ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - Two of the candidates for St. Pete mayor faced off in the first of what is expected to be several debates. Mayor Rick Kriseman battled former mayor Rick Baker in a town hall in South St. Petersburg at Mount Zion Church.
Before they began the jabs, Baker used nostalgia. "In 2001 we started together on a journey."
Rick Kriseman promised a better future. "This campaign is about the future and whether want to go forward or go backward."
Baker promised to bring grocery stores back to the neighborhood, saying they not only serve people but provide jobs.
"I personally believe people should not have to be bussed out of this community to go to a grocery store in another community," said Baker.
Kriseman argued Baker put up stores before he built a real community, then said 'mission accomplished' too soon.
"People didn't have the money," said Kriseman. "That's what we have been focused on. Not just on buildings. We have been focused on creating the jobs."
A key issue in South St. Pete is the number of people who are trying to get jobs after getting out of jail.
Kriseman highlighted his push to ban the checkmark box for felons on job applications.
"Isn't that what everyone wants in this community, is a job? Nine years you had to do that and there wasn't any policies that came forth. We did it in 3.5 years."
A strong showing in the highly Democratic area could be critical to a Kriseman victory over the Republican Baker.
Kriseman said the candidates' party affiliations spoke to their values, and attacked national Republicans as trying to gut health care for the poor.
Baker said it was irrelevant for those running local nonpartisan governments.
"He doesn't have a lot to show for what he has done for the last 3.5 years," said Baker. "So the best thing he can do is make this a partisan race and somehow divide us once again."
In an unscientific straw poll done by the church after the debate, Baker had two-out-of-three support.
Only two of the seven candidates in the race were allowed to debate. Both men on stage said they would welcome the chance to debate all of them, but when one of their representatives asked to have him on stage, both were silent.