St. Pete mayoral candidates Foster and Kriseman defend nasty campaign mailers
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10/25/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Rick Kriseman, Bill Foster, St. Petersburg, The Rays, the pier

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St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster and his opponent, Rick Kriseman, attack each other's ideas in another debate.


photo by Janelle Irwin


The race between St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman has become heated as the election draws near. The two have debated dozens of times on common issues facing the city, but during a debate Friday taped for WEDU’s Florida This Week, the two answered for some of their mud slinging campaign mailers.

“His own party – the Republican party – has dumped over $100,000 into these committees; money that has been used to buy TV ads, to buy and pay for these direct mail pieces, but I haven’t seen any attempts from Mr. Foster to stop those mail pieces from going out, to pull those ads off TV…”

“And you have?”

“But I’m not the one who’s been raising the specter throughout this campaign about partisanship, partisanship, partisanship.”

Many of the fliers have come from outside the candidates’ own campaigns and instead have been funded from other groups. Foster claims many of the attack ads targeting his opponent stemmed from political enemies Kriseman made during 6-years as a State Representative in Tallahassee.

“No one should be surprised that this has turned into a nasty, partisan campaign that failed. It’s failed Washington, it’s failed Tallahassee, it doesn’t belong in City Hall.”

Many of the ads released by groups supporting Foster, but not endorsed by his own campaign feature claims that Kriseman never sponsored a jobs bill, but instead sponsored legislation honoring Margaritaville musician Jimmy Buffet and voted to give himself a pay raise. But several ads have also targeted Foster. A Jacksonville-based group called Fact Check Florida blasts Foster for failing to take action to save the Tampa Bay Rays. Foster said he is trying to boost attendance by lobbying corporate CEOs to buy season tickets. But Kriseman laid out different plans for improving the city’s relationship with the Rays.

“Transportation to and from the stadium is a big issue - having access to good public transportation. You can actually take a bus to the game but you can’t take one going home from the game unless it’s a day game. That’s a problem. We can be bringing and doing more to bring businesses to the community and in particular to the surrounding area which hasn’t happened in the last four years. One of the things that I’ve heard from the Rays is that they want the ability for people to get off work and just walk to the stadium. So, that’s something we can do. We can work with Hillsborough County and with Tampa to create more of a two way bridge.”

Foster touts the upcoming opening of Wal-Mart in the city’s economically strangled Midtown that will replace the shuttered Sweetbay as well as a number of other projects in the pipeline. Last week Foster announced that he would create a high-level position dedicated to issues surrounding the area and an advisory panel to help hire a new police chief to replace retiring chief Chuck Harmon.

“So, I coupled that with a lot of the things we heard on the campaign trail – red light cameras, pursuit policies, community policing – all of these things are things being talked about so why not let the advisory panel look at that.”

But Kriseman points to what he sees as a series of ‘too little, too late’ scenarios throughout the Foster administration.

“The entire campaign, all we’ve heard about from Mr. Foster is the chase policy works, it’s a good policy, he’s comfortable with it. Community policing – the hybrid we have works, he’s comfortable with it.”

“Indeed.”

“Two weeks before hand, that all changes and the person that’s put in charge of the advocacy group is one of the top donors of the campaign not somebody with policing experience, not somebody who’s in the neighborhoods.”

Overseeing improvements in Midtown used to be the job of former police chief and deputy mayor Goliath Davis who Foster fired during the first half of his administration.

“Now, Goliath had been not just the police chief, but had been the deputy mayor of that area and it was while he was deputy mayor and Mayor Baker was mayor that we saw things come to Midtown that hadn’t been happened there in a long time – grocery stores, post offices, banks – so he had more than the tools of police chief in doing that. He was let go in 2011. So, what I’m hearing is Mr. Foster couldn’t find anyone in our community between 2011 and two weeks before the election that fulfill the requirements of the position that he’s looking for. I find that hard to believe.”

The two candidates were also asked whether or not they thought refurbishing the Pier was a viable option for the city. A local architecture firm claims the job can be done with less retail space and some other modifications for $24 million – less than half of what the city has budgeted for a new pier. Kriseman said he’s against using tax payer dollars to rebuild what’s already there, but is willing to hear from residents. Foster agreed, but the two candidates differed on how to come up with a new plan now that the Lens has axed.

“We’re starting the next process going with function first and then building the form around it. That’s a detailed survey. That’s a survey scientifically done with people talking to real citizens. It’s the same survey that people can take online. It’s doing a request for proposal to make sure we hire the brightest and best architect.”

Kriseman argued that residents should be able to see plans first before choosing an architect, arguing that Foster’s idea would likely lead to the same problems that led to the demise of the Lens. Election Day is November 5, but voters in St. Petersburg can request a mail-in ballot to vote early.

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