ST. PETERSBURG — Former City Council member Bill Foster attempted to portray opponent Kathleen Ford as intolerant of his Christian conservative beliefs during a heated mayoral forum Wednesday.
"Every time she mentions science, science and science, it's like my belief in the Bible somehow makes me unable to address science and technology," Foster, 46, said at the Suncoast Tiger Bay event. "The fact that I believe in the Bible, I just can't believe it is now being seen as a character flaw."
As a candidate, Foster has been dogged by questions over his assertions that the world was literally created in six days and that dinosaurs roamed the Earth alongside humans despite a large body of scientific evidence that suggests otherwise. His letter to the Pinellas County School Board last year that linked Charles Darwin to Adolf Hitler also has haunted his campaign.
His response? Shift the heat to Ford, whom he claims mocked his faith by passing out toy dinosaurs at a candidate forum Monday.
"I have a sense of humor," Ford, 52, said when asked about her motives.
However, Ford, also a former council member, has repeatedly questioned Foster's ability to collaborate with science leaders and expand St. Petersburg's science industries because of his beliefs. Ford, who said she respects all faiths, said Foster's beliefs are fair game because of the letter he sent the school board.
Foster disagreed. "Call it a sense of humor. I call it an insult," he said.
Other event highlights
New baseball stadium not a given: The candidates, both lawyers, said residents will get to vote on a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium if it involves public funds. Ford said the city can't afford a new stadium, especially since debt is still owed on Tropicana Field. "For far too long cities have been subsidizing for-profit companies," she said. Foster said he would be open to discussions with the Rays: "I will meet with any major business, economic driver in the city."
Money talks: Both vowed to be tough fiscal stewards, but sparred on budget issues. Ford said she will dip into the city's reserves, eliminate excessive managerial positions and create a more transparent budget process. Foster said the city needs to budget for wants, not needs. Ford's plan to raid the reserves would put the city at risk if a major storm hit, he said.
A vote for change: "We just can't do things the same old same old way. We have too much to gain by changing," Ford said. "And that's what this is all about. Change." Foster said the city's problems are not as severe as Ford suggests, but that his policy vision does call for tweaks. "The sky is not falling, but we recognize that not everything is perfect," he said.
Hitting where it hurts: Ford's supporters paint her as the most substantial candidate. Foster attacked that image in the forum. "She has still yet to offer any real solutions," he said. During her years on the council, Ford, "was nowhere to be found and played no role in the process of problem solving," he added. Ford said she has a history of working with others to find solutions.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or [email protected]