ST. PETERSBURG — With more than 15 mayoral forums behind them, fatigue might be overtaking Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman.
Neither man tossed a political jab or discussed any big issues facing the city during a Friday morning "mayoral conversation" sponsored by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
Moderator and chamber CEO Chris Steinocher said he wasn't interested in hearing how Foster and Kriseman would build a new Pier or handle the stadium stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays. Business leaders have heard those answers.
Instead, Steinocher asked the candidates whether they thought the mayors of their high school years had vision. Both Foster and Kriseman were in high school in the 1980s.
"There was nothing in high school that was communicated," Kriseman said about growing up on the city's west side. "Rick Baker really changed that. We felt neglected."
Foster, who grew up in Shore Acres, praised former Mayors Bob Ulrich and Randy Wedding. "They did have a vision," he said. "They knew we were a major-league city. Every successful mayor builds upon the foundation of someone else."
Kriseman, 51, and Foster, 50, were asked to explain their vision.
Downtown growth needs to spread away from the core, Kriseman said, adding he would work to make Midtown, the Gandy Boulevard area and the west side of the city as vibrant as downtown.
"We need to have things throughout the city that we have in certain areas," he said. "We don't do a very good job of talking, like other communities do, about various areas within their city and what they have to offer."
Foster discussed the marine science industry and the health care corridor near Bayfront Medical Center and how they create high-paying jobs and lure new residents to the city.
"My vision is to coordinate and bring all of that together and to make sure it all explodes," Foster said. "My vision is to make St. Petersburg cool."
Steinocher asked what role a mayor should play in economic development.
"The mayor really has to be the head cheerleader," Kriseman said. "The mayor's the face of the community. It includes going outside the boundaries."
Foster stressed how he guided the city through the Great Recession.
"What's great is I've been in the seat for three years and some change," Foster said. "It's my job to be a steward of your tax dollars."
Closing the event, which drew about 40 people to Franklin Templeton Investments, Steinocher said: "No matter who wins, we're in great hands."
Said Foster: "It does matter who wins."
Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.