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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Muslim leader endorses Mayor Rick Kriseman

Abdul Karim Ali endorsed Mayor Rick Kriseman Thursday

Dirk Shadd

Abdul Karim Ali endorsed Mayor Rick Kriseman Thursday

ST. PETERSBURG — Abdul Karim Ali, president of the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association, announced his support of Mayor Rick Kriseman on Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, 40 Midtown pastors had endorsed Kriseman's main opponent, former mayor Rick Baker. 

Ali said he liked former Mayor Rick Baker, but thought the city had evolved since Baker’s tenure 2001-10.

“I like the direction the city is moving with Kriseman,” Ali told the Tampa Bay Times.

Ali said he thought neither Kriseman or Baker would get more than 50 percent of the vote on Aug. 29. The presence of Jesse Nevel, Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter, Paul Congemi and Anthony Cates III on the ballot will make reaching that threshold difficult, he said.

“I think they’ll go on to Nov. 7,” Ali said, referring to the date of the general election.

The Muslim Association held its first Iftar dinner in June with Kriseman as host. The event drew about 640 people of all faiths, Ali said.

Kriseman’s leadership involving that dinner made it a success, Ali said.

Ali said he thinks St. Petersburg voters need to hear the opinion on the race from multiple perspectives.

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Rick Baker releases endorsement of 40 Midtown pastors

ST. PETERSBURG — Rick Baker announced Thursday that he has the support of 40 Midtown pastors and religious leaders, evidence he says of his "overwhelming support" in a crucial part of the city.

Missing from the list? Rev. Louis Murphy Sr., who leads one of the largest African-American congregations in the city at Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Murphy hosted the first mayoral forum between Baker and Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Murphy's endorsement is coveted by both campaigns. He told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month that he still hadn't made a decision in what he described as an important electoral race that has generated very strong feelings on both sides.

Deveron Gibbons, a financial executive and former mayoral candidate who suports Baker, said Murphy's support didn't compare to the influence wielded by the pastors who back Baker.

"Pastor Murphy is a very influential guy in the community," Gibbons said. "But when 40 very influential pastors in the community endorse Baker? Those endorsements mean a lot.

"This late in the game does Pastor Murphy's endorsement matter at all?" …

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The details on that St. Pete sewer email

An email sent from Water Reclamaition Facilities manager Charlie Wise to other high-ranking officials in the Water Resources Department in March 2015 ended up in a U.S Enviromental Protection Agency investigative file that provided another chapter in the city's nearly two-year sewage saga.

The email is significant because it shows Wise's concern about higher-than-anticipated flows arriving in the Southwest Plant by Eckerd College as the city gradually shut down the waterfront Albert Whitted sewage plant. 

Four months after Albert Whitted's closing, the first of what would end up being a citywide total of 200 million gallons of sewage spilled because of high flows at the Southwest plant. 

Some readers have been curious who other officials were beside then-director Steve Leavitt. Former assistant director Dwight Wilson and Water Resources officials Janet DeBiasio, John Parks and Wise's brother George "Kenny" Wise received the email 

Only Kenny Wise responded.  Here is the Charlie Wise's email and Kenny Wise's response.

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Recycling could become the latest issue dividing the two Ricks in tonight's St. Pete mayoral debate

Recycling, especially Rick Baker's record on opposing it while mayor, may surface in tonight's televised debate

Sophia Nahli Allison

Recycling, especially Rick Baker's record on opposing it while mayor, may surface in tonight's televised debate

ST. PETERSBURG — When Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker go head-to-head in tonight’s televised debate, they’ll likely tangle over the city’s sewage crisis.

Baker will almost certainly mention the recent Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission draft report, which places much of the blame for the city's sewage woes on the Kriseman administration.

LIVE FROM ST. PETE: Rick Kriseman, Rick Baker square off in TV debate sponsored by Tampa Bay Times and broadcast by partner Bay News 9.

Kriseman will probably highlight Baker’s stance on climate change, which is that man plays a role in a changing climate but no one knows how much (scientists would undoubtedly disagree). Baker, however, said he favors reducing carbon emissions regardless.

But one issue dear to many environmentalists’ hasn’t gotten much of a hearing in the over-heating mayoral race yet: recycling.

