St.Pete Mayoral candidates Foster and Kriseman clash over campaign finance during city debate

09/18/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: election, Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman, St. Pete

Candidates running for offices in St. Petersburg fielded some new questions during a debate near downtown Tuesday night. Mayoral and City Council hopefuls answered questions separately during 30-minute question and answer sessions. Mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman responded to pleas from the small business community to incentivize them instead of large corporations.

“We need to work with some of our local lending institutions who haven’t always been as quick to open their accounts to loans for small business loans and a lot of small businesses sometimes need that little extra to get over the difficult times that they’re having.”

Some big businesses receive state funding by being classified as a qualified target industry. Those are companies who bring larger numbers of jobs to an area. Small businesses don’t fit the bill. Incumbent Mayor Bill Foster focused more on cutting taxes as an economic driver for local businesses.

“Now may be a time to look at Ad Valorem abatement programs. Maybe even on a small scale, but just enough to make sure that these small businesses feel like we’ve made an investment in their future and their success – impact fee payment programs. Again, this may not be a big deal, but just a small token of our appreciation and our investment in incentivizing their opening.”

Foster, who according to a recent poll by St. Pete Polls has fallen behind Kriseman by ten points, accused his opponent of running a partisan campaign.

“Just do the math. All of the campaign treasurer’s reports are on the website. Do the math. 75% of Mr. Kriseman’s contributions come from outside the area and about 74% I think go outside the area. They don’t support local small businesses and 75% of my contributions come from St. Petersburg and, even more than that stay local. So, Mr. Kriseman talks about the budget somewhat being indicative of your priorities – local businesses are my priority. So, that’s why my money is staying local.”

In a press release Wednesday, Kriseman announced that 75% of his $50,000-worth of contributions during the first 17-day reporting period of the runoff came from sources within Pinellas County and a majority of those came from donors in the city. Those campaign finance reports haven’t been released yet, but during a reporting period in August, nearly 70% of Kriseman’s contribution came from within the county. Kriseman defended himself against Foster’s accusation during the debate Tuesday night.

“I’ve also received contributions – hundreds of contributions – from $5 to $500 from people residing in the city of St. Petersburg. I’m very proud of the support I’ve received. I’m proud of the endorsements I’ve received. I think it’s fascinating that five of our eight council members have endorsed me over the incumbent mayor and those council members are not all of my party; they’re Republican and non-party affiliate members.”

City Council candidates in four districts will also be on the November 5th ballot. Debates in their races have circulated largely around arts and the downtown waterfront, but during an 8-way debate Tuesday night, the group weighed in on how to improve congested parking conditions along Central Avenue. District 8 candidate Amy Foster said she was concerned about downtown employees who had to move their cars every two hours from timed parking spaces.

“Residents that live in the downtown area have parking stickers that allow them to park over that two hour time limit. Maybe that’s something we could do for our city business owners as well.”

Her opponent, Steve Galvin, agreed. District two council member Jim Kennedy said the city should focus on ways to get cars off the roads.

“…reliable mass transportation where people will be able to know that they can get on a rapid transit bus, get to work and get home and can rely on that transportation.”

His opponent, environmentalist Lorraine Margeson agreed.

“Another idea might be to have more, kind of like, large collector parking lots and a shuttle service to our areas where we work.”

The concept of incorporating remote parking with shuttle services resonated among most of the candidates, but District 4 hopeful, Carolyn Fries said there still needs to be more parking.

“I think they’ll be opportunities as new developments go up along there to include parking as part of that and it should be a requirement by the city to be able to do that.”

Opposing Fries is former League of Women Voters president, Darden Rice.

“I do think people who have purchased something at a store should be able to show a receipt to get relief from a parking ticket. I also think that we should incentivize free parking for people who have hybrid cars – we do have one in my household – and electric cars to incentivize people purchasing and driving fuel efficient vehicles.”

Current District 6 city council member Karl Nurse said the city already has plans to build another parking garage.

“We probably need to discount more aggressively the parking on the roofs of the parking garages we have. One of the goals that’s difficult is you really want the parking right in front of stores to be for customers. So, we’ve got to find ways to get the employees to park a little bit further away.”

Opposing Nurse is Sharon Russ. Russ has run largely on a public education platform. She agreed with other suggestions regarding downtown parking along Central Avenue, but added better public transportation also needs to be incorporated in changes.

“There is a problem for people who are transportationally challenged and it takes about two hours to get from South St. Petersburg to Clearwater.”

Candidates also laid out their ideas for the 34th Street corridor. The lot was split among candidates wanting restaurant and retail development or companies who will bring higher-wage jobs to the area. District 4 candidates Darden Rice and Carolyn Fries had opposing views on the best way to revitalize the southern part of St. Pete.

“Especially the south corridor could use a lot more nicer restaurants, locally owned restaurants, maybe even some high end restaurants.”

“Restaurants and retail are great, but let’s face it folks, they bring in low wage jobs. What I’m interested in is more things like Ceridian, payroll services, we’ve got the SPC campus down there. We need to bring in manufacturing, technology and businesses that are going to create high wage jobs.”

Another mayoral forum will be held at St. Pete City Hall on October 14. City Council candidates will square off at the same location on October 16. Both forums are at 6 p.m.

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