Would Bill Foster rather play small-time poker than big-town mayor? Because he's starting to worry me.
With the real possibility we could lose our Tampa Bay Rays, St. Petersburg's mayor has stubbornly refused to consider letting the team explore stadium sites in Hillsborough County, an option that would at least keep them within driving distance of hometown baseball fans. The mayor decided to play all-out hardball, wedging us in a stalemate with the Rays and frustrating members of the City Council.
Then it got weird.
Pressed for information at a recent meeting, the mayor assured council members he really does have a detailed plan "to ensure the Rays are successful in St. Petersburg." In fact, he had already discussed details with council members one on one!
To which council members responded: Huh?
The majority of them said the mayor had shared no such super-secret Save-the-Rays plan with them at that point. The mayor later suggested maybe they didn't remember because they were caught up in the semantics of the word "plan." Well, not to give too much credit here, but I bet most council members understand that a "plan" means steps you will take toward something you want to accomplish.
It gets weirder. This week, locals gathered for breakfast with the mayor, a public-minded event held around the city to talk potholes and garbage pickup. But the mayor pointed to the presence of Times reporter Danny Valentine and said he would not speak candidly.
(Just for the record, reporters do not attend these things because they're such a rockin' good time. We go because we're supposed to tell you what happened.)
It wasn't just the Rays. As the reporter joined a conversation — with other participants not objecting to him being there — the mayor said, "I won't finish that sentence," and dropped the issue at hand. Later, the mayor told a breakfaster who brought up young "troublemakers" at Baywalk he would be "reserved" in his answer, but would come back to it when he didn't "have to worry about reading it in the newspaper."
"No secret deals," Foster said back during his campaign. Well, scratch that.
This week, Foster also said the Rays plan is not secret, "just not for public consumption." But it's a plan for your town, your Rays, maybe your money.
And does this mean the citizens of St. Petersburg get to know what's going on only if they can make it to breakfast? How about those who might want to know what the mayor had to say that day about, say, BayWalk?
And is all this sounding awfully petty to you, too?
It starts to make Foster's counterpart across the bay look like the savvy player at the table. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said he will not attempt to poach the team in these troubled times — but should the split occur, as a "regional leader" he would try to keep them here.
Foster's first term has not exactly been an easy ride, running some sleepy Southern city on a pretty waterfront. St. Petersburg is a real town with real issues and real problems. This year, his administration was rocked by the deaths of three police officers, something no mayor or city should face. He is looking at losing a Major League Baseball team.
Whether the Rays stay matters to people who live, work and pay taxes here. With big-city issues, we don't need a mayor acting small-town.