Yet it is an issue that divides the records of Baker and Kriseman more so than anything else.

Baker, who served from 2001-10, fought efforts to implement curbside recycling. Kriseman made such a program a priority and the city launched its recycling effort for single-family homes in June 2015. …

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Two Ricks deliver video to AARP voter guide

The two Ricks have delivered their AARP videos

Times File Photo

The two Ricks have delivered their AARP videos

Last week, AARP Florida was a little ticked off that neither Mayor Rick Kriseman or former mayor Rick Baker had delivered video responses to a voter education campaign.

Now, both Baker and Kriseman have videos up giving their views on affordable housing and public safety. The "You asked, They answered" series features residents asking questions and the two Ricks responding in a planned five-part weekly series. 

As mail ballots go out Tuesday, the campaigns are in overdrive making their pitches. Also Tuesday, the live hour-long televised debate between Kriseman and Baker will air on Bay News 9 at 7 p.m.. The Tampa Bay Times  is a sponsor of the event at the Palladium, which has generated a fair share of controversy.

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Karl Nurse backs Rick Kriseman in St. Pete mayor's race

St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, left, is seen with Karl Nurse in the combination of two images.

Tampa Bay Times file photos

St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman, left, is seen with Karl Nurse in the combination of two images.

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member Karl Nurse has endorsed Mayor Rick Kriseman.

That’s welcome news for the incumbent Democratic mayor who is engaged in a tough reelection battle with former mayor Rick Baker.

Nurse is popular among progressives and is a respected voice in city politics. A long stint as a community activist segued into an appointment to City Council in 2008. He has been handily releected to District 6 twice. Nurse is term-limited and his endorsement has been eagerly sought by Kriseman.

Nurse endorded Kriseman on Friday. He emailed his comments to the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday.

“This Spring as the Mayor's race opened, I decided to concentrate on getting as many policies and projects implemented to help our city and watch the campaigns unfold," Nurse wrote.

"St. Petersburg, and particularly my council district is making progress on all fronts.  Crime is down.  Southside business districts along 4th St S, 22nd St S and 34th St S are all coming back.  The three most inner city schools, Melrose and Campbell Park elementaries, and John Hopkins Middle School all raised their grades. …

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AARP still waiting for the two Ricks to send voter education videos

It's been a frenetic St. Pete mayor's race so far. Maybe that's the reason AARP hasn't received voter education videos from the campaigns

Lara Cerri

It's been a frenetic St. Pete mayor's race so far. Maybe that's the reason AARP hasn't received voter education videos from the campaigns

AARP Florida wants to educate St. Petersburg residents on Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker’s views on how to make the Sunshine City more livable.

The concept? A resident appears in a video to ask question for the next mayor on topics like affordable housing, civic participation and jobs.

The first resident  in the  video series “We asked, They answered” was asked by smiling, pleasant woman named  “Arlene” who queried the candidates about affordable housing and public safety.

Arlene is still waiting for a response.

The July 19 deadline for the Baker and Kriseman campaigns to submit their video responses has come and gone. UPDATE: Baker's campaign has delivered its video.

Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida’s state director, said both campaigns have been saying all the right things about participating in the voter education effort. But, still, no videos have been delivered.

“It’s been disappointing,” Johnson said.  The group sent out an alert Thursday asking people to call Baker and Kriseman's campaigns to push them to participate. …

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St. Petersburg City Council approves $326 million sewage fix

[LARA CERRI  |  Times]

Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage released from the city's overwhelmed sewer system.

[LARA CERRI | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — Last week the City Council learned no criminal charges would result from the up to 200 million gallons of sewage St. Petersburg's sewer system released from 2015-16.

Then on Thursday evening the council unanimously approved a consent order with the state that requires the city to spend $326 million to fix its ailing sewer system.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection slapped the city with the penalty in response to the sewage failures of 2015-16. Council had been scheduled to approve the order at last week's meeting, but tabled it when certain members expressed hesistation about agreeing to the order without knowing how the city will pay for it.

That was still a concern Thursday.

"I'm troubled with some parts of this," City Council member Ed Montanari said, "including the $326 million cost that goes along with this consent order that we need to approve but (without) having the finance plan attached to that."

