After four bumpy years, Bill Foster is asking the voters of St. Petersburg for another term as mayor.
His handling of several high-profile issues has overshadowed his accomplishments, and he has drawn two formidable opponents.
Kathleen Ford, a former city council member who lost a bid for mayor in 2009, and Rick Kriseman, a former state legislator and former City Council chair, will share the Aug. 27 primary ballot with Foster. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the two candidates with the most votes will meet in a runoff Nov. 5.
We think Foster deserves another term.
The city is emerging from the recession with a construction boom and he has the backing of the city’s police and firefighters and the Chamber of Commerce. He is now working with the Rays’ front office on finding a way to keep the team in the area while protecting the city’s interests, a welcome change from his rigid refusal to allow the team to expand its options.
Several apartment complexes are rising out of the ground downtown, and tech giant Jabil is considering an area near Tropicana Field for its headquarters. Crime rates are down. He championed compassionate solutions to rid the downtown of aggressive panhandling and the homeless who slept in parks and in doorways and outside City Hall. He handled the tragic killing of three police officers with grace and dignity.
There is room for criticism. The effort to replace The Pier turned into a debacle, and his efforts to right the ship with a new advisory group are not proving particularly effective. He needs to make sure the city charts a deliberate, open and clear path forward should voters reject the Lens on Aug. 27. The Midtown Sweetbay closure, a blow to the neighborhoods it served, took him by surprise. He was slow to recognize the Rays stadium impasse needs to be resolved.
Ford and Kriseman are critical of Foster’s handling of The Pier replacement, and of his handling of the Rays stadium issue. They both want a return to community policing.
Ford, 56, is an attorney well known to voters from her sometimes tempestuous time on the council and her previous runs for mayor. More recently, she led a fight to let the public vote on whether to save the The Pier from demolition. She has a firm command of the issues, and says the inverted pyramid pier can be reimagined with a narrower approach and within the city’s $50 million budget. She would let the Rays look elsewhere provided they sign a waiver allowing the city to seek all remedies due under the existing agreement. If elected, she says she would focus on neighborhoods, public safety, and government accountability.
Kriseman, 50, is an attorney who served on the council from 2000 to 2006 and in the Florida Legislature from 2006 to 2012. He also has a command of the issues, which he presents with enthusiasm and energy. He supports the public referendum to stop the Lens and promises to have a plan in place for selecting a replacement if elected. He thinks the Rays should pay an exploratory fee for the right to look elsewhere. He says he wants smarter, not bigger, government and more transparency.
Two other candidates, Paul Congemi, a 56-year-old songwriter, and Anthony Cates, a 23-year-old salesman, are also on the ballot but are not factors in the race.
Foster, 50, is presiding over a economic rebirth and has established a dialogue with the Rays that needs to continue uninterrupted. We are not convinced that his opponents offer a better alternative as mayor.
We endorse Bill Foster for re-election.