Bill Foster ticks off influential leaders in Midtown
ST. PETERSBURG -- When Deveron Gibbons endorsed Bill Foster over Kathleen Ford for mayor, it appeared Foster would have a significant head start in the race for Midtown votes.
Restaurateur Mike Atwater, Deputy Mayor Go Davis, former City Council member David Welch and Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon all came out for Foster within days of Gibbons' endorsement.
But less than a week later, these leaders, sometimes dubbed Midtown's black political machine, are already distancing themselves from Foster.
What triggered this spat, you ask?
It seems Foster hurt some people's feeling when he turned down an offer last week to take a photo with Davis, Gordon and a handful of other leaders in the black community, some of whom worked or previously worked for the city's police department.
Foster said he didn't mean to rub anyone the wrong way. He just has never asked a city employee for an endorsement before.
"It’s always been my feeling not to put employees in positions that they might regret," he said. "My philosophy is to always avoid any appearance of impropriety."
Gordon, Davis and others in the "machine" have held photo sessions with Mayor David Fischer, Mayor Rick Baker and State Rep. Darryl Rouson in the past. Foster's dismissal did not sit well with them.
"Basically, as a member of Deveron’s team, we offered Mr. Foster some assistance. There were some philosophical strategic differences, so consequently that didn’t happen," said Davis. "We are where we are. I don’t know where it goes from here."
"In terms of helping him with his campaign, I don’t know where we are," echoed Gibbons. "He hasn’t taken us up on any of that stuff."
Gordon, meanwhile, said he has decided to remain neutral in the race.
Some suspect Foster, who is endorsed by various police unions, did not want to offend the police officers who have helped him in recent months by taking a photo with their bosses. The police department's officers often disagree with those running the department.
Foster denied the unions had anything to do with his decision.
"It has nothing to do with union issues. It has to do with hiccups when you are trying to merge teams and campaign philosophies," said Foster. "We just had a difference of opinion that we are working through."
Still, Ford, who could not immediately be reached for comment, stands to benefit from Foster's faux pas. Davis and others have reached out to her in recent days.
"In fairness to Ms. Ford, she has had no reluctance in reaching out and speaking to me," Davis said.
"She’s a very nice lady," Gibbons said. "Very competent. She’s done a very good job of reaching to everybody."
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Cristina Silva, Times staff writer