Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

Every Friday morning at 8:00 a.m., some of Tampa Bay’s most engaged citizens come to the main room in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club to attend Café con Tampa, a weekly gathering where guest speakers talk about issues that the Bay and the world beyond. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local heroes Del Acosta, President of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, and Bill Carlson, President of the communciations agency Tucker/Hall.  Over the past little while, I’ve had the chance to attend, enjoy Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast buffet (it’s part of the $12 admission), and see some interesting speakers, including:

Dr. Todd Willis

Tomorrow’s (Friday, August 18) speaker is Dr. Todd Willis, and he’ll be talking about the Physician’s Assistant Program at the USF and the expanding healthcare workforce. If you’d like to attend, the admission is $12 (cash only), and it includes a nice breakfast spread including fruit, Oxford Exchange’s fantastic bacon/egg and egg sandwiches, bread, a really good granola cereal, coffee, and tea. There’s even a deal for students or other grassroots community leaders who can’t afford the meal; talk to Barbara at the door for details.

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Rick Baker. Creative Commons photo by BAJohnson — click to see the source.

Last Friday’s guest speaker was Rick Baker, mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida from 2001 to 2010, and one of the two leading candidates for St. Pete’s 2017 mayoral election (the other is the current mayor, Rick Kriseman, making this election the Battle of the Ricks).

At the time of writing, the election’s going Baker’s way; the polls from last week say that he has a 6-point lead over Kriseman, and in their July 28th editorial, the Tampa Bay Times endorsed him for mayor. Bill Carlson introduced him by talking about times when he and Baker went for neighborhood walks around St. Pete. “Where most people see the empty lot,” Bill said, “Rick would point out the newly-renovated house, or the fixed sidewalk.”

Here are my annotated notes from his talk:

  • I was first elected mayor in 2001 — elected on a Tuesday and sworn in that Sunday
  • I had to sell my stocks and do the transition from my firm in a very short time
  • On Monday, my first day on the job, I was already at work, talking about a drug rehab center in St. Pete
  • Soon after, I had to fly to [Florida state capital] Tallahassee on short notice, and it was suggested that I fly there with Mayor Greco [Dick Greco, Tampa mayor from 1967 – 1974 and 1995 – 2003] on Tampa’s plane
  • My thought was “Tampa has an air force?”
  • So I flew to Tallahassee with Mayor Greco and Bob Martinez [Tampa mayor from 1979 – 1986], who are two friends that I keep in touch with to this day

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

  • I’m running for mayor of St. Pete
  • I come from the business world, and I’m a strategic planner
  • I believe that if you’re going to run something, you must start with a strategic plan
  • That strategic plan should start with a mission statement
  • My mission statement: Work to make St. Pete the best city in America
  • People used to say “Best city, really?”
  • My goal has to be “best city” — If I set the goal to be the “Work to make St. Pete the 4th best city in Florida”, who will follow me?
  • People are naturally drawn to quests for excellence
  • If you have the right vision, you won’t fail for lack of resources
  • If you stay laser beam focused on a big goal, you’re going to do fine
  • The number 1 job of any mayor is public safety
  • After that, another big job is to improve the economy of the city
  • If you have great things going on in a city but no jobs, it’s no good
  • I want to promote not just new businesses, but also existing ones
  • 80% of new jobs coming into city are going to come from existing businesses
  • I try to go around and ask businesses these questions:
    • What is the city doing well?
    • Where are we falling short?
    • Are you thinking about expanding?
    • Are you thinking about leaving?
  • People that can’t get work can’t buy houses, cars, and other necessities, and they don’t stay

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

  • I’m a new urbanist
  • I believe in pedestrian scale: a walkable city with dog parks, skate parks, the arts
  • I wants St Pete to be the cultural center of Florida
  • Under my administration, we brought the Dali into the core of downtown
  • I spent a couple days with Chihuly and brought him in [there’s a Chihuly gallery in St. Pete]
  • We rebuilt the Mahaffey Theater to be what is it today
    • If you went to the old one and went inside, you’d have it idea it was right by the water because it didn’t have the nice windows facing the bay like it does now
  • Brought St. Pete College downtown
  • Midtown is the most economically depressed part of the city
  • I see St. Pete’s community and business leaders volunteering their time even though they’re busy people
    • It’s a very important asset to the city, and I have great respect for that
  • There were no dog parks when I came into office
    • I signed the city’s first one into existence
    • The lawyers told us not to do it — too high liability
    • The day before our first dog park, we broke ground on library (I built 5 as mayor) and it had the attendance you’d expect
    • Then we built dog park next day for a mere $9000, and 200 people showed up for the opening — the crowd was so big that locals initially complained: “Get these people out of park!”
    • Everybody loves them, they’re really cheap, we’re going to build lots of them
    • People make friends at dog parks
    • They contribute to socialization and quality of life in the city
    • You feel differently about a place when you walk to it and through it
  • Also important: playgrounds, for the same reasons as dog parks
  • Also important:
    • Skateboard parks
    • Libraries
    • Rec centers
    • Athletic centers
    • Public schools
  • All of these make for better neighborhoods

