnie Williams.
Before Baker got up to speak, a musical group had performed a song called “All In His Hands.” When Baker stood up, he made reference to that by saying, “I put it all in His hands,” and then talked briefly about his own religious faith.
After introducing the former police officers who accompanied him, Baker mentioned former deputy mayor and police chief Goliath Davis. When Davis was police chief “I had such a confidence level” that the police department “would treat everyone with respect,” Baker said.
Baker said that when he was mayor before for nearly nine years, “my job was to make sure that every part of the city would have the resources and assets that all the other parts have.”
He blasted his opponent, incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, for cutting a deal that would put a Floribbean restaurant in the historic Manhattan casino: “What’s been proposed to replace it, I completely disagree with.” He accused Kriseman of pushing to get the deal done “before I get elected.”
“Everywhere I go people are talking about crime,” he said, shifting gears. “I was in Snell Isle last night and people were talking about how we need to do something about the auto theft problem. If you give kids a job then they won’t go steal a car. If there’s nothing they’re risking, then they’re going to do it.”
Baker boasted of raising thousands of dollars for college scholarships for at-risk kids, and added that he’s been talking to the contractors’ association about set tingup a program for kids who have a GED,to be trained for a job as an electrician, a carpenter or a plumber. He said he hopes to figure out a way for Uber or Lyft to transport such kids to various job sites because transportation is often a problem for them.
He complained about the partisan turn that the campaign has taken, with Florida Democrats tagging him as a supporter of President Donald Trump and meanwhile Kriseman getting an endorsement from former President Barack Obama.
“The whole campaign against me is that I’m not in the party that Rick Kriseman wants me to be in.But that’s not what the mayor’s race is about.”
Baker emphasized once more his prior service as mayor, telling the congregation, “I’m no different than I was back then. You know where my heart is.”
Kriseman attended Christ Gospel Church on Sunday. He also canvassed door-to-door, said Jacob Smith, Kriseman’s campaign manager. The mayor has visited at least 13 churches during the campaign, many of them two or three times. He visited Bethel in July, Smith said.