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GOP aiding Mayor Foster in heated re-election campaign


Published:   |   Updated: September 27, 2013 at 08:51 PM

Throughout his re-election campaign, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has slammed opponent Rick Kriseman for accepting money and using campaign staff from the Florida Democratic Party in what is officially a nonpartisan race.

Now, Foster is also getting help from his political allies.

The Republican Party of Florida is paying for its regional field director in the Tampa Bay area, Chris Martin, to work part-time on Foster’s campaign, according to Niel Allen, Foster’s campaign manager. Martin joined up with Foster about a week ago and is expected to stay with the campaign through to the Nov. 5 general election.

Foster said it is no surprise that the state Republican Party got involved in his campaign. The Florida Democratic Party has contributed roughly $40,000 to Kriseman, a former Democratic state lawmaker who served on the St. Petersburg City Council before going to Tallahassee.

“Mr. Kriseman made this a partisan race from Day 1,” Foster said. “We certainly didn’t intend to make this a partisan race; but with the full weight of Mr. Kriseman’s party supporting his campaign, it was inevitable that my party would desire to provide some assistance.”

Kriseman’s campaign manager, Cesar Fernandez, said it was hypocritical of Foster to accept the state party’s help after repeatedly attacking Kriseman for doing the same.

“Bill Foster once criticized Rep. Kriseman for making this race partisan,” he said. “The same Bill Foster has a high-profile political operative from the Republican Party of Florida working on his campaign. This is the Foster formula of saying one thing and doing another.”

Martin has been organizing campaign volunteers, who are canvassing door-to-door on behalf of Foster, Allen said. Foster has also received small in-kind contributions from the state Republican Party to cover campaign research and $500 from Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala, who has led calls for the state party to back Foster.

Still, the level of support from the state Republican Party given to Foster lags well behind that given to Kriseman, who has benefitted from Tallahassee connections made during six years as a Democratic state representative.

Fundraisers, including one in Tallahassee co-hosted by Alison Tant, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, helped him amass almost $215,000 in donations, according to the most recent financial reports. The state party also made in-kind donations that paid for two private polls to be conducted.

That support for Kriseman continues the Florida Democratic Party’s tactic of working to place Democrats into prominent leadership positions to boost its bench of viable candidates for higher office. Democrats occupy the mayor’s offices in Jacksonville, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Tallahassee and Tampa, where Bob Buckhorn has been building his political profile.

The $40,000 Kriseman received from the state party pays the salary of Fernandez, who works full-time for Kriseman. Kriseman has four other full-time staff who are paid from his campaign donations.

Foster has raised $178,000 so far. His campaign manager, Allen, is a Realtor who is volunteering his spare time.

Martin’s involvement will likely count as an in-kind contribution from the state party.

Foster’s campaign is still in talks with the state Republican Party about other possible offers of support, including donations. State law limits individual and company donations to $500 but allows political parties to donate as much as $50,000.

The charges of hypocrisy against Foster from Kriseman’s campaign are ludicrous, he said.

“Now we have one part-time person organizing some walking activity part-time for the Foster campaign, [and] they [are] up in arms about it,” he said. “I would find that to be a bit ironic.”

Assigning Martin to Foster’s campaign shows that the Republican Party of Florida is concerned about losing the last major city in the I-4 corridor run by a Republican, said Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, political science professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg

To make a difference in the election, though, the Republicans may need to match the donations Democrats have given to Kriseman, she said.

“They need to decide if they are serious about helping him,” she said.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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