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Midtown residents still undecided in St. Petersburg mayor's race

ST. PETERSBURG — Campaign signs for Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman ring the parking lot at Midtown's Lakeview Market on 22nd Avenue S.

Thirty feet away, Kenneth Kirksey Sr. sits with his pals to talk about issues impacting the African-American community. He's heard the campaign rhetoric. He's watched the debates.

But the disabled veteran remains undecided, and he isn't alone.

A recent poll shows that 23 percent of black voters — a constituency considered crucial to winning the mayor's race — are undecided.

"I want the next mayor to come over here and see what the black community is going through," said Kirksey, 51. "Nobody has done that."

A random sampling of black residents gave Foster and Kriseman mixed reviews Wednesday, even after both men have spent weeks touting themselves in churches and flooding streets with supporters in an effort to sway black voters.

Many said they're tired of hearing about building a new $50 million pier as potholes go unfilled and streets often don't get swept in Midtown. Another long simmering issue often mentioned was the February closure of the Sweetbay Supermarket in Tangerine Plaza even though city and business leaders recently announced Walmart would replace it by year's end.

Foster has been criticized for not doing more to prevent the store's closing, but he contends it was a corporate decision that affected 33 stores, not just one.

What most concerns resident Felicia Hurst is a paycheck.

The unemployed printing worker is tired of hearing promises to revitalize Midtown, which includes some of the city's poorest neighborhoods south of Central Avenue.

When Hurst, 54, enters the voting booth Tuesday, she will pick the man who will best lure employers to the area. But neither candidate has impressed her so far, she said.

"We can't find jobs," Hurst said, pointing to eight men in a parking lot on 16th Street S. "Nobody has said anything that will help Midtown."

Partisan politics also is at play in the officially nonpartisan race.

Outside political committees, along with state Republican and Democratic parties, are spending thousands of dollars on attack ads. Foster is a Republican; Kriseman is a Democrat.

The ads have labeled Foster, 50, as an incumbent who hasn't moved the city forward, while Kriseman, 51, is portrayed as an ineffective lawmaker who didn't do much in his six years in the Florida House and won't do much for St. Petersburg.

Derrick Thomas, 41, owner of Against the Grain Barber Shop on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, said Foster and Kriseman should focus on policies and programs that residents need instead of attacking each other.

"I'm hearing so much negativity, I don't know who to believe," Thomas said. "I wish the people could just take over and get things done. I'm really just fed up with politicians."

Shirley Blake feels the same way.

On a bench in front of the Enoch Davis Center, the 58-year-old said she doesn't know which candidate she'll support on Tuesday.

"People are looking for better," she said. "I'm going to pick the one who will help the people the most."

Two hairstylists are divided over the contest.

"Foster turned around the city," said Trina Washington, 41, who plans to vote Tuesday. "We're not ready for a change right now."

But Tera Knight, 47, owner of A Cut Above Hair Salon on 16th Street S, already voted by absentee ballot. The closure of Sweetbay pushed her to vote for Kriseman.

"When we lost it, that was big for our community," said Knight, who blames Foster for not doing enough. "I was torn about giving him a second chance."

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.

Midtown residents still undecided in St. Petersburg mayor's race 10/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 11:31pm]
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