ST. PETERSBURG — In what is likely the last mayoral forum before the Nov. 7 election, Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker started out small, discussing neighborhood issues like recycling and neighborhood funding. They ended tangling over familiar subjects: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, sewage spills and climate change.
And one recurring debate theme also surfaced: the future of Police Chief Tony Holloway.
Kriseman once again promised Holloway wasn't going anywhere if he wins.
"Tony Holloway is our police chief for as long as I'm mayor," Kriseman said.
Baker said Kriseman has been implying that he would fire Holloway. Not so, said Baker. He said he saw "no impediment" to keeping Holloway, but didn't believe specific employees' job security was an appropriate topic for the campaign trail.
Ultimately, Baker remained non-committal on the chief.
"I'm not going to make any decisions until I'm mayor," Baker said.
On the topic of curbside recycling, Baker resisted efforts to make it mandatory while he was mayor from 2001-10. On Wednesday, he repeated his discomfort with imposing the roughly $3 monthly charge on the city's poorest residents.
"It's a regressive tax on the poorest people of our community," Baker said. "There are people in our community that just can't afford that kind of thing."
Baker said he would evaluate the program if he wins to make sure it is improving the environment. He would not promise to keep the program.
Kriseman did make that promise and said he would like to work with the city's vendor to expand the city's program to multi-family housing such as apartments and condos.
The forum, moderated by Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith, took place in front of several dozen people at the city's Sunshine Center just north of City Hall downtown. The Council of Neighborhood Associations organized the debate.
CONA president Marlene Murray said she wanted the two Ricks to focus on overlooked issues that affect neighborhoods. For much of the debate, they did, discussing community police officers and funding for neighborhoods.
Baker promised to appoint a deputy mayor for neighborhoods if elected. Kriseman said his neighborhood chief, Mike Dove, was doing a great job.
What had been a placid debate turned heated when the subject turned to climate change.
Baker attacked a Kriseman television ad, which depicts the former mayor as a climate change denier. Baker said he believes in climate change, but doesn't know how much impact that man has had on it.
"Sometimes spin can get to a point where it's actually a lie," Baker said.
Kriseman didn't back away from his charges, citing Sarah Palin's and Rick Scott's support of Baker, saying that climate change skeptics are backing him for a reason.
The mayor cited his commitment to planning for climate change and his 2015 executive order to work on making the city operate completely on renewable energy.
"He's got all these plans. He's got to do something at some point," Baker retorted.
Kriseman said he's done plenty, including working better with regional leaders than Baker, whom he portrayed as ineffective in dealings with other Tampa Bay governments.
Baker critized Kriseman's plan to allow the Rays to look outside the city for a new ballpark, saying the mayor's plan, approved by the City Council in January 2016, is costing the city crucial leverage in any negotiations with the team moving forward.
Kriseman said the city has the best site and the most funding available to woo the team.
"I have confidence in St. Petersburg," Kriseman said.
Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @charliefrago.