ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman’s chief of staff, Kevin King, was a lightning rod of controversy during the mayor’s first term. Now he is the subject of a new TV ad from the campaign of mayoral challenger Rick Baker.
Produced by Baker’s political action committee, Seamless Florida, the ad details King’s 2001 arrest for sending emails and internet messages to two underage students, girls ages 14 and 15, asking them to skip school and drink beer with him back when he was a substitute teacher. Police said he also asked the 14-year-old to perform a sex act on him.
“I’ll never forgive Rick Kriseman for this," said an unnamed woman in the 30-second ad released Tuesday morning. "Knowing what authorities say this man did. It’s sickening.”
However, the woman is not related to either girl, said Baker campaign spokeswoman Brigitta Shouppe. The campaign did not identify the woman or say if she has any links to the incident, saying only that she is a mother and former teacher.
The ad blasts Kriseman for putting King in charge of the city's education policy. Leah McRae, the city's director of education and community engagement, reports to King.
King, 22 at the time, was fired by the Pinellas County School District. He was arrested and booked into the county jail on three charges: one count of computer solicitation to commit a lewd and lascivious act, and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
King on Tuesday declined to comment on the ad.
“I would defer to the campaign,” he texted.
The Kriseman campaign said the ad was a “new low” for Baker.
"Sadly, Rick Baker has sunk to a new low in a desperate attempt to save his failing campaign," said a statement from Kriseman campaign manager Jacob Smith. "On the first day of his campaign, Baker harshly called Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin’s Black History Month article 'stupid.' Recently, he was forced to pull another false commercial for lying. Now, he’s dug up a 17-year old story about a case that didn’t go anywhere and had zero to do with Rick Kriseman. We're confident the people of St. Pete will reject Rick Baker's Donald Trump style lies, attacks, and polices. Our campaign will continue talking about how we move St. Pete forward.”
The "false commercial" the Kriseman campaign was referring to was a Baker radio ad last week that said Kriseman hadn’t “bothered to show up” at a NAACP event earlier this month. But Kriseman did show up and stayed for 15 minutes. A revised ad said Kriseman "insulted the NAACP." That ad was also paid for by Seamless Florida. The Baker campaign said the ad was never pulled because they quickly submitted a revised version.
This isn't the first time Kriseman's chief of staff has come up in this bitter mayoral contest. Baker criticized King’s influence in city government, implying at his May kick-off announcement that King — not Kriseman — was really running the city.
King also clashed with City Council members early in Kriseman’s term. City Hall officials have ocassionally complained about King’s heavy-handed style, but Kriseman has said those complaints have ebbed in recent years.
Early voting starts Saturday. The Nov. 7 election is two weeks away.