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Williams tepidly backs Baker in mayoral race

By BRYAN GILMER and LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- For the first time since the Feb. 27 mayoral primary, one of the major losing candidates has offered support to one of the survivors.

Third-place finisher and City Council Chairman Larry Williams wrote in a letter to the St. Petersburg Times Thursday that "I will be casting my vote on Tuesday, March 27, for Mr. Rick Baker."

It isn't exactly a hearty endorsement. The sentence is at the end of the third paragraph of a four-paragraph letter to the editor of the Times that also thanked Williams' supporters and assured them that he is "fine and moving forward with my life." Because Williams ran for mayor, he has to resign from the council.

Williams said many supporters had asked for his "advice and direction," and he felt a duty to respond. A week earlier, Williams had expressed a lack of enthusiasm for either Baker or his opponent, Kathleen Ford.

"I think we're at a time where I think as a person who has been elected and lived here for 37 years, I believe there's someone better than the other one for the position," Williams said Thursday night. "My belief is that's Rick Baker."

When read Williams' letter, Baker said, "I'll take it," adding that it constitutes support from a fifth City Council member who has served on that body with Ford.

The only other former mayoral candidate to endorse a candidate has been Patrick Bailey, who got 292 votes and threw his support to Ford.

Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishers Karl Nurse, Omali Yeshitela and Maria Scruggs-Weston have not endorsed either candidate, expressing a lack of enthusiasm for either.

Ford also picked up an endorsement Thursday: council colleague Bea Griswold, whose term ends April 1, said she thinks Ford would make a good mayor.

"I think it's time for that kind of straightforward honesty and inclusion in St. Petersburg," she said. "I've known her four years, and I think you know exactly where she stands and who she stands for."

Griswold said she and Ford don't agree on everything, but she agrees with Ford's position that the city needs to address both the water crisis and its aging water and sewer lines.

As for Baker, Griswold said, "I can't figure out where Rick Baker's stand is. It's very generalized."

Also Thursday, Baker received the endorsement of the African American Voters Research and Education Committee, chaired by retired educator Vyrle Davis.

The Coalition of African-American Leadership, led by Lou Brown, is to announce their choice at an afternoon news conference today. It was not clear Thursday night whether Yeshitela, that group's political action chairman, would attend the announcement.

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