Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

Foster defends list of accomplishments in African-American community

ST. PETERSBURG — A list of accomplishments circulating in an email doesn't typically raise eyebrows on the campaign trail.

That is until the list mixes politics with the city's African-American community.

A list detailing Mayor Bill Foster's 25 accomplishments in the black community is being scrutinized by some of his biggest critics. It even provoked anger at last week's mayoral debate.

Some say Foster shouldn't tout projects where former Mayor Rick Baker and City Council members laid the groundwork years ago.

"He can't take credit for their beginning," said Goliath Davis, who headed economic development in Midtown until Foster fired him 2011. "The operative question is what initiative has he done citywide or in Midtown?"

Foster pointed to the list.

"These things don't get done without the mayor directing staff to support them," he said. "They took place on my watch. I stand behind every one of them."

The accomplishments include:

• Teaming with county officials to start a Community Redevelopment Area in the Midtown neighborhood and negotiating a lease with St. Petersburg College to build a 45,000 square-feet campus in Midtown.

• Budgeting $250,000 every year for youth employment.

• Finding a tenant for the historic Manhattan Casino.

• Working with activists to develop an ordinance so disadvantaged residents can be hired on public projects.

Foster acknowledged the team effort between staff and the council in approving the projects.

"I'm not saying I waved a magic wand and did all this by myself," he added.

Council member Wengay Newton said Foster should instead tell people how he expanded the Police Department's controversial pursuit policy and raised many fees since 2010.

As for money for youth jobs, Newton said, "I was fighting for that ever since I got on council. I've requested $1 million every year."

A restaurant is opening this year in the Manhattan Casino, but council member Leslie Curran notes she and Newton pushed years ago for a tenant.

"When you're mayor, you get to take credit for a lot of things," she said. "Much of these started before him."

Not so fast, Foster says.

The city solicited proposals from developers and signed a deal under his helm, Foster said, adding: "Without the proposal, you don't have anything."

The restaurant is expected to trigger more development in Midtown, a region with the some of the poorest residents in Pinellas County.

The Community Redevelopment Area under way is the first step in creating a tax increment financing district. That would allow the city to use area property tax for capital projects there.

Davis called that a "hoax because it could take at least 10 years before tax dollars flow back into the area. Foster agreed there could be a time lag. But he said he's working with county officials to secure state and federal grants that could push money into the area within a few years.

He offered advice to critics about how they interpret the list of accomplishments: "Don't read facts that aren't there."

The list provoked questions last week at a mayoral debate among Foster, Kathleen Ford and Rick Kriseman.

Davis, also a former police chief and an influential community leader, said he isn't a "one-man vendetta" against Foster. Davis praised Ford in May but he didn't call it an endorsement.

"I still hold that Kathleen Ford is a viable candidate," Davis said this week. "I will make my endorsement at the appropriate time."

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