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St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster heads into election year with high ratings

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster hugs Kara McClatchy last January during the Saturday Morning Market. Foster’s positive ratings have risen. A 2011 poll found that 38 percent of respondents rated his performance good or excellent compared with 41 percent in the 2012 poll.

LEAH MILLIS | Times

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster hugs Kara McClatchy last January during the Saturday Morning Market. Foster’s positive ratings have risen. A 2011 poll found that 38 percent of respondents rated his performance good or excellent compared with 41 percent in the 2012 poll.

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayoral race in 2009 ended up being the city's longest and costliest election when 10 candidates battled for the job.

This year could be different with an incumbent in office.

A recent Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay telephone survey found that many voters like the way Mayor Bill Foster has guided the city since taking office in 2010.

About 41 percent of residents rated Foster's job performance good or excellent. Another 38 percent ranked his work average. By comparison, only a total of 13 percent rated him as not so good or poor.

"I have a lot of confidence in him," said Velma Rowe, a retired music teacher. "I trust Bill."

Foster's positive ratings rose and his negatives fell in the 2012 Times' poll. In a 2011 poll, 38 percent of respondents rated Foster's performance good or excellent and 20 percent rated him not so good or poor.

Rowe, 82, said she likes how her former student is working to keep the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, adding: "The Rays are an important part of this community."

The survey found that 29 percent of residents were somewhat satisfied and 23 percent were very satisfied with the way Foster has refused to let the team explore stadium sites in Tampa. But 29 percent aren't satisfied.

Rand Valentin is one of them.

The retired charter boat captain said Hillsborough taxpayers should help pay for a regional asset. He's grown tired of the identity battle on each side of the bay.

"We have to recognize that our branding image is being a part of Tampa," said the 65-year-old, who rated Foster's performance as average. "St. Pete is too small to have a baseball team."

• • •

The poll conducted by Braun Research, based in New Jersey, surveyed 306 St. Petersburg residents. The margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.

Of those polled between Dec. 5-13, the survey found:

• About 63 percent believe St. Petersburg is headed in the right direction; 23 percent think the city is on the wrong track.

• About 48 percent are somewhat satisfied and 26 percent are very satisfied with the way Foster has handled crime; 17 percent aren't pleased.

• About 37 percent are satisfied and 18 percent are very satisfied with the way Foster has handled the homeless population; 35 percent said they aren't satisfied.

• 47 percent don't like how Foster has handled plans to replace the Pier with the Lens. But 41 percent are either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied.

After holding City Hall's top job for three years, Foster said he also isn't totally satisfied with the survey results.

He plans to work harder at delivering services to taxpayers in 2013.

"It's nice to have some affirmation that we're going in the right direction," Foster said.

Velma Thompson, 53, disagrees.

Foster, she said, hasn't taken the city to a higher level like former Mayor Rick Baker.

Thompson, who grew up in Midtown and lives in the Lakewood Estates, said her biggest issue is that Foster hasn't helped trigger redevelopment in Midtown.

"No one seems to care," said Thompson, 53. "Things have fallen by the wayside. I can't tell what he has done."

She scoffed at Foster's attempt to keep the Rays, saying he is doing no more than a city manager would do to enforce a contract.

Hold on, Foster says.

He doesn't think it's fair to compare his three years in office to Baker's eight years.

Foster said he dealt with the aftermath of the Great Recession while Baker served in a prosperous economy.

Midtown is destined to rebound with falling crime rates and with Sylvia's, a world-famous restaurant, moving into the Manhattan Casino this spring, Foster said.

"A lot of these things take time," Foster said. "These challenges are significant."

• • •

The Pier has provoked strong emotions from residents who either love or hate the structure built in 1973.

Some residents dislike the $50 million cost to build the Lens and object to the design. Others hold a belief that the inverted Pier should be repaired.

One grass roots group failed to halt the demolition of the Pier when the City Council rejected its attempt to place a referendum on the ballot. A lawsuit is now being fought in court.

And another group is collecting signatures to stop the Lens from moving forward.

Lance Monlux, 60, originally disliked the project. His opinion has shifted since new designs emerged last month, but he'd like more shops included in the design.

"I'm not going to be satisfied if there isn't going to be fishing," Monlux said.

The negative numbers don't surprise Foster.

He hopes that critics change their views as the project progresses, adding: "Not everyone is going to fall in love with the design."

The St. Petersburg survey on the mayor and the city's direction mirrors a similar poll in Tampa

Of the 300 adults polled there, 81 percent of respondents rated Mayor Bob Buckhorn's job performance as excellent, good or average. And 71 percent said the city is on the right track.

Even with positive poll numbers from St. Petersburg, Foster knows his ratings could change in the coming months.

"At the end of the day, I know who I work for," he said. "I never forget who signs my paycheck."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster heads into election year with high ratings 01/02/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 12:28pm]
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