Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

St. Petersburg mayoral candidates on last push for votes

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster strode into the SPIFFS International Folk Fair at Vinoy Park under drizzly skies Saturday, dodging fresh puddles in his dress shoes. "They're tearing up my park," he joked.

He watched the ethnic festival's parade of nations, clapping in time to the sounds of bagpipes and accordions. And when he was mistakenly introduced from the main stage as "Rick Foster," the mayor cracked a wide smile. It's been a long, long campaign.

Across downtown, his rival was pressing the flesh and chatting up voters at the Saturday Morning Market. Eventually, Rick Kriseman took a break to buy a pulled pork sandwich from a food truck.

"I've lost 20 pounds. All my pants are loose," said Kriseman, who's been campaigning nonstop for nine months. "I should write a book called The Election Diet."

On a rainy Saturday, both candidates crisscrossed St. Petersburg, stopping by public events. Time is short. The stakes are high. The election is Tuesday, and everyone knows the race is tight.

Nearly 50,000 people are likely to vote in this election. Many will be swayed by TV ads and campaign mailers and candidate forums and media coverage.

All that's left now is to seek out undecided voters face-to-face. Foster and Kriseman, both veteran attorneys, are making their closing arguments.

On Saturday, Foster fired up canvassing volunteers at his law office, then attended a cousin's funeral in Clearwater and drove back in time for the fair at Vinoy Park. Then came a neighborhood picnic on the north side, a nonprofit group's banquet at the Manhattan Casino, an evening NAACP gala and finally a Rowdies soccer game.

"We feel confident," said Foster, 50. "A lot of people have been working hard."

As for Kriseman, who's 51, he started the morning knocking on people's doors in Midtown while it was raining sideways.

Later, he hit the Saturday Morning Market and the NAACP gala. At his campaign headquarters, he made rounds of phone calls to registered voters.

He also attended a "wag and greet" at the newly opened Southeastern Guide Dogs boutique and outreach center in downtown St. Petersburg.

Kriseman and his family train guide dogs. He showed up Saturday with a big, energetic retriever puppy named Petey that was straining at the leash. "He's a handful," the candidate said.

Kