Ford and Foster face off in St Pete Mayoral debate listen10/13/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:
The two candidates for Mayor of St. Petersburg faced off in a debate last night at the Palladium Theatre in downtown. Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster were asked about five categories: budget, crime, economic development, the Rays’ stadium, and what the organizers called “leadership style.” That’s a favorite criticism of Ford by her detractors, including the editorial writers of the St. Petersburg Times, one of the sponsors of the debate. In defining his leadership style, Foster channeled a favorite claim by George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign.
Bill Foster, "I am a uniter not a divider. I have had a history of building consensus and building bridges and working with people that is my leadership style.I have the temperament and demeanor to bring people to the table not with condescension and not with throwing of pencils and the rolling of eyes, but I actually build on the successes that people bring to the table."
The debate’s first heated moment came in Ford’s response to the leadership style question. She says she works by consensus and coalition, but then took a barb at Foster’s statements that he believes the Genesis myth of creation and that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.
Kathleen Ford, "My style has been evolving unlike my opponent, who does not believe in evolution; my style has been evolving, but I would like to say this when my opponent talks about working with people and I want you to remember that he put a Crispy Creme calendar on another council members desk while he was a council member and it was investigated by the city attorney's."
Foster responded that he would put the Constitution over his conservative religious beliefs.
Foster, "I make no apologies for being a Christian and believing in the Genesis account. My opponent since day one has been mocking my faith and out there in the corridors she has little dinosaurs in a basket really mocking anyone who believes in the Genesis account. I have a proven track record of putting the Constitution first. This document that governs the rule of law in the US; I am told to submit to that authority."
In January 2007, St. Petersburg Police slashed the tents and destroyed the belongings of a group of homeless people who had set up a tent city in downtown. The victims have sued the City of St. Petersburg.
Both Bill Foster and Kathleen Ford were asked how they would have handled the homeless situation differently.
Ford, “Well, I wouldn’t have slashed the tents. You know it really is a challenge and we are going to have more homeless as you all have probably heard. We need to begin now to look at affordable housing. We need to be looking at foreclosure prevention. We need to look at temporary housing because we are going to have over 300k foreclosures on the books here in the state of Florida. We are going to have a percentage of those and we need to look now at intervening now to prevent more homelessness."
Foster, " I would have handled it the same way, you don't slash tents or throw people under the bus who do; you own it and take accountability for it, that's what you do. As far as the tent city and supporting Pinellas Hope, I think that is a temporary solution. I think we need to continue support that will get people off the streets."
On Thursday, City Council will once again consider vacating the sidewalk in front of BayWalk. Two weeks ago, Council decided against giving the public sidewalk to the troubled downtown entertainment complex. But last week they decided to reconsider that decision. Foster has been endorsed by current Mayor Rick Baker - who is pushing the sidewalk privatization – but has not said he supports a permanent sidewalk vacation.
Foster, "I would like to see a more temporary vacation of the sidewalk if it is possible. Maybe a sun-setting of one year to make sure we can re-energize Baywalk. I think that is so important that we bring that back. We have millions of dollars invested of city taxpayer money in Baywalk and it is a balance between 1st Amendment rights and the peoples interest in making sure Baywalk thrives and I think we have to do that. If there is a sun-setting provision I think would well respond to that."
Proponents of giving the sidewalk to BayWalk say that one reason the mall has failed is because of peaceful first amendment actions of protest groups like St. Pete for Peace. Ford has maintained a position against sidewalk vacation since before the original Council vote.
Ford, "I do disagree with vacating our city sidewalks because I think it would set an awful precedent every business out there would want to vacate the sidewalks so they could have access and control over who goes in that area. I think this was a problem where public safety failed. For whatever reason there wasn't enough visibility of our law enforcement officers. The mayor did not jump on the problem soon enough; did not stay there consistently. We did not have a visible presence. I don't know if council did not care, but unfortunately gradually more and more shops left."
The debate was televised on Bay News 9. The election is three weeks from today, November 3rd.