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

  • Started the Mayor’s Doorways program, which awards prepaid Florida scholarships awarded to at-risk kids if they maintain mid-level grades, good conduct, and stay away from drugs and crime
  • Instituted program for recognition and incentives for school principals whose schools showed high standards or improvement
  • Developed the A+ Housing program for interest-free loans for down payments for teachers who bought a home in St. Pete with an additional incentive: “If you stayed a teacher, the loan was forgiven”.
  • There were many improvements in public schools during my term
  • I don’t take credit for them, but the mayor has a bully pulpit to press things forward
  • I want to work with association of builders and contractors to create apprenticeship programs, where you can learn a trade, get paid to go to school and work

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

  • You may be surprised to hear that the number one complaint made to the city was about sidewalks
  • Before I came in, it would take 30 months to get a sidewalk fixed
  • Before my time, the 911 response times in St. Pete was 7.1 minutes. The national average was 7. I brought it down to 5.8.
  • Not only did I request performance reports on many city services, I had them put online in graph form, explained in non-bureaucratic language

Q&A

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

You have repeatedly said the mayor is a non-partisan position. Will you state for the record that you won’t campaign for the Republicans if you become mayor?

  • [This question was asked by an attendee who introduced herself as a member of the local Young Democrats]
  • That question is an attempt to inject partisanship into the race
  • Our charter says it’s not partisan
  • I support the Republicans, but I did not operate as a partisan mayor

St. Pete has been a welcoming place for the LGBT community. What will you do to continue support of that community as part of the city’s economic development?

  • [This question was likely asked because Baker avoided attending it during when he was mayor]
  • I participated in Pride with the Rowdies [in an event that took place separately from St. Pete’s main Pride parade, a couple of weeks prior]
  • I believe in seamlessness, and not seams dividing us, whether it’s gender, sexual orientation, or race…or even if they live in St. Pete
  • I judge on people on my team based on their ability and willingness to make St. Pete the best city
  • I had LGBT members on my cabinet

 

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club. Note: Baker’s use of the word “seamlessness” is most likely a reference to an idea he put forth in his 2011 book The Seamless City: A Conservative Mayor’s Approach to Urban Revitalization That Can Work Anywhere.

 

How will you increase taxes to improve public transportation?

  • So you’re asking me to make a political commitment to raise taxes? That won’t happen.
  • I think your real core concern is transportation
  • Needs to be looked at regionally
  • We don’t just live and work in St. Pete — some of us commute from St. Pete to Tampa, Clearwater, and other places, and some people commute to St. Pete from outside
  • Worked hard in 1999 to get a better north-south corridor
  • Trying to make US 19 a controlled access corridor, and same for 118 to connect it to I-275
  • I would like to be able to go from downtown St. Pete to Dunedin without stopping for a light
  • I’m also big on bike paths
  • In 2000, St. Pete was bad for bikes and pedestrians — it was deadly
  • As mayor, I created city trails, built new sidewalks, shortened sidewalk repair time, and built the largest bike trail system in the Southeast

What will you do to keep St. Pete affordable for small businesses and homeowners?

Would you commit money to continue the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project?

  • I will not commit money to a specific project here
  • I rode it, and it was quite nice, but I would need to review it from a city perspective

Assuming Tropicana field became available, how would it fit with your plans for the city?

  • I’m very careful about assumptions like that
  • I was on the baseball committee at the Chamber of Commerce back in the 1990s
  • My first job as mayor would be to work with the Rays and find a solution
  • I’d already had discussions with the Rays, even before I announced my campaign
  • And if Tropicana Field became available, you’re looking at 85 acres in the core of one of the hottest cities in the Southeast

How do you view light rail?

  • It could be a solution between Tampa and St. Pete
  • It’s like food, it’s gotta be the right thing
  • We’d need to evaluate it; I do think it’s a good thing

I don’t want to make this a partisan question, but back in the 80s it never occurred to me to ask what party a mayor belonged to. But with the current political situation and St. Pete’s “strong mayor” system, and a largely Democratic city council, it does. If you become mayor, there will be hard feelings. How might you end the divide?

