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Libraries, sidewalk safety discussed at St. Petersburg mayor's breakfast

ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Foster took his monthly mayor's breakfast to the Dairy Inn on Wednesday, enticing about 40 people to talk city issues over coffee, egg sandwiches and beignets.

Some people talked about the importance of funding public libraries, others complained about bicyclists endangering pedestrians by using sidewalks, and almost everyone got something to eat.

Except Foster, who took notes while sipping coffee, leaving him little time to have some food.

With Foster facing a $14 million budget shortfall, some of the talk was about preserving city services.

Sharon Centanne, a member of the Friends of the Library board, showed up with a couple of other library supporters to push for full funding. She said the library has been asked to cut spending by 5 percent, which would likely mean a cut in hours.

"I'm very concerned about the literacy in this area,'' Centanne said. "I just think it's essential that they are fully funded.''

Centanne, 59, pointed out that many people can't afford computers and depend on public libraries for Internet access, not just books.

Foster told her that library cuts would be "a matter of convenience," meaning some people may have to travel longer distances to get to an open branch. He made no promises that he would spare the libraries or any city agencies from cuts.

"There is no wiggle room," he said. "People will have a lot of opportunities to tell us what their needs are."

Other residents brought up public safety concerns. After polishing off a breakfast burrito, Bob VanSweden shared a bench with the mayor and asked him for help cleaning up the 34th Street corridor.

VanSweden, vice president of the Central Oak Park Neighborhood Association, said the area has been riddled with prostitution, panhandling by the homeless and drug-dealing for years. Now it is preparing for a new Sam's Club and Walmart.

"This is an opportunity for us to try and turn our neighborhood around," VanSweden said.

At first, Joe Caimano wasn't going to tell Foster how dangerous it is for seniors to walk on downtown sidewalks and have bicyclists come "whizzing by your elbow."

"They stun you," Caimano said. "Sidewalks are just what they say — walks."

He said he prefers more formal settings to voice his concerns and has no problem appearing before the City Council. But then his buddy Ed Killeen got Foster's attention and told him the problem.

Maybe a couple of tickets will fix that, Foster said. "The sidewalk's yours."

"Breakfast with the Mayor" is held on the fourth Wednesday of every month from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. It's meant to give residents a chance to bring their thoughts to Foster's attention outside of city hours.

"People are not intimidated," Foster said. "We sit down. We drink coffee."

It's not a bad boost for the host eatery either, as Foster asks residents to buy a plate of food. At 62 years old, the Dairy Inn, 1201 Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, calls itself St. Petersburg's oldest ice cream parlor.

Business is slowest during the morning rush, said owner Dave Kornbluth. He estimates the Dairy Inn gets about 30 people from 7 to 10:30 a.m.

Kornbluth and his wife asked about hosting breakfast four or five times before Foster said yes.

"He (Kornbluth) said, 'Well come here, we'll put up some tents. We'll accommodate you,' " Foster said. "It was great. It was a beautiful morning."

Foster's first meal in February attracted a crowd of about three dozen to Shirley's Soul Food restaurant.

He will go to Munch's Restaurant and Sundries, 3920 Sixth St. S, on June 23.

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St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster visits with residents at a Wednesday morning breakfast at the Dairy Inn.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster visits with residents at a Wednesday morning breakfast at the Dairy Inn.

Libraries, sidewalk safety discussed at St. Petersburg mayor's breakfast 05/26/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 4:32pm]
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