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Former mayor Rick Baker to sign new Florida history book at Haslam’s

Bill DeYoung

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Former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker, who lost last November's election by a slim margin, is looking for his "next adventure."

In 2011, after St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker left office following two hugely successful terms, The Daily Beast named him “America’s Best Mayor of the Past Decade.” The honorarium was based not only on Baker’s record as a leader, visionary and agent of change, but on the wisdom imparted in his book The Seamless City, in which the admittedly conservative attorney-turned-politician outlined the sometimes radical steps he took to turn a city in cobwebs into a vibrant center of business and the arts.

Baker is almost as proud of The Seamless City as he is of his 2001-2010 tenure in City Hall. The book, he says, has become a “how-to guide for mayors all over the country.”

He’s written another one. Beyond the Sunshine is a compact, 300-page timeline of Florida history, broken down into well-crafted and easily digestible sections. It includes 500 photographs.

“You could read this book in a weekend and you’d really have a very good understanding of the history of Florida,” Baker says. “And there’s not too many things you can do that with.

“And the bibliography’s probably 20 pages, so you can go back and read whatever you want.”

A longtime history buff, Baker is also the author of Mangroves to Major League, a 2000 tome on the history of St. Pete, his adopted city (born in Chicago, he grew up in Indianapolis and Miami). He’s a voracious reader, and has a habit of making copious, annotated notes as he’s poring over non-fiction books.

That’s why Beyond the Sunshine is so thorough – and why the bibliography is so dense.

“You would have to read 60, 70 books to get the information that’s here,” he beams. “I was an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) lawyer for many years and my talent, I think, is to take a lot of complex information and put it together in a very easily-understood two to three sentences. And pack a lot of information in it.”

Baker will be at Haslam’s Book Store Tuesday, Feb. 27 to sign copies of Beyond the Sunshine and talk about the city, and the state, that he loves so much.

After the election

He worked on this book, on and off, for a decade. In 2017, while he was finishing it up, he decided to run for mayor again. That momentous turn of events put the brakes on the project for a while.

“I’m a believer in God’s will, wherever things are going to go,” Baker says. “I was running not because Rick Baker needed to be mayor again. I was running because I felt our city was being led very poorly. I still believe that. And I wanted to try to change that.”

He’s a big believer in public service as a “higher calling.” As a student at Florida State University, Baker was senior class president, and a member of the student senate. “The seed for public service was really planted in college,” he says. “Growing up, I couldn’t even tell you who the mayor was.”

Last November’s election was a close one, and at the end of the day incumbent mayor Rick Kriseman emerged victorious.

“I’m personally better off not doing it again, so I wasn’t crushed at all,” Baker says. “I was saddened for the city, because the trajectory that we’re on is continuing every day, you can see it. I just get up and move on.”

He remains openly critical of the way St. Pete is being run. “I don’t see any change in direction coming from the city right now,” he stresses, adding that one of the key points of The Seamless City is to make sure that as mayor “Everything you’re doing is about running the city and making it better.

“So much of what we’re doing now is about partisan politics and things like that, and that never helps cities and never has anywhere. You have to focus more on ‘How do we make the city better?’ and not focus on ‘How do we use St. Pete as a way of advancing some sort of partisan agenda? No matter which side you’re on, that’s a mistake. That’s not good for the city.”

In January, Baker resigned as president of the Edwards Group, where he’d helped, among other things, turn the bankrupt Baywalk into the glittering SunDial and revitalize the Tampa Bay Rowdies – getting  the bay area interested in professional soccer again. “I just thought five years was enough,” he shrugs. “I’m an antsy guy. I want to always be looking for something where I can maximize my contribution.”

The next adventure

“So I wanted to find out what my next adventure was going to be,” the 61-year-old attorney/author/politician explains. “I also wanted to take a pause – and the pause is this book. I really want to go around the state and talk about the history. I love Florida, I really do. Well, there’s also a long ‘Honey Do’ list that I’m working on at home.

“But I’ve got a book event scheduled in Tallahassee. I’m going to go to Two Egg and speak to the Rotary Club. I’ve never been to Everglades City – I’d like to go there. I’ve spoken in every major city, but I’d like to find some of these nooks and crannies of Florida.”

He’s also in talks with several businesses to come aboard as a consultant. “I’m going to do a little of this, and a little of this,” he says. “Things that interest me.”

And he hasn’t ruled out another swing at public service. “I may run for office again, I don’t know,” Baker says. “Politics is a hard thing. The money drives so much of it right now. It’s hard to get the money.

“I think I would be a very good governor, because of the experience I’ve had and the knowledge I’ve got. But somebody’s gonna have to hand me $10 million to start a campaign!”

 

Author event: Rick Baker and ‘Beyond the Sunshine: A Timeline of Florida’s Past’

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27 at Haslam’s Book Store, 2025 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

 

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