Pier and Midtown could be key in St. Pete mayoral election listen11/05/13 Janelle Irwin
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Voters in St. Petersburg are deciding Tuesday whether to let Mayor Bill Foster keep his job or replace him with Rick Kriseman. People casting their ballots this morning are predicting a close race.
Dueling signs lined the road in front of the Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg silently willing voters to choose either incumbent Mayor Bill Foster or his opponent, former Democratic state lawmaker Rick Kriseman. For Foster supporters like Marcus Martin, the choice came down to the Mayor’s accomplishments so far.
“I believe in where he’s going with the city. I think we’re in a good position right now. I don’t think it’s time to change the guard. I think he’s learned a lot from his mistakes. He’s a humble man and I support him and the community supports him.”
Another voter leaving the downtown precinct where many residents earn higher incomes than other communities, Paul Daverede, agreed that Foster has done a good job in cleaning up the city.
“Well, the panhandling and folks on the street and I think the police force with the special events has really done a good job. I live right down on Beach Drive and I’m just impressed the way they handle all those events too.”
If their sentiments about Foster are any indication, the downtown precincts may favor Foster. Bill Werremeyer is new to the city and didn’t know much about the two mayoral candidates. He said he relied on information from his neighbors who overwhelmingly supported Foster.
“They just thought he had done a reasonable job and I asked them about the pier and they just said, ‘well, that really wasn’t his fault.’”
St. Petersburg officials are back to the drawing board for plans to replace the city’s iconic pier. During the primary election in August, voters ordered the city to cancel its contract with architects to build a new pier known as the Lens. Foster came under fire by critics who thought he was dragging his feet on taking a stance on whether or not the issue would land on a ballot. But once enough petitions were gathered to force a referendum, Foster leaped into action by creating the 828 Alliance charged with developing a process to choose a new design. Bud Karins is a downtown voter who was heavily involved with Concerned Citizens, the group that pushed to kill the Lens.
“Concerned Citizens cooked up the idea ahead of time and we went to Foster and said this is what we need to do and he adopted it, but he stacked the deck with pro-Lensers.”
Karins supports Kriseman because of his stance on the Pier. Kriseman has proposed a process to choose a new pier design that will require architects to submit designs first, not just qualifications while Foster prefers choosing architects first before seeing their ideas. Downtown resident Richard Abbot is also supporting Kriseman, but he said that’s because he really just doesn’t like Foster.
“Well, it was sort of a lack of direction and I thought that he did things – I don’t know that he intended it that way, but he did things sort of secretly. What he did with the Rays, you know, not telling anybody. I’ve got a plan, but I won’t tell you what it is.”
Both candidates have emphasized redevelopment of the midtown neighborhoods. Foster touts projects that have either been completed or started during his administration like the expansion of the midtown St. Petersburg College campus and a new Wal-Mart where a shuttered Sweetbay used to be. Meanwhile Kriseman has said he wants to return to a community policing model in the area and alter the police department’s chase policy. Mary Cooper, a midtown resident who voted from Lakeview Presbyterian Church on 22nd Avenue South wouldn’t say who she supports for mayor, but agreed with the idea of community policing.
“We should have a community, a neighborhood policeman to control our neighborhood. If anything goes wrong, he’s there. It doesn’t wait until it gets out of hand to call him.”
When asked if she thought Foster was doing a good enough job of revitalizing the low income community, Cooper said no.
“It’s still, debris and stuff piles up in the backyard and everything – I don’t think so.”
Another midtown resident, Kevin Hopkins, also wouldn’t say who he voted for, but hopes whoever wins will uphold their promises to renew efforts for community development in the area.
“I think it’s going to be very close, but I think Foster will probably pull out by just a very small margin.”
St. Pete voters will also cast ballots for four city council seats. Two will replace Lesley Curran and Jeff Danner who are vacating their seats due to term limits. Darden Rice and Carolyn Fries are vying for Curran’s seat while Amy Foster and Steve Galvin are battling for Danner’s spot. Karins, the downtown voter who worked to stop the Lens, thinks the seat changes will be a good thing for city council.
“It’s almost as bad as Congress, the present council, it’s just dysfunctional. Nothing happens. It’s just a bunch of intersecting monologues. You can’t govern that way.”
District 6’s Karl Nurse is up for re-election against activist Sharon Russ. Also hoping to retain his seat is Jim Kennedy who is being challenged by anti-Lens advocate Lorraine Margeson. Polls in St. Pete are open until 7 this evening. According to the Supervisor of Elections office, just over 29,000 mail-in ballots have been returned. That’s down from 33,000 that were returned during the primary election when the ballot included a referendum on the fate of the Lens.