Most of the $326 million will be spent on improvements to the system's infrastructure over the next several years. It also includes an $810,000 fine levied by the state which the city will be put toward anti-polluation programs. …

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City Attorney: State won't pursue criminal charges in St. Pete's sewage crisis

St. Petersburg's sewage crisis appears to be winding down

Eve Edelheit

St. Petersburg's sewage crisis appears to be winding down

The St. Petersburg City Council is expected to approve a consent order later today that requires the city to spend $326 million on improving its sewer system.

That steep bill comes with a sweetener: no state criminal charges related to the city’s nearly two-year-old sewage crisis.

The city’s top litigator, Joseph Patner, emailed council members last week to inform them that he and City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch met with state officials June 21 for about an hour. The city attorneys and state officials later had two phone conversations.

“We can now inform you that the State Attorney's Office is closing the State investigation initiated by FWC, contingent upon the city entering into a consent order substantially similar to the draft provided. No charges will be brought against the City of St. Petersburg or any employee,” Patner wrote on July 11.

“This concludes all criminal investigations into the sewage discharge issue. Again, no criminal charges have been brought,” he wrote.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said late Wednesday that the investigation is ongoing. An agency spokeswoman was unable Thursday morning to confirm the city’s version. …

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Paul Congemi's 'Go Back to Africa' rant goes viral after St. Pete mayoral forum

Paul Congemi at Tuesday's mayoral forum in City Hall

Eve Edelheit

Paul Congemi at Tuesday's mayoral forum in City Hall

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayoral candidate Paul Congemi has made national news for a racial tirade at Tuesday’s mayoral forum when he told supporters of International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement-affiliated candidate Jesse Nevel to “go back to Africa.”

In the midst of a question about opportunities for youth in the city, Congemi veered off topic in a bizarre way:

“Mr. Nevel, you and your people, you talk about reparations. The reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations," Congemi said. "Your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama.”

The large contingent of Nevel’s supporters erupted in disbelief and outrage. “Get out of here!” a woman shouted repeatedly.

Congemi didn't stop there:  “My advice to you, my advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour. Go back to Africa, go back to Africa.” …

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Mayor Rick Kriseman: St. Petersburg stopped Albert Whitted spending before he took office

Kriseman's claims on money spent on the Albert Whitted sewage plant were exagerated

Scott Keeler

Kriseman's claims on money spent on the Albert Whitted sewage plant were exagerated

By CHARLIE FRAGO

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — In the narrative of the mayor’s race, the 2015 closure of the Albert Whitted sewage plant has been used to assign responsibility for the city’s two-year sewage crisis.

Former Mayor Rick Baker has repeatedly charged that the closure of the plant under the administration of his opponent, Mayor Rick Kriseman, in April 2015 directly led to the massive discharges and spills that started gushing out four months later.

A state report said the closure of Albert Whitted played a key role in the sewage crisis. But Kriseman has blamed it on the 2011 City Council, which voted to close the plant six years ago.

Kriseman recently took that defense one step further:

At a July 6 news conference held with the local Sierra Club chapter, Kriseman suggested to reporters that the city essentially abandoned the Albert Whitted plant after the 2011 council vote. It was left in a state of disrepair, he said, long before he became mayor in 2014. …

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Private cemetery agrees to take Tampa's Confederate monument, Hillsborough commissioner says

An unnamed private cemetery in Hillsborough County has agreed to take Tampa's Confederate monument, according to County Commissioner Victor Crist.

Times File Photo

An unnamed private cemetery in Hillsborough County has agreed to take Tampa's Confederate monument, according to County Commissioner Victor Crist.

TAMPA — A private cemetery somewhere in Hillsborough County is willing to take Tampa’s Confederate monument if commissioners vote Wednesday to remove it.

The cemetery doesn’t want to be named at this time, Commissioner Victor Crist said, but its board unanimously voted to take it and display it on their grounds.

Crist, who approached the cemetery with the idea, said it’s a 12-acre site that opened in 1911, the same year that officials unveiled Memoria en Aeterna in downtown Tampa. According to Crist, some Civil War veterans are buried there in family plots.

It’s outside the city of Tampa in an area surrounded by wetlands and is not near any black churches, he added. Crist had previously proposed city-owned Oaklawn Cemetery as an destination, but it was rebuffed by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in part because of its proximity to St. Paul AME church, a vacant but historic black church, and Greater Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, a large, African American Church.

“They’re excited about this,” Crist said. “It’s a beautiful piece of art, it’s a historical piece, it brings something interesting to that part of the county from a tourism standpoint.” …

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Longtime political operative Vito Sheeley to challenge Wengay Newton in District 70

Vito Sheeley

Sheeley campaign

Vito Sheeley

Vito Sheeley, a longtime political aide, announced Monday he intends to challenge State Rep. Wengay Newton in the Democratic primary in a move that can be seen as political wake from the St. Petersburg’s full-throttle mayoral battle.

A primary challenge for Newton in District 70, which covers parts of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties, wasn’t unexpected after the former St. Petersburg City Council member endorsed Republican Rick Baker for mayor.

Newton had clashed for years on council with Mayor Rick Kriseman.

When Newton endorsed Baker in May, local Democratic officials were abuzz on social media about possible challenges to Newton, who won his first term in November with 76 percent of the vote after besting two other Democrats in the primary.

Sheeley, 44, was a longtime aide for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, and worked for Democrat Charlie Crist’s successfull 2016 win over U.S. Rep. David Jolly.

Shortly after Crist took office, a dispute led to Sheeley's abrupt departure. It didn’t take long for Sheeley, a registered Democrat, to go to work for Jolly.

Most recently, Sheeley has been a paid consultant in Kriseman’s campaign. …

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Baker holds commanding cash lead in St. Pete mayor's race

Former mayor Rick Baker has raised $864,124 in a bid to return to the mayor's office, about $230,000 more than incumbent Rick Kriseman

Scott Keeler

Former mayor Rick Baker has raised $864,124 in a bid to return to the mayor's office, about $230,000 more than incumbent Rick Kriseman

With less than six weeks remaining before the Aug. 29 primary, former mayor Rick Baker has established a commanding fundraising lead of more than $230,000 over incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Kriseman, whose Sunrise political action committee started collecting money for his reelection in December 2015, has amassed $632,673 through the PAC and individual contributions after he formally announced in January.

In any other mayoral election, that would be a staggering amount. But it's not enough in #stpetemayor2017.

Baker has raised $864,124 in individual contributions and his Seamless Florida PAC since announcing in early May.
Baker also has more cash on hand after expenses: $572,653 to Kriseman’s $319, 496, according to the latest campaign filings.

The race became the most expensive in city history weeks ago. 

Four other candidates on the ballot have raised far less money. Uhuru-affiliated candidate Jesse Nevel has raised $7,026 in individual contributions with slightly less than $2,000 on hand as of July 7.

Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter has raised $1,171 and spent slightly more than half, according to the latest filings. …

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Fire Fighters endorse Rick Baker for mayor

Former mayor Rick Baker is probably hugging someone right now after receiving the fire fighters' endorsement. Just not mayoral candidate Anthony Cates III

Lara Cerri

Former mayor Rick Baker is probably hugging someone right now after receiving the fire fighters' endorsement. Just not mayoral candidate Anthony Cates III

The firefighters union has endorsed former mayor Rick Baker, saying he is “tough, but fair” in negotiations and better addresses the department’s needs than incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Rick Pauley, president of the St. Petersburg Association of Fire Fighters, told the Tampa Bay Times that  Baker, who they endorsed twice in 2001 and 2005, made sure the department had what it needed in a “timely manner.”

Kriseman was always receptive to a meeting, Pauley said, but didn’t deliver results on equipment or concerns about staffing and call volumes.

“St. Petersburg is safer with Rick Baker as mayor,” Pauley said in a news release.

The mayor did deliver a new fire station, but Pauley said the decrepit condition of the old station gave Kriseman little choice.

IAFF Local 747 represents 417 firefighters and paramedics who live in St. Petersburg, Lealman and South Pasadena.

Kriseman has the police union’s support. A state-of-the-art police headquarters didn't hurt. 

The Florida Public Services Union, which represents a large chunk of city workers, hasn’t yet made a choice in the mayor’s race.

The Kriseman campaign responded with a statement from the mayor. …

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