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Mayors line up behind Baker

The present chief and two former mayors heartily endorse Rick Baker for the job.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Mayor David Fischer and two former St. Petersburg mayors said Wednesday that Rick Baker should have the job next.

At a news conference by an oak tree at the Crescent Lake Park playground, Fischer called Baker "the best person to carry on my legacy."

"He's very mayoral," Fischer said. "That's important. He's totally qualified. He's everything you want a mayor to be."

Baker helped engineer all three of Fischer's mayoral campaigns before announcing last year that he would seek the job himself. Fischer left the door open for his own candidacy until December, when he announced he would retire instead.

Former Mayors Bob Ulrich and Corinne Freeman joined Fischer in endorsing Baker, allowing Baker to claim the support of the people who have held the job for 22 of the past 24 years.

Former Mayor Ed Cole served the other two years, from 1985 to 1987.

"I'm not supporting anybody right now," Cole said from his home Wednesday, adding that Fischer did ask him to endorse Baker.

Ulrich, Freeman and Cole were each mayor before 1993, when the mayor served as chairman of the City Council, not the full-time chief executive Fischer has been since then. Fischer also served for two years before the change.

Ulrich, who served from 1987 to 1991, praised Fischer for easing the city's switch to the "strong mayor" system and predicted that Baker will provide "great and dynamic leadership" in that role if elected.

Freeman, who served from 1977 to 1985, said some of Baker's eight opponents sound too extreme, especially in their attitudes toward the drinking water shortage and the city's participation in the Tampa Bay Water regional utility.

"He's reasonable," Freeman said of Baker. "I believe that Rick Baker will be very thoughtful and careful on that board."

Architect Randy Wedding, who was mayor from 1973 to 1975, is supporting Baker opponent and City Council Chairman Larry Williams, who worked with Wedding to persuade voters to create the strong mayor job in a 1993 referendum. Attorney Charles Schuh, mayor from 1975 to 1977, could not be reached Wednesday. Trumpeting the endorsements two weeks before the Feb. 27 primary is something of a gamble for Baker. Change has been a strong theme on the campaign trail, especially the idea of shifting the city's redevelopment focus from downtown to poorer neighborhoods farther south.

Baker has generally praised Fischer when asked, and he has echoed many of the ideas Fischer has pushed (ideas other candidates say have not worked), such as creating a Dome Industrial Park near Tropicana Field to bring good-paying jobs near poor neighborhoods.

But he distances himself from Fischer, too. He has promised to be more visible and dynamic than Fischer and to lobby for better education, for instance.

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