ST. PETERSBURG — The predominantly African-American neighborhoods south of Central Avenue saw the lowest voter turnouts in the primary election. Winning over voters — and persuading them to go to the polls — could help provide a victory to Mayor Bill Foster or challenger Rick Kriseman in the Nov. 5 election.
"This is one of the first times where a strong African-American block would decide the election," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, a Kriseman supporter.
After former deputy mayor and police Chief Goliath Davis announced last week that he will support Kriseman, the Tampa Bay Times asked other leaders in the black community who they were supporting and why.
Some declined to talk. Others didn't return multiple calls, such as City Council member Wengay Newton; Watson Haynes, president of the Pinellas County Urban League; and Deveron Gibbons, a 2009 mayoral candidate.
"A number of people are hesitant to talk because they have some ties to city government," said Moses Green, associate pastor at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. "They fear the backlash."
Black voters are paying attention.
With Kriseman and Foster speaking in churches, one pastor said worshipers want to hear visions on affordable housing, education and jobs.
"We'd like to see policies that go along with our value systems," said Elder Martin Rainey, outreach minister for Faith Memorial Missionary Baptist Church and a former educator.
Here is what other black leaders said:
The Rev. Manuel Sykes
President of the St. Petersburg NAACP
The position prevents him from publicly supporting a candidate. But he said he is looking for a candidate who would not suppress votes and has a plan to boost economic development in poor neighborhoods.
"Who's going to do something to help support the African-American community?" Sykes said. "We've gotten palm trees, flowers and curbs. That's it."
Associate pastor at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church
"Bill Foster is one who talks one thing and does another. I like everything Rick Kriseman stands for. He is the opposite of the current mayor."
President of the African American Heritage Association
"Mayor Foster is the best man for the job. He is a man of character and integrity. He has shown he is more of a public servant than a politician. We need a person who puts the community ahead of their own ambitions."
Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter
"Bill Foster is genuine. He cares for the people. I think he has it already. People know the truth."
Pinellas County School Board member and former City Council member
"I'm not publicly endorsing either candidate. I have relationships with both of them and have served with both of them. I can work with either person. They both have good ideas to move the city forward."
Former head of the local NAACP chapter and former Kathleen Ford supporter
"Right now, I'm uncommitted. I'm looking for the most honest candidate. I'm looking for the one who has the most credibility and who will be the most transparent. Those are the standards I'm looking for."
President of the board of directors at Happy Workers Children Center and former Pinellas County Commission candidate
"I'm supporting Mayor Foster. When I look at the choices, I know Kriseman from the City Council and Florida House. What I'm looking for is someone who has a track record. At the end of the day, what has Kriseman done to make this city better? This isn't a popularity contest. There is not a perfect candidate. The mayor is the incumbent."
President of the Metropolitan Council of Negro Women
"I prefer to stay out of the political realm. I have too many varied interests around the city and county at this time to wade into this. I'm not interested or willing to publicly discuss candidates at this time."
The Rev. Louis Murphy
Pastor of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church
"I really don't want to comment on the mayor's race."
Lisa Wheeler Brown
CONA public safety chairwoman
"Rick Kriseman. He gets it. I've talked to him about community policing. It's very important to our community, and he's willing to bring it back. It's time for new leadership. He wants change. It's not about north or south, it's the entire community."
Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @markpuente on Twitter.