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St. Petersburg mayoral candidates in televised debate on Tuesday night

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman will battle before a television audience for the last time Tuesday.

With many residents still undecided on who should lead City Hall, both men hope to sway voters before the Nov. 5 election.

The Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 are presenting the debate, "A Conversation with the Candidates," from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College. The event, sponsored by Freedom Health, will air live on Channel 9 on Bright House Networks.

Foster and Kriseman have sparred more than 20 times. Most residents know their answers to hot-button topics like the Pier, the controversial police pursuit policy and the stadium stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Both men say they plan to stick to their campaign message.

"I'm conveying some of our successes for the last four years," Foster said.

Kriseman added: "I'm just trying to communicate as clearly as I can."

Still, voters should watch for details, confidence and the Rick Baker factor.

Details: Kriseman, 51, recently called a news conference to unveil a "major policy speech." But his plan lacked specific examples of how he would move the city forward. He read from an eight-page statement and talked about ideas already discussed on the campaign trail. Will new details emerge?

Confidence: Foster, 50, has made no secret that he is uncomfortable talking about his accomplishments — until last week. During a forum hosted by the political club Suncoast Tiger Bay, he exuded the confidence of an incumbent racing toward the finish line, not a mayor fighting for his political life. Will it continue?

Baker factor: Rumors are swirling about whom the former mayor will endorse. He worked tirelessly to elect Foster in 2009, but the former two-term mayor has remained silent in this race. Foster and Kriseman have sought his support. At most forums, Kriseman, a former City Council member, frequently tells voters how well he worked with Baker. During the Suncoast Tiger Bay forum, Kriseman mentioned Baker six times.

A Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll taken last month shows Foster and Kriseman are locked in a tight race. Kriseman was ahead by the slimmest of margins, with 40 percent to Foster's 39, well within the poll's margin of error of 4.8 percentage points.

As of Monday, 15,670 voters had returned absentee ballots to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections.

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

St. Petersburg mayoral candidates in televised debate on Tuesday night 10/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, October 14, 2013 11:09pm]
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