The St. Petersburg mayor's race began in earnest Monday, with former state Rep. Rick Kriseman filing paperwork to challenge incumbent Bill Foster in August.
The former St. Petersburg city councilman wasted no time attacking Foster, accusing the mayor of mishandling the redevelopment of The Pier and the ongoing deadlock over the Tampa Bay Rays' desire to leave Tropicana Field and build a stadium elsewhere.
"I feel he has not faced the big issues the city has head-on," said Kriseman, 50. "He's trying to kick the can down the road."
Foster could not be reached for comment.
Kriseman did not offer a specific solution on the Rays stadium issue but said he would take a different approach than Foster's hard-line stance that the Rays should honor their contract to stay until 2027.
"That's not addressing the problem or facing the reality that if the Rays at some point in time state they want to break that agreement, they can do that," Kriseman said. "If we haven't prepared for that we'll be left with nothing."
Kriseman also promised to focus more on encouraging economic development in the city.
A Boca Ciega High School graduate, Kriseman is a lawyer at a Tarpon Springs law firm. The Democrat was on the City Council from 2000 to 2006, then left to serve in the state House of Representatives, where he represented St. Petersburg for six years.
During his stint on the council, Kriseman was a strong proponent of the West Community Library at St. Petersburg College, which was built in his district. He also unsuccessfully tried to reduce panhandling by banning street vendors.
So far, only three people have filed to run in the Aug. 27 election: Foster, Kriseman and perennial also-ran Paul Congemi.
That compares with the 10 candidates who ran in 2009, when Foster beat former councilwoman Kathleen Ford in November's runoff.
Observers are waiting to see whether Ford will run again. She sued the city over its rejection of a petition calling for a referendum on the proposed $50 million redevelopment of The Pier, an issue that could be a central peg of her campaign.
City Council member Leslie Curran, who is term-limited at the end of this year, is seen as another potential challenger.
Although Kriseman would be a strong candidate, he lacks Foster's name recognition, said City Council Chairman Karl Nurse, a Democrat.
"He'll certainly be a credible candidate," Nurse said. "He really needs to introduce himself to folks. We'll see as he goes through that process how people respond."
Although the race is nonpartisan, St. Petersburg mayoral contests have become politicized in recent years, said Darryl Paulson, political science professor emeritus at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
That would not be good for Foster, a Republican, Paulson said. Democrats make up almost half of registered voters in the city, but Republicans account for only 28 percent, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.
"That's one of the dangers that Foster faces if it becomes a partisan battle; you almost have the battle line forming," Paulson said. "That would be a tough battle for Foster to win."