  • Your premise is that you don’t want to suck me into a partisan question, but this is one
  • You worked with me on [St. Petersburg Mayor from 1991 – 2001] Dave Fischer’s campaign [apparently the person who asked this question and Rick Baker know each other — Joey], and he was a Democrat. Yet I ran his campaign for mayor.
  • When I was mayor, a newspaper did a survey of everyone I appointed to office and checked their registrations. It turned out that there were more Democrats than Republican. I didn’t know that, because I never checked.
    • This has not been the case in the last 4 years, but that’s the way I would run my office

One-on-one

Rick Baker speaks in front of an audience at Café con Tampa in Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Click to see it at full size.

Café con Tampa runs on a fairly strict 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. schedule since in takes place within a private club, and as the organizers like to say, “the lease runs out at 9”. This means that the Q&A ends at 9 and most attendees file out and make their way to the rest of their day, but there are always a number of stragglers who stick around to network and ask the guest speaker one-on-one questions. Between my recent attendance and the accordion, I’ve gotten to know some of the regulars, and stayed to catch up with them as well as ask Baker a question. While waiting to have a moment with him, I listened as other people asked him their questions.

Having come from the city that elected Rob Ford, who used to rails about “the war on the car” and against cyclists, it’s unusual for me to hear a conservative mayoral candidate talk about the importance of walkable cities, and how people really come to appreciate places that they walk to and through. To one person, he recommended that they read Richard Florida’s writings on the Creative Class and the value they bring to cities. To another, he talked about how it wasn’t always obvious to taxpayers that putting money into cultural and liveabilty was actually economic development. He also talked about how municipal governments more often can’t change a city for the better through direct means, but often do so indirectly by putting the right elements into place.

I asked him one question: With your involvement and influence in the community as a private citizen, why run for mayor again? I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve had similar positions, and while they enjoyed their leadership stint, they say they’d do it only once, and never again. His answer was simple: there’s only so much he could do as a private citizen, and that current mayor Rick Kriseman’s mishandling of a number of issues — including the sewage debacle, in which 200 million gallons of sewage was dumped into Tampa Bay — inspired his run.

Also worth reading

Screenshot of SaintPetersblog article, 'In Tampa, Rick Baker refuses to talk about partisanship in mayoral contest'

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to SaintPetersblog’s coverage of Baker’s talk.

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Indiana Jones and the Nazi dilemma

by Joey deVilla on August 16, 2017

This comic by Cameron Davis made me chuckle:

Click the comic to see it at full size.

While I’m on the topic of Indiana Jones and Nazis, it’s time to bring up one of my all-time favorite movie lines:

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They’re not kidding; that’s Keith Broni’s actual job.

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Noting the President’s vague response to the awfulness in Charlottesville — a rambling off-the-cuff speech in which he failed to denounce white nationalists and neo-Nazis, threw in a non sequitur mention of Barack Obama, threw in his own name because he can’t stand it when he isn’t mentioned, and condemned hate on “many sides” — John Oliver opened last night’s episode of Last Week Tonight with this:

He has some very good lines:

  • On the tiki torches: “Nothing says ‘white nationalist’ like faux Polynesian kitsch.”
  • “A protester being killed in the wake of neo-Nazis marching in the streets of an American city is the kind of tragedy that calls for true leadership from whoever is in the Oval Office. Unfortunately, the current occupant is this guy [Donald Trump].”
  • “There honestly aren’t many instances in modern American politics where you can honestly think that guy really should’ve mentioned the Nazis, but this is emphatically one of them!”
  • “It’s like a reverse Godwin’s Law: if you fail to mention Nazism, you lost the argument.”
  • “David Duke and the Nazis really seem to like Donald Trump, which is weird, because Nazis are a lot like cats. If they like you, it’s probably because you’re feeding them.”
  • On Trump’s refusal to disavow the white nationalists:
    • “He had one last shot before the buzzer on the racism clock hit zero, and he threw an air ball so far away that it landed in the Third Reich.”
    • “Here is the problem with that: a non-answer in a moment like this is an answer. If you had asked me ‘Have you ever been aroused by the fairies in Zelda: The Ocarina of Time?’ and I responded by slowly and silently walking away from you, you would know exactly what I was saying.”

Also worth reading

I had to disavow the Nazis. Why can’t the President? Part of the Green Card process is answering a question where the right answer is to clearly and unequivocally disavow the Nazis, which I did easily, gladly, and proudly. You’d think the President would be able do the same, but…

Thanks to Mark Relph for the find!

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I had to disavow the Nazis. Why can’t the president?

by Joey deVilla on August 13, 2017

That’s me on the right, on Thursday, January 26, 2017, celebrating the acquisition of my permanent resident status in the United States. It means that I am in possession of what’s colloquially known as a “green card”.

Of the many things you have to do to qualify for a green card, one of the is filling out the I-485 form, which is more formally known as the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status:

Part 8 of the I-485 is called General Eligibility and Inadmissibility Grounds, and is made up of 67 questions, one of which asks you if you somehow were involved with the Nazis:

Here’s the text of the question:

During the period from March 23, 1933 to May 8, 1945, did you ever order, incite, assist, or otherwise participate in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion, in association with either the Nazi government of Germany or any organization or government associated or allied with the Nazi government of Germany?

That’s right: In the process that determined whether I was allowed to call this place home, I had to disavow any connection with the Nazis. And I did so easily, gladly and proudly.

So why can’t the President?

He was uncharacteristically silent for the first part of Saturday, when stories about the torch gathering the night before and neo-Nazis on the street that morning were already circulating:

When he finally made a statement that afternoon, it was this weak sauce…

…and his televised speech was equally mitigated:

It’s uncharacteristic of him — he’s usually pretty quick to “name names”:

The slow, faint response wasn’t lost on former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard and high-profile white nationalist David Duke, who took it as implicit support…

…as did his sleazebag buddies at the Daily Stormer:

Here’s the text from that screenshot (because there’s no way in Hell that I’m linking to the Daily Stormer):

3:46 p.m.: Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us.

He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate…on both sides!

So he implied the antifa were haters.

There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.

He said he loves us all.

Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him.

No condemnation at all.

When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room.

Really, really good.

God bless him.

I’ll say it again:

I easily, gladly, and proudly disavowed the Nazis in front of witnesses, including my wife, my lawyer, and a U.S. government official.

Why can’t the President do the same in front of the American people?

Also…

It’s a shame that the I-485’s “Nazi question” is limited to the time period from March 1933 through May 1945. Even a kid who turned the minimum qualifying age — 10 — for the junior division of the Hitler Youth on V-E day would be 82 years old at the time of this writing. I think that it should be phrased more like question 56, the “Communist question”, which asks if you’ve ever, during any point in time, in any country, been part of or tied to the Communist Party or any other totalitarian party:

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Pick a torch, America.

by Joey deVilla on August 12, 2017

Click the image to see it at full size.

I took Manu “Trekonomics” Saadia’s tweet (shown below) and turned it into a single graphic that’s easy to share. Spread it far and wide, folks.

Need some context?

Unite the Right, the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, explained

Photo by Robert King. Click to see the source.

Charlottesville: far-right crowd with torches encircles counter-protest group


Photo by Andy Campbell. Click to see the source.

Photo by Andy Campbell. Click to see the source.

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When Taylor Teepell applied for the job of Director of the Division of Community Development, a position within the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), he did so despite not having had any experience with the two things that department oversees: economic development or land planning.

He didn’t even fill out most of the application form, including these key parts:

Click the education and certification section of Teepell’s application form to see its emptiness at full size.

Click the work experience section of Teepell’s application form to see its emptiness at full size.

Want to see his full application? It’s a public record, and the Miami Herald posted it online.

If you’ve ever had to deal with the DEO (I have, for what they call “re-employment benefits”), you know how particular they are about their forms, and how they insist on getting as much information out of you as possible. It’s very unlike them to accept a form this empty, even if Teepell did attach his resume at the end.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, and in a story that at least some of you will find depressingly familiar, he landed the job over Julie Dennis, who’d already been working at the DEO for five years and was considerably more qualified for the job:

When Teepell got the job, he was elevated over Julie Dennis, who was then named “executive staff director” and served as his top deputy. In contrast to Teepell, Dennis had a decade of community planning experience and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning.

In comparison, Teepell has a B.A. in Marketing. He could probably get a Ph.D. in self-marketing.

How much does the job pay? When he started in February 2016, the starting salary was $110,000, and when he left in May, he’d been given a raise, bringing it up to nearly $117,000.

An excerpt from the Chick tract It’s Who You Know.

As you can see from Teepell’s LinkedIn profile, he’s since moved on to become finance director of the New Republican Super PAC, which is chaired by Florida governor, rabid Republican and apparent human/python hybrid Rick Scott, and is hitching itself unashamedly to Donald Trump.

If you’d like to find out how he got the DEO job, the Miami Herald explains, and as you might suspect, it’s because of the people he knows: Rick Scott and Bobby Jindal.

By way of comparison…

…here’s a summary of the effort I put into landing my new job.

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