Saturday, February 17, 2018
Politics

Attacks intensify in St. Petersburg's mayoral race

ST. PETERSBURG — When political candidates rise in the polls, it's common for them to become a target.

That doesn't seem to be the case in this mayor's race.

In the primary contest between Mayor Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman and Kathleen Ford, it is Ford who finds herself the target of two political groups even though a recent Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/WUSF Radio poll showed Ford trailing.

Foster was leading with 30 percent, followed by Ford with 20 and Kriseman with 17. The margin of error was 3.4 percentage points, and 28 percent of voters were undecided.

"What we need is a buffer from Kathleen Ford's bad ideas," reads one recent mailer from a group called Committee for Progressive Values, headed by GOP consultant Anthony Pedicini.

The mailer urges voters to find more information at stopkathleenford.com, which calls her "St. Petersburg's most dangerous candidate."

Ford, 56, said she isn't deterred.

The third-time mayoral candidate said she expected the attacks since early polls showed her ahead. Some people might be afraid of her holding the city's top job, Ford said.

"There's thousands and thousands of people involved and millions and millions of dollars," Ford said about the budget managed by the mayor. "Whoever wins this will have some influence over tax dollars."

Also working to defeat Ford is local blogger and political consultant Peter Schorsch.

He created the anti-Ford website and formed the Committee to Stop Kathleen Ford to raise money for more ads. He declined to name the donors.

"There's a connected group of individuals who want to make sure Kathleen Ford never becomes mayor," said Schorsch, noting that no other candidate is paying for his website or his daily blog posts on Ford.

On the flip side, a statewide group is spending money to help Kriseman.

Jacksonville-based Fact Check Florida, a newly formed electioneering communications organization, recently sent thousands of glossy mailers to city households touting Kriseman as the better candidate.

Those groups can buy ads and directly spend money on campaigns but cannot expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate.

Residents won't learn how much outside groups have spent on this race until finance reports are filed with the city clerk. The next deadline is Aug. 9.

Kriseman, 50, also has received about $30,000 from the state Democratic Party.

Foster, 50, took aim at that spending, saying the party is "basically running the campaign" in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race. He expects attacks in the coming weeks from other candidates or outside groups.

"It happens every election," he said. "Nothing surprises me."

Kriseman scoffed at the notion the party is propping him up.

"I welcome any group who shares my vision for St. Petersburg to make its voice heard in this election," Kriseman said. "As a result, I'm the only candidate for mayor publicly endorsed by both Democratic and Republican elected officials."

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