Rick Kriseman takes on Bill Foster for St. Petersburg mayor

A former City Council member challenges Bill Foster, citing a lack of leadership.
Rick Kriseman was on the St. Petersburg City Council for six years.
Rick Kriseman was on the St. Petersburg City Council for six years.

ST. PETERSBURG — After teetering on the idea since 2009, Rick Kriseman will challenge Mayor Bill Foster in this year's election.

The former City Council member and state representative plans to formally announce his candidacy today at City Hall.

He cited what he called Foster's lack of leadership as a reason for entering the contest, pointing to issues like the stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays over a new stadium, the plan to replace the Pier and not trimming enough from the city's budget.

"The position of mayor is where I can make an impact on the community and residents," said Kriseman, a Democrat who served with Foster on the eight-member council from 2000 to 2005. "There hasn't been any real vision."

Foster could not be reached for comment after Kriseman's announcement Sunday afternoon.

Foster and Kriseman, 50, have differing views on the stalemate with the Rays, who no longer want to play at Tropicana Field but have a user agreement to play there until 2027.

Kriseman said he supports the proposal by council member Charlie Gerdes to let the Rays examine stadium sites in Hillsborough County as long as the team pays a fee. The idea died Thursday during a City Council meeting.

Foster, citing the user agreement, will not let the team look outside mid Pinellas County. Taxpayers suffer, Kriseman said, the longer Foster hides behind the agreement.

"It's time we start acting like adults and have mature conversations with the Rays," Kriseman said. "We can't keep just putting our head in the sand."

Kriseman is no stranger to City Hall. He was appointed to the City Council in 2000 to fill a vacancy and won elections in 2001 and 2003.

He resigned the council seat in November 2006 to run for the Florida House, where he was elected in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

When Kriseman announced he wouldn't seek re-election to the House in April 2012, speculation ensued that he did so to run for mayor. He cited fatigue with a brand of politics in the Legislature that left him feeling powerless.

Still, an incumbent mayor hasn't lost the nonpartisan election since St. Petersburg switched to a strong mayor form of government. But it's a short history, with David Fischer in 1997 and Rick Baker in 2005.

Foster also faces perennial candidate Paul Congemi in the August primary.

In December, a Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay telephone survey found that many voters like the way Foster has guided the city since taking office in 2010.

About 41 percent of residents rated Foster's job performance good or excellent. An additional 38 percent ranked his work as average. By comparison, only a total of 13 percent rated him as not so good or poor.

Even with strong ratings, Foster, a Republican, has repeatedly said he would campaign like an underdog.

Kriseman isn't worried. With the primary more than six months away, Kriseman said he has time to knock on doors and greet voters throughout the city, adding: "I plan to be out there to move this city forward."

Kriseman also disagrees with the way Foster has handled the plan to demolish the Pier and replace it with the structure known as the Lens.

A former City Council member and five other residents sued to force the city to hold a referendum to amend its charter to save the 40-year-old Pier.

Foster told the opposition group he supported the referendum and blamed the council for not allowing it on a ballot.

"The mayor has sent out mixed messages," Kriseman said. "I'm going to respect the will of the people or the court."

Married with two children, Kriseman describes himself as moderate who is socially liberal. He was born in Detroit and raised in St. Petersburg. He is married to Kerry Kriseman, a St. Petersburg native who worked for the Times Publishing Co. for nine years before retiring to stay at home with their children.

Kriseman earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida in 1984 and a law degree from Stetson University in Gulfport in 1987. Before opening his own law practice in 1993 in St. Petersburg, Kriseman worked for several firms. He now practices with Lucas, Green & Magazine.

This isn't the first time Kriseman flirted with the city's top elected job.

In early 2009, he approached Steve Schale, then President-elect Barack Obama's state director in Florida, for guidance. Schale and Kriseman had been friends. He also discussed the mayoral campaign with Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.

Rumors have swirled in the past few months that Welch and Kriseman were waiting for each other to make a decision about this year's race.

On Friday, Welch, Pinellas County's most prominent Democrat, applied to be the executive director at the Juvenile Welfare Board, essentially taking himself out of mayoral contention.

That was not the deciding factor, said Kriseman, who lives in the Lake Pasadena neighborhood on the city's west side.

He sounded confident in his chance to unseat Foster.

"I'm real excited at the opportunity to serve this community," he said. "I'm going to be mayor in 2014."

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.