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St. Petersburg's mayoral election: Insider versus critic, again

Election day in St. Petersburg, and anticipation grips the city! Excited throngs gather in the streets …

(Crickets chirping.)

Hmm. Okay. Excited throngs are not gathering in the streets. There are loyal sign wavers at some intersections, and a flurry of last-minute brochures in the mailbox.

But for an election to decide the Whole Danged Future of the City, the level of public interest is pretty low. They say that maybe one out of four voters will vote.

And yet it's an interesting race with a clear choice for mayor: Kathleen Ford, the City Hall critic who wants a different direction, and Bill Foster, who has ended up as the establishment candidate by default.

There is a certain irony to Foster as Mr. Insider.

He was once the City Council member most likely to challenge Mayor Rick Baker, and questioned whether the downtown was becoming a "wall of condominiums."

In 2003, Foster drew two opponents for his council re-election, a sign he was in the mayor's doghouse. The mayor's then-point man on the council, John Bryan, campaigned against Foster and accused him of being anti-progress.

Even in this current mayor's race, Foster did not start out as the voice of the status quo. His "Foster Formula" listed all the things he would change, and, implicitly, would do better than Baker. If you wanted total loyalty to City Hall in a candidate, there was Jamie Bennett; if you wanted a business guy, there was Scott Wagman; if you wanted a steady hand, Larry Williams; if you wanted somebody else, but still credibly in the hunt, Deveron Gibbons.

But the voters chose Ford and Foster as their final two — and as a result, Foster inevitably inherited the mantle of Anti-Ford. The current mayor, the business community, the stadium backers had nowhere else to turn. The question is whether they can drag him across the finish line.

If this feels familiar, it should. St. Petersburg is back to the insider-vs.-outsider dynamic that has typified mayoral elections for two decades.

But Ford in 2009 might be the strongest yet. She has the anti-City Hall vote. Democrats are actively pushing her in the officially nonpartisan race. As a former council member with an "NE" after her address, she is not that much of an outsider. She has parried the criticisms that she is too strident, too divisive, as the product of good ol' boys, if not sexism. Some of the more outlandish "Scary Spice" stuff has created a backlash in her favor.

It will be interesting to look for hints in the City Council races. The council's chairman, Jeff Danner, is being challenged by a relative long shot named Leonard Schmiege, who might most benefit from Democratic activism. Incumbent Jim Kennedy has the strongest overall challenger in Steve Corsetti; incumbent Leslie Curran is being challenged by Pamella Settlegoode; incumbent Karl Nurse by Vel Thompson — the stronger the "anti" vote, the more these challengers benefit. The last race is between Steve Kornell and Angela Rouson for a vacant seat. Of course, voters could re-elect the whole council and still choose Ford.

I suppose it is a cliche to say that a few votes could make the difference, but if you are on the fence about going, consider this mental image: Me in the voting booth, grinning and voting for you, which is what I'm gonna do if you don't go. Twice, if they let me.

St. Petersburg's mayoral election: Insider versus critic, again 11/02/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 7:23am]
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