St. Petersburg mayor candidates Kathleen Ford, Alex Haak square off
ST. PETERSBURG - It was an unlikely face off: an attorney whose mayoral ambitions took her to second place in 2001 versus the comedic activist with the foreign accent.
Kathleen Ford and Alex Haak sometimes seemed like they were talking about different cities while discussing their visions for St. Petersburg during a candidate forum Wednesday night at the St. Petersburg Democratic Club.
Haak, who spoke first, said he would rename Central Avenue International Avenue and create a downtown akin to the vibrant city centers of Barcelona, Paris and St. Augustine by working with local businesses. "We can use as many blocks as we need," he said.
He called for smaller buses with more frequent stops.
When asked whether he would withdraw from the race if he discovered that he was taking votes away from another Democrat poised to win, Haak said no.
"I'm the leading candidate," he said. "Why should I withdraw?"
Ford criticized City Hall, recalling the city's $15.8 million loss in securities lending, soaring property taxes during the past decade, security issues at BayWalk and Mayor Rick Baker's penchant for secrecy and his administration's early reluctance to apply for federal stimulus money. She did, however, praise Baker's efforts to bring high-tech jobs to the area.
"Here is my promise to you: Here in St. Petersburg we need open, accessible, accountable and affordable government," she said.
Haak and Ford exchanged barbs, but the candidates, both City Hall outsiders fighting for change, do share some goals.
The candidates called for an overhaul of City Hall's administrative structure, adding they would eliminate all three deputy mayor positions.
Haak said he would freeze employee salaries for two years. Mayor Rick Baker has already proposed a salary freeze for 2010.
Ford said she would appoint a city administrator to manage the city, but would likely eliminate various other managerial positions.
Haak and Ford said they would open the city's port to trade with Cuba and expressed reservations about the cost of curbside recycling. They pledged to create affordable housing and invest in the city's police department.
Democratic contenders Jamie Bennett, Scott Wagman and Paul Congemi addressed the club in January before Haak and Ford filed to run.
UPDATE: Former mayoral hopeful and Democratic candidate Ed Helm, who posed the question about Haak getting out of the race, said Haak really should exit the field.
"It is selfish," he said.
Cristina Silva, Times staff writer