Bill Foster formally joins St. Pete mayor's race

03/02/09 Seán Kinane
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Even though he has been in the race for weeks, former St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Foster officially announced today that he is running for mayor.

“I’m honored and privileged to announce my candidacy to become the next mayor of the city of St. Petersburg.”

Foster made his announcement on Monday in downtown St. Pete’s Pioneer Park, following a prayer by Clarissa Hersey-James of Breaking Free By Faith Outreach Ministries. Foster calls his platform the “Foster Formula,” which consists of four key points he says will focus on the needs of city residents rather than wants.

“We have to control spending with an eye towards tax reductions. It involves public safety. It involves neighborhood and business development though customer service. And fourth -- and foremost -- it involves sunshine, transparency, and openness of government from city hall.”

Foster says there are significant challenges facing St. Petersburg that will shape his platform.

“We have challenges with the national economy, housing markets, banking and finance collapses, education, health care, economic development, job loss, foreclosures, and those nasty budgets. And admittedly, the job might not be a while lot of fun for a while. But, you know what, this is St. Petersburg. This is our town, this is our time and we’re not going to sit back and wait for answers to come from Washington, D.C., or Tallahassee.”

Because of those challenges, Foster says cuts must be made.

“We begin by recognizing that our city government can no longer afford to be everything to everyone. At least for the next few years, we must refocus our efforts on doing what we do best, and that is providing the services which are essential to quality of life, and we must do it better than anyone else.”

Foster says he will analyze the city’s budget and ask, “Could we achieve similar success with less money?” He suggests consolidation of services within the city and Pinellas County to reduce expenditures. Foster characterizes his budget as service level maintenance.

“Zero-based budgeting you start at zero. With service level maintenance because we have certain fixed cost, we have some contractual obligations, union contracts with collective bargaining, you have to start at --it’s too cumbersome to start at zero. So you start at 60–70 percent, you build in fixed costs. And then everything above that you scrutinize line by line by line.”

Last week, the Tampa City Council debated whether local business should receive an advantage when submitting bids to do city work. Foster indicates that businesses from St. Petersburg should be favored for city work.

“I want to promote local businesses through a modified procurement program in the city of St. Petersburg with an attitude of ‘St. Petersburg first.’ We must take care of our own and keep as much money as we can in our local economy.”

Education and public safety are two priorities Foster singled out as important to his candidacy.

“I intend to use technology like we haven’t used before. Like the installation of security cameras in parks, and high-traffic tourist areas, and those areas of the town we call ‘hot spots.’ And we will implement – and I will bring back – a new and improved community policing program focusing on relationships, intelligence gathering, education, and customer service.”

More than 20 percent of St. Petersburg residents are African-American, and there are two African-Americans in the race, minister Sharon Russ, and business executive Deveron Gibbons. According to the St. Petersburg Times, after an NAACP meeting earlier this winter, Foster – who is white -- told state Rep. Darryl Rouson that he would like to be the city’s first black Mayor.

“It was in response to Rep. Darryl Rouson, as he was touting their opportunity to elect the first black Mayor. So as we were walking out of the building I said ‘Rouson, I know you were talking about me.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, if Clinton can do it, you can do it.’ It was lighthearted, it was a joke, and somehow it got out into the public. But since it was only between Rouson and I – I didn’t do it. So it was – you know what, this has nothing to do with race. And this transcends race, transcends socioeconomics, it – we’ve got some interesting times ahead.”

Other candidates vying to become St. Pete’s next mayor include current City Council member Jamie Bennett, former Council member Kathleen Ford, businessman Scott Wagman, and retired builder Paul Congemi. WMNF asked Foster what he thinks of the crowded field.

“Oh, they’re dedicated people. They love the city, I love the – we all love the city. And we all want to give back, but that’s not why you run for mayor.”

Bill Foster campaign

WMNF coverage of Tampa City Council debate on local business preference

Foster wants to be city’s first ‘black’ mayor

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