The battle of the Ricks ended Tuesday evening in St. Petersburg when incumbent mayor Rick Kriseman bested former mayor Rick Baker in one of the hardest-fought elections in the city’s history.
Kriseman beat Baker by a narrow margin, taking over 51 percent of the vote to Baker’s 48 percent.
"Baker and I had a clash of visions," Kriseman told a crowd of supporters. "I believe we can work together and put St Pete first. If we can do it, we all can...we can finish what we started, being a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all. It’s time for us to come together."
Baker, who served as St. Petersburg’s mayor from 2001-2010, fell behind early on in the race, trailing Kriseman in early votes. He could not make up the deficit in in-person votes.
"Unfortunately we fell short tonight," Baker said Tuesday evening. "[But] St. Pete is still an incredible place."
At the heart of the fierce campaign were disagreements over the handling of the city’s sewage overflows, the future of the Tampa Bay Rays and the St. Petersburg Pier, all key issues voters watched closely before heading to the polls.
Baker criticized Kriseman for “mismanaging” the city’s sewage crisis, which made headlines when the city dumped 200 million gallons of sewage during storm events in 2016. Kriseman's decision to close the Albert Whitted plant led to a spill of some the million gallons of sewage into waterways in 2015 and 2016.
The city promised to spend over $325 million to fix the stormwater system, but questions -- and controversy -- still remained.
A report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made public last week recommended handing out 89 felonies and 103 first degree misdemeanors against the city of St. Petersburg due to “environmental violations” surrounding the sewage dumps.
Pinellas and Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said he would “reconsider criminal charges associated with sewage dumps over the past two years in St. Petersburg” after the report’s release.
Though it was deemed “nonpartisan,” the mayoral race gathered national media attention, considered by many outlets to be an indicator of how Republicans will fare in the 2018 midterm elections in the era of President Donald Trump.
Kriseman’s campaign frequently attempted to tie Baker to Trump in an area where the now-president fared poorly with voters.
Democrats sent in some of their signature headliners, with both former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden all pitching in to help reelect Kriseman.
In a rare move, Obama formally endorsed Kriseman while Biden made robocalls on behalf of the incumbent mayor. Florida Democrats also got involved in the race, with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Tallahassee mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum joining Kriseman for his “Get Out the Vote” campaign last week.
Republicans were on track to beat Kriseman earlier this summer, but their efforts fell apart in August when the incumbent Rick edged out the former mayor Rick in the primary election.
Baker took a little over 48 percent while Kriseman, the incumbent, also took a little over 48 percent of the vote. Because neither candidate reached the necessary 50 percent or more of the vote, they headed into a runoff race.
Tuesday's victory was the second major win Florida Democrats have made this year -- this summer, Annette Taddeo beat out Republican Jose Felix Diaz for an open Miami Senate seat, turning the tides of a party which was attempting to regain steam off of poor election performances last year.
"Democrats just keep winning—grassroots enthusiasm is surging across the state, and Florida Democrats are ready to compete in all 67 counties," said Florida Democratic Party chairman Stephen Bittel. "When Democrats run on their values, they win. The Florida Democratic Party is ready to flip Florida blue in 2018, and we are committed to winning seats at every level of government—from school board to the United States Senate."
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.