Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Politics

Has Foster done enough to show his vision to St. Petersburg's voters?

The local football team is losing, and its head coach is beginning to feel the heat.

Fair or unfair, he understands this.

It is the price you pay when you are the person with the fancy office. Your job status is forever tied to the performance and results of the organization you lead.

Win, and you get the credit. Lose, and you get the blame.

That's how the world operates, right?

Not so much when you're talking about the mayor's office in St. Petersburg.

Let me explain:

Recent polls tell us that folks are quite happy with the direction of their city. A Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll last month suggested that more than 70 percent of St. Pete residents approve of the way things are going. Another poll, commissioned by Saintpetersblog.com, suggests residents are overwhelmingly in favor of re-electing two incumbents to the City Council.

So a lot of people are content with their local representatives, and a bunch more are satisfied the city is moving forward.

And yet Mayor Bill Foster is not seeing the love.

Depending on the poll, he is either neck-and-neck with challenger Rick Kriseman or he is actually trailing by a handful of points.

The mayor has called some poll results disappointing and others unreliable. If you caught him in an unguarded moment, I'm betting he would describe them all as stunning.

It wasn't too long ago that Foster's approval ratings were strong, and his confidence high. He wasn't just optimistic about re-election, he seemed certain of it. So why does he now find himself clinging to a cliff just two weeks before the election?

What is the disconnect between voters who claim to be in a good mood and yet are considering the possibility of firing the mayor?

I don't think there is a smack-your-forehead answer. I think it is a combination of factors. There are the two high-profile issues — the Pier and the baseball stadium — that have gone unresolved, and there is the viability of Kriseman as a legitimate alternative.

And, based on conversations with people in and around city government, there is a persistent sense that Foster has not projected an image as a leader.

It is not that he was in favor of the Lens, it is that he did not sell the process well. And it is not that he has clashed with the Rays, it is that his explanations are too vague.

It is true that not every decision is going to be popular, or even correct, but voters at least need to know that a mayor has the conviction and vigor to get a job done.

This is where churlish spats with City Council members have hurt. He has to be above that. Whether it is through cooperation or intimidation, a mayor needs to look as if he is the one calling the shots.

The reality is the city has run rather smoothly during Foster's term. A budget crunch was negotiated, a homeless problem was mostly solved and the downtown continues to evolve. Folks are happy with today, and the polls have reflected that.

It is tomorrow they are unsure about. It is decisions yet to be made they are worried about. It is the future occupant of the mayor's office they are undecided about.

Bill Foster has had nearly four years to make his case.

With two weeks before the election, there are still people who are unconvinced.

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