Monday, January 22, 2018
Politics

Adam C. Smith: Kriseman needs a detailed vision to sell

Clearly St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has a serious deficit in personal appeal.

That more than 7 in 10 voters in our new poll think St. Petersburg is headed in the right direction and Mayor Foster is still in a dead heat for re-election is an extraordinary statement about Foster's weak image and how little credit voters give him for positive trends in the city.

Over the next six weeks, however, voters will have to ask themselves: What evidence do they have that challenger Rick Kriseman will do a better job?

So far Kriseman hasn't provided any.

He promises to bring decisive leadership to City Hall but has said little about what he would actually do as mayor. Unlike Foster four years ago or Rick Baker before him, the former legislator and council member has offered voters no multi-point agenda.

Kriseman wants to beef up neighborhood programs, but doesn't say where the money would come from other than more aggressive grant hunting. He wants more service-learning in schools. He would change the way cops are assigned. He says he would negotiate with the Rays more effectively.

Mostly, though, what we know about Kriseman eight months after he announced his candidacy is that he's not Bill Foster.

That may prove to be enough to elect Kriseman, but our poll suggests Kriseman looks nowhere near strong enough to run a hyper-cautious campaign. Voters invariably want to vote for someone and not just against someone.

"He's going to 'listen and learn and lead.' That's about all I know he's said," former City Council member Bea Griswold said of Kriseman. She supports Foster.

Foster has not offered much detail for his second term plans either, but at least he has a tangible record for voters to judge.

Kriseman supporters like to note that most of the current council members are supporting Kriseman over the incumbent mayor.

But it's also worth noting that among the council members like Griswold who served alongside both Kriseman and Foster, most are backing Foster or remaining officially neutral (while sounding more enthusiastic about Foster).

"Rick's a nice guy, and I don't think he'd do any harm as mayor, but he's never shown any leadership,'' said former council member Earnest Williams.

Frank Peterman served with Kriseman on the council and as a fellow Democrat in the Florida House. He likes Kriseman and calls him smart and politically savvy. He's voting for Foster.

"You've got to set before the people a vision, either large or small," Peterman said of Kriseman's vague platform, expressing bafflement that Kriseman waited so long to court African-American voters.

"To wait until the 11th hour to come and engage with the African-American community to me is a little politically presumptuous,'' Peterman said.

The Florida Democratic Party is helping fund Kriseman's campaign in the officially nonpartisan race, but former council member Jay Lasita, like Griswold and Peterman, is a loyal Democrat voting for Foster, a Republican.

"Kriseman could be a good mayor — I'm not saying he's a lost cause — but on balance Bill Foster has been a good mayor and could possibly yet be a great mayor in his second term," Lasita said.

Council members who at least briefly served with Kriseman and are backing his campaign include Leslie Curran, Jeff Danner and Jamie Bennett.

"I just think he would be the breath of fresh air the city needs," Bennett said.

Kriseman clearly views the race as little more than a referendum on Bill Foster's leadership.

Unless he starts adding some meat on the bone, though, the challenger may find that voters play it safe and vote for the devil they know rather than the one they don't.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]

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