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Know your candidates | The St. Petersburg mayor's race | Election Day is Nov. 3

Kathleen Ford, Bill Foster are candidates of contrasts for St. Petersburg mayor

Bill Foster has a reputation for being folksy; Kathleen Ford for being plainspoken. Both have experience in city government, but contrasting views of how to tackle St. Petersburg’s issues.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Bill Foster has a reputation for being folksy; Kathleen Ford for being plainspoken. Both have experience in city government, but contrasting views of how to tackle St. Petersburg’s issues.

ST. PETERSBURG — Former City Council members Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster always stood out among the grab bag of contrasting personalities that occupied City Hall during their respective stints.

They dominated policy debates and stood firm when others disagreed. Neither shied away from controversy. Both seemed eager to be in charge.

For one, that ambition soon will be realized.

Ford, 52, a passionate orator with little patience for conventional politics, is the wonkish reformer who has backed up her criticisms of St. Petersburg's status quo government with graphs and statistics.

She has questioned the validity of the city's crime rate, made no promises to sweet-talk the Tampa Bay Rays into honoring their contract to play at Tropicana Field and vowed to lower taxes by raiding the city's healthy reserves.

Foster, 46, a more folksy, outgoing speaker, is running as the everyman politician, one minute offering the city's ranking elite soothing promises to build on their successes, and the next extending vague peace offerings to political outsiders.

His wide-sweeping platform calls for intensive police enforcement, such as monitoring hot spots with cameras and cracking down on broken windows and other code violations, and persuading the Rays to stay put. As a council member, he helped build up the city's savings and refuses to use that money for recurring expenses.

Ford's blunt-talk and fiery calls for change have earned her both praise and criticism.

The Rev. Louis Murphy said he isn't excited about either candidate, but Ford's sincerity won him over.

"She just seemed to be more open and honest," said Murphy, of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, after meeting with both candidates. "She said what she really felt."

But Ford's brashness also has alienated potential allies.

Ford was the establishment candidate supported by former council members and prominent professionals when she ran for the City Council in 1997. Her attention to detail and uncompromising stances vexed fellow council members.

State Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, served as a council member with Ford and Foster.

Ford's abrasive personality made it difficult for her to successfully legislate, he said. For example, Ford voted against the city's budget every year that she was on the council after her suggestions to lower taxes or contribute more toward public safety were ignored.

"It doesn't matter if your idea is good," Kriseman said. "If you rub people wrong, they are just not going to work with you."

Some say they support Foster because they dislike Ford.

"I try to look at candidates that will move the city forward," said Earnest Williams, a former council member and Foster supporter. "Temperament is very important."

As City Council chairman, Foster was playfully dubbed "Bill Posture" by some of his colleagues for his occasional tendency to legislate according to the prevailing political mood of the day. He supported budget cuts and then lamented over the city's declining quality of life.

On the campaign trail, Foster has been unpredictable. After saying that as mayor he wouldn't sign the city's annual proclamation honoring gay pride month, he later promised some gay advocates he would reconsider.

"He is saying the right things," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. "Whether he means it remains to be seen."

Foster's courting of the city's diverse factions also has caused some friction. His vow to become the city's first black mayor by addressing the needs of black neighborhoods elicited eye rolls from some of the city's prominent black residents. And he irked a group of influential black citizens recently when he refused to pose for a group picture that included city employees like Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis and Assistant Police Chief Luke Williams, who are black.

Still, Foster has a large core of establishment support.

Foster has been endorsed by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Rick Baker and more than a dozen other former or current elected city leaders.

He has raised more money than Ford by more than a 2-1 ratio. Much has come from police unions, which are supporting him. To date, Ford's campaign chest has seen $59,148.76. Foster's collected $152,187.

But trumping Ford's grass roots campaign could be a challenge. He beat her by 491 votes in the primary.

Their bases in the northeast and west enclaves of the city overlap, placing importance on outreach efforts in Midtown and downtown.

With a series of candidate forums scheduled in the weeks leading to the Nov. 3 general election, all providing ample opportunity to stand out or trip up, it's still anyone's race.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

THE CANDIDATES

Kathleen Ford, 52, is a lawyer. A former North Shore Neighborhood Association president, she was elected to the City Council in 1997. She left the council to run for mayor in 2001, but she finished second behind Mayor Rick Baker. She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing in 1979 from the University of Virginia. After working in pediatric intensive care units in Houston, she went to South Texas College of Law and earned a law degree in 1985.

Ford has a net worth of $1.4 million, with the bulk of that tied to her $1.1 million home on 18th Street NE, according to state financial disclosure forms. Ford's other noteworthy asset is a collection of stocks worth $421,716. She owes $775,566 in credit, home equity and a mortgage. Her $35,634.68 annual income is from her family law firm, Ford & Ford. Visit www.kathleenford.com to learn more.

Bill Foster, 46, a lawyer, was born and raised in St. Petersburg. He graduated from Northeast High School, Samford University and the Cumberland School of Law at Samford. Foster was appointed to the City Council in 1998 and elected in 1999. He is a member of Starkey Road Baptist Church. Foster listed a net worth of $450,000, according to state financial disclosure forms. His biggest asset is his $550,000 home on Dover Street, which is mortgaged for $194,000. He also owes $11,000 on a car loan. He earned $180,240 from his family law firm, Foster & Foster Attorney. Learn more at www.billfosterformayor.com.

On the Web

Read more about the St. Petersburg mayoral candidates at elections.tampabay.com.

FAST FACTS

The job

St. Petersburg's mayor is elected to a four-year term and is paid $158,355 a year. As the city's chief executive, the mayor oversees a roughly $217 million operating budget and 2,800 municipal employees.





Kathleen Ford, Bill Foster are candidates of contrasts for St. Petersburg mayor 10/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 5:31am]

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