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Ford, Baker hone final messages

Baker's cable TV ads call Ford divisive. A Ford mailing points out Bush's support for Baker.

By ADAM C. SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- After months as the mild-mannered candidate for mayor, Rick Baker is swinging hard in the closing days of his campaign.

In new TV ads set to begin airing today on cable, Baker paints himself as a leader who brings people together and Ford as someone who divides people through embarrassment and attack, said Baker campaign consultant Adam Goodman.

The campaign also sent mailings separately targeting black voters and white voters, and using St. Petersburg Times editorials to depict Ford as racially divisive and disliked by many of those whoknow her best.

Baker said he's listened for weeks as Ford attacked him as a "milquetoast millionaire" and a pawn of special interests and "good old boys." She stresses her experience on City Council, "so it's absolutely legitimate to bring up her record on City Council and talk about what she's done."

Ford, meanwhile, is spending her scarce campaign dollars on taking more subtle swipes at her opponent and stressing her softer side -- "Kathleen Ford Is Nice AND Tough," says a flier sent to 91,000 households.

"Kathleen Ford is not, and will not be, influenced by statewide partisan politics in the decisions that affect the City of St. Petersburg," the flier says.

It is a veiled reference to Baker's close ties to Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and is reiterated in a printed quote from one of her supporters, Leroy Lewis: "She's the people's voice in City Hall, not the voice of the governor."

With just days left for Baker and Ford to define the choices for voters, their final campaign push involves bringing their messages to people's TV sets, mailboxes and doorsteps.

Campaign finance reports were not due until today, but Terri Griner, Ford's campaign manager, said Ford can't compete with Baker on advertising. Instead, they are supplementing their final mailing with more shoe-leather campaigning.

Ford will lead a campaign caravan through neighborhoods south of Central Avenue in coming days, with a small army of volunteers knocking on doors.

The area includes predominantly black neighborhoods that could be crucial to deciding the election. Both candidates are targeting black voters, stressing economic development in struggling neighborhoods and pointing to each other's baggage.

For Baker, it's mainly his connection toBush; for Ford, it's mainly her staunch criticism of St. Petersburg's first black police chief, Goliath Davis III.

"They say it could come down to us," says a Baker radio spot aimed at black voters and citing his support of Chief Davis. "Because in this race for mayor of St. Petersburg, the stakes for us are very, very high. And our choice is very clear: Rick Baker."

Earlier this week, the Baker campaign distributed to black voters a rally invitation featuring endorsements from five upper-level black police officers, including Maj. Cedric Gordon.

Baker said that with Ford constantly touting her endorsement by the police union, it was only appropriate to show he has police support, too.

Chief Davis last year wrote a memo cautioning against political activity by officers during the Pinellas sheriff's campaign. He said Thursday he has not seen this flier, but he had no concerns so long as the officers were off-duty and out of uniform.

Also Thursday, black voters received a brochure quoting St. Petersburg Times editorials attacking Ford for her "constant criticizing" of Davis and citing various prominent African-Americans supporting Baker.

Lewis, a black Ford supporter quoted in her flier, was livid that Baker would send black voters one mailing and white voters another.

"You don't send all voters the same mailing. If that's not racist, I don't know what is," Lewis said.

Ford also has a cable TV ad running in which she speaks directly to the camera and promises accountability at City Hall. She cites her efforts to increase the number of police officers, protect drinking water and "preserve Bayfront Medical Center."

Her record on the hospital includes leading the charge to sue Bayfront, because of concerns that an alliance with Catholic hospitals led to religious entanglements, including the elimination of abortion.

Bayfront CEO Sue Brody, whom Ford has criticized, has a Baker campaign sign on her lawn.

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