Bill Foster has drawn plenty of criticism over the past four years. But outcomes matter, and when talking about the economy, public safety and other quality-of-life issues, Foster can stand behind the results.
A construction renaissance is occurring downtown, crime is down, the homeless problem is in check, a new grocery is coming to Midtown, and tech giant Jabil is considering an area near Tropicana Field for its headquarters.
Rick Kriseman, his opponent in the Nov. 5 general election, promises to create jobs, improve schools and focus on neighborhoods. But he hasn’t offered much in the way of specifics to instill confidence that he could achieve the desired results.
In fact, his recent announcement that school officials were interested in adopting his community-service learning program backfired when reporters discovered his failure to get any assurances from school officials, a gaffe that raises questions about his readiness to be mayor of the state’s fourth-largest city.
We think the city will benefit more from another four years under Foster than from a challenger who is asking voters to rely on promises.
For these reasons, we endorse Foster for mayor of St. Petersburg.
As we said before the August primary, Foster is open to criticism. Finding a replacement for The Pier continues to vex the city. Though he deflects criticism by saying he called for a referendum on The Pier’s future early in the process, the fact remains he’s in charge of the city, and the issue remains unresolved.
Also unresolved is the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium issue. As the primary approached in August, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced that negotiations between the Rays and Foster had broken down, dealing a serious blow to the momentum Foster had signaled just weeks earlier. It’s a tricky line to walk for Foster, who must protect the city’s financial interests while acknowledging the team wants to look for a new stadium in Tampa, a move that could benefit the region at his city’s expense. He is right to fiercely protect the city, but he should have signaled a willingness to let the team look in Tampa much earlier than he did.
Fortunately, the future is much clearer on the economic front. Several apartment complexes are rising downtown, Beach Drive is a vibrant dining destination, and Central Avenue is growing westward. A potential Jabil headquarters would mitigate the loss when the Rays eventually vacate Tropicana Field.
Although Foster was caught by surprise last year when Sweetbay closed its Midtown grocery, he was able to announce last month that a Walmart food market will soon occupy that location. It may end up being a better fit for the neighborhood.
As for public safety, Foster’s critics like to fault him for moving away from a system that assigned police officers to neighborhoods. But the criticism is overblown. Keep in mind, crime is down in the city. Calls to remove Police Chief Chuck Harmon became moot with the chief’s announced retirement. The unions representing police and firefighters endorse Foster, as does the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.
Kriseman is a former state legislator who once served on the St. Petersburg City Council. He has injected a distasteful partisan flavor into a nonpartisan race. He promises smarter government and more transparency but hasn’t demonstrated during the campaign that he would be a better mayor than his opponent.
Foster may lack the polish expected of a chief executive, but he steered the city through the recession in good shape, and it can be expected he will leave the city in better shape four years from now.
The Tribune endorses Bill Foster for mayor of St. Petersburg in the municipal election Nov. 5.