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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014

Fundraising heating up St. Pete mayor’s race


Published:

They may be deadlocked in the polls, but St. Petersburg mayoral hopeful Rick Kriseman is beginning to pull ahead in fundraising, and that could prove crucial as he looks to unseat incumbent Bill Foster.

Foster entered the runoff election with $27,000 more in unspent funds than Kriseman; but reports filed Friday show that Kriseman has wiped out that deficit in a 17-day fundraising blitz that saw him rake in $59,000. That’s almost double the $29,000 Foster raised in the same period.

“Normally, incumbents have fundraising advantages, and it would seem that momentum is going Kriseman’s way,” said Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, a political science professor at University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “I expect the race to be very tight.”

The boost for Kriseman comes as the election begins in earnest, with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office on Friday mailing out more than 800 ballots to military and overseas voters. Roughly 61,000 mail ballots will be sent out on Oct. 1. Roughly 65 percent of the votes cast in the primary election were by mail.

Kriseman has now raised roughly $215,000 since launching his campaign in February, compared to Foster’s $178,000.

But Kriseman, a former Democratic state lawmaker and City Council member, continues to be dogged by criticisms from Foster and others that he is bringing party politics into the nonpartisan race and that a majority of his contributions have come from outside St. Petersburg.

This week, his campaign trumpeted that of more than 200 contributions he received, 75 percent of them were made from within Pinellas County, with a majority of those coming from St. Petersburg.

While that is true, slightly more than half of the money raised this period still came from outside the city, an analysis by the Tribune shows. That includes a $7,500 contribution from the Florida Democratic Party, bringing its total donations to Kriseman to almost $40,000. State law limits individual contributions to $500 per person or per company but allows political parties to donate as much as $50,000.

Foster said Kriseman was attempting to mislead voters.

“They obviously thought it was significant,” said Foster, who has received roughly two-thirds of his donations from St. Petersburg “If the Kriseman campaign is going to issue a press release making a big statement about the local origin of his funding, then it better be honest.”

Cesar Fernandez, campaign manager for Rick Kriseman, stood by his campaign statement.

“We’ll let the Foster camp worry about our campaign finance reports,” he said. “We’ve raised a substantial amount more than them. We had hundreds of donors in just 17 days.”

Contributors to Kriseman in this period include City Council Chairman Karl Nurse, one of five council members who have endorsed him.

Foster received $500 from state Sen. Jack Latvala, who has led calls for the Republican Party of Florida to support Foster in the same way Democrats have backed Kriseman. The party did not give Foster any money but did make an in-kind contribution of $300 worth of research to his campaign.

Political observers differ on whether Foster’s attacks about where Kriseman’s donations come from will sway voters.

Most residents are aware of which party the mayoral candidates belong to but will, nonetheless, vote for the person they believe will best lead the city rather than along party lines, said Scourfield-McLauchlan.

“I wouldn’t think voters would want the next mayor to be beholden to one of the political parties,” she said. “But there is enough independence between the elected officials and the party apparatus.”

But local political consultant Todd Pressman said the publicity could harm Kriseman with some voters, especially if Foster’s campaign keeps pressing that message.

“Candidates and politicians are always looking for a hot-button issue,” he said. “For some voters, it will be an issue, for others it won’t. But it’s bringing out a difference between candidates.”

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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