Mayor Foster takes a beating from South St. Pete residents during first mayoral debate

06/28/13 Janelle Irwin
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The heat was on St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster during the first mayoral debate Thursday night in South St. Pete. Foster took more of a beating from residents than he did from two of his challengers former State Representative Rick Kriseman and former City Council member Kathleen Ford.

Mayor Foster released a list of 25 accomplishments during his first three years in office. But residents in predominantly black areas of South St. Pete are contending that Foster played a much smaller role in things like getting Sylvia’s to open in the Manhattan and rehabbing Childs Park.

“Did you pay attention to the improvement plan for Childs Park? And I’ll just leave it at that because I know I don’t have time for you to respond to 25 facts, but there are a lot of concerns about what you put out suggesting what you have done.”

That’s former NAACP St. Pete chapter president Ray Tampa. He was joined by former Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis who was fired by Foster in 2011 after missing the funerals of three St. Pete Police officers.

“So, tonight, I heard you list a whole cadre of comments and I just want to ask you, to what extent are you just basically piggy backing or taking credit for things that happened prior to your administration – for example, homelessness. The blueprint for that was laid by Rick Baker, I worked with him so I know. The legislation was written by Rick Baker. The prototype was New Hope Village that you modeled yours after.”

Foster defended himself time and time again during the two-hour debate and Q and A. It was sponsored by the NAACP local chapter, the Weekly Challenger and city council chair Karl Nurse’s company. Foster said not all of the wins he boasts on campaign materials were initiated on his watch, but he still played a huge roll in making sure they happened.

“So, yeah, there’s a lot of things that I do in that chair that you have no idea what I do in that chair.”

Davis said there was one thing Foster accomplished.

“You did change your chase policy that’s resulting in the shootings and so forth that we’re having there, so…”

Foster’s challengers were more graciously received by the crowd of 150 or so St. Pete residents. Former Florida Representative Rick Kriseman was whooped and cheered after he said it was important to revitalize community policing – especially in black neighborhoods.

“We need to have a restructuring of our police department. It’s on thing for the police to require respect from the community, but there needs to be respect that goes back to the community.”

Dozens of people wore shirts announcing their support for Kathleen Ford who said one of her priorities in office would be improving neighborhoods.

“They are slipping and that involves making sure that we have the right community policing program, that we have the right codes program, that we have the right traffic and engineering traffic calming programs.”

But Ford’s biggest priority and what she described as a way to accomplish other things too – like economic development and job creation – was education.

“We have a real problem with our graduation rate here in the City of St. Petersburg and I would like to institute more Pre-K intervention, childcare, preschool opportunities in the City of St. Petersburg. We know that our private prison systems are calculating how many new beds based on the third grade – number of third graders – and that’s just wrong and I think waiting until kids are ready for kindergarten to begin to intervene is too late. I think we need to really hustle and start reaching our children earlier and giving them the support they need so that they can succeed.”

But Both Kriseman and Ford were blasted by City Council frequenter Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter. Lassiter is one of Foster’s biggest advocates. Before storming out of the room in a rage, she chastised Ford for not doing enough for minority communities. She also focused her energy on Kriseman.

“I need to know what bill you passed because I follow you and my brother Darryl Rouson, he was making it work and bringing the money home. I never saw you move anything forward.”

Early on in the debate it was clear that Mayor Foster is hanging his campaign on the fact that he’s the incumbent. On more than a few occasions he mentioned that he has been in office, while his opponents haven’t.

“Hindsight is 20/20 and unless you are in the Mayor’s office making those decisions, it’s real easy to criticize.”

Two other candidates are also running for Mayor, Anthony Cates and Paul Congemi. According to the Weekly Challenger, one of the debate sponsors, those candidates were not invited.

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As a note, with a 5:1 arrest disparity for blacks vs whites on marijuana arrests Kriseman was willing to give SPPD a ticket they could use in lieu of the 1500 arrests each year. Ford agreed it was a problem and should be looked into, Foster wants to continue the racially disproportionate arrests...

It was great thank u. J