ST. PETERSBURG — Neighborhoods south of Central Avenue, which include the struggling, predominantly African-American Midtown area, are expected to play an important role in selecting the city's next mayor.
So it was not surprising that in the Blessed Trinity Catholic Church parking lot Tuesday, in the diverse Greater Pinellas Point community, two rival groups were handing out fliers supporting their candidates. On one side were three men in yellow Police Benevolent Association T-shirts supporting Mayor Bill Foster. On the other were a couple of women and a man from the South St. Petersburg Democratic Club touting Rick Kriseman.
Mary A. Saunders, 84, didn't need any prodding.
"I thought I voted for the best candidate," Saunders, a retired New York City teacher, said as she left the polls. "I think Rick Kriseman is going to do a better job for the people who live in the Midtown area."
She recounted a meeting with Foster, who she said was receptive on the phone when she and others asked to meet with him. But in person, when the residents pitched their idea for a food co-op, she said he seemed dismissive.
"I was so angry," she said.
On the other side of town, Cary Thomas Rahall couldn't praise Foster enough.
"I've known him all my life. He's a man of dignity and integrity and I trust him," said Rahall, 52, who had just voted at the Coliseum. "He's got a plan and I trust he'll carry it out."
Shortly before polls closed at 7 p.m., the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office estimated Election Day turnout in the city at about 12 percent, based on selected sample precincts.
Irene Elsner, 73, also voted at the Coliseum, but backed Kriseman.
"He's the only one that stood up for the Rays staying in town and he told me some of his ideas for transportation for getting people to go to the games," she said. "I just don't like Foster. I don't think he particularly listens to people."
Maria Dianic, 81, a retired nurse, voted at Pinewood Co-op across from Derby Lane, but spoke with a Tampa Bay Times reporter in the parking lot of her church, St. Raphael's, on Snell Isle, where she was volunteering.
"I voted for Mr. Foster. I think he's a good mayor," she said. "I think, personally, what I've seen, he likes people. He's not controversial. He's a mild mannered person," she said, adding that she hopes the closing of the Pier will not have a negative effect on his bid for reelection.
At the St. Petersburg City Theatre polling place in Lakewood Estates, John Barfield voted for Kriseman.
"I feel he is more receptive to us local middle-class people and he listens. He is very friendly and approachable," said Barfield, 53, a St. Petersburg firefighter for the past 29 years.
Barfield said his firefighters union had endorsed Foster without consulting the rank and file.
"They went with the status quo," he said.
In Midtown, Pamela Wooden-Crum, 49, cast her vote at Christ Gospel Church on 22nd Avenue S. Her choice for mayor was Kriseman.
"I listened to a lot of things he said. He is positive and he's for the people," she said.
Yolanda Williams said she voted for Kriseman "because I don't like Bill Foster. He's only working for white people and the rich people."
Williams, 49, a student at St. Petersburg College, voted at Mount Zion AME Church on 16th Street S.
She criticized Foster for "not doing anything to help our community, especially African-Americans and Latinos, anybody of color."
Further, she said, she heard her pastor, the Rev. Louis Murphy, endorse Kriseman on the radio.
For Nancy Knowles, 65, it's "time for a change," she said as she left the Wildwood Recreation Center.
She hopes Kriseman will clean up the community, she said, adding that there are many things that are more important than the renovated Manhattan Casino and the Pier.
"There's a lot that needs to be done," she said.
Leaving a polling place at Westminster Presbyterian Church in the Old Northeast, Joan Raskin, 76, said she liked some of what Foster has done. However, she has heard negative things about him from friends, "about his antediluvian beliefs, his old beliefs, that make me reluctant to vote for him again."
"I'm hoping that Kriseman can do better. I'm hoping he will be farsighted," the retired teacher said.
Outside Sunken Gardens on Fourth Street N, District 2 City Council candidate Lorraine Margeson handed out fliers alongside Bonnie Sklaren, who was offering a sheet with Stonewall PAC endorsements. Kriseman was one of the candidates "who embody our values of safety, equality, and social justice," her fliers said.
At lunchtime, voting was slow at the historic gardens, with Richard Wall, 47, one of the few voters. He voted for Kriseman, but "I really can't tell you why," said Wall, who owns a construction company.
Wall said he likes a lot of the things Foster stands for but wanted "to go in a slightly different direction ... a change of scenery, I guess."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.