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Column | Sue Carlton

Kathleen Ford, an impression from the other side of Tampa Bay

I live, work and vote in Tampa (town motto: Tell Us A Politician Is In Trouble, We'll Name A Dozen Possible Candidates!) From this vantage point, you can look across the pond to St. Petersburg and think:

Seriously, you call that a nasty political campaign? You think that's a real nut job you've got running for office? You call that a scandal? A judge accused of bank fraud involving a house he bought with a stripper, a county commissioner whose defense in a sexual harassment case is essentially that he was merely pimping out his employee — now those are scandals.

But the race to replace that really tall guy as St. Petersburg mayor caught my eye. Because, if I understand this correctly, voters will choose between:

1. A lawyer and former City Council member of various accomplishments who, by the way, believes man and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time; and:

2. A lawyer and former City Council member of various accomplishments whose previous incarnation in office has been described by her critics with words like divisive, loose cannon and, oh, yeah, the B-word.

So naturally, I wanted to meet her for lunch.

My e-mail request to Kathleen Ford is answered: "Sure!" She is ash blond, stylish and no question intense behind her smile. We chat and order, and when I ask about the whole B-word thing, the issue that has her opponent Bill Foster talking of "temperament," she says pleasantly: "I'm for open, accessible, accountable and affordable government."

Okay. So is she saying her critics are wrong?

"I'm for open, accessible, accountable and affordable government," she tells me again, and I'm thinking this is going to be a very long lunch.

We talk about other things, BayWalk and community policing and acceptance of the gay community. She talks about the millage rate and whether St. Petersburg really needs a new baseball stadium.

Okay, but about that other thing, a sort of management style you could call scorched-earthy. Another former council member told the Times recently how during meeting breaks, Ford might call her colleagues "idiots" in the hallway if she disagreed with how they voted. Even with her obvious smarts and passion, even with a community's interests at heart, can someone govern effectively with a reputation for throwing pencils?

I know, I know. She's for open, accessible, affordable, blah blah blah.

Actually, this time she says she doesn't agree with the premise. "There are folks who are thirsting for forthright straight talk, which is what I bring," she says. Does that mean she's changed? She sidesteps neatly. "We're all evolving. I am evolving."

So I go with that. Would she be the same today as in her years on the City Council?

"I'd still be as tenacious about seeking the facts," she says. "I did the best job I could at the time and I think folks recognize that and appreciate it." I see the smile again, and the steel behind it.

I can report that when the waiter comes to inquire, she does not eviscerate him. In fact, she tells him the salmon is "delicious."

We shake hands, and I am heading back across the bridge thinking: I like her, but would I want to work with her?

St. Petersburg, looks like you have a race on your hands.

An interesting one at that.

Kathleen Ford, an impression from the other side of Tampa Bay 10/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 9, 2009 8:29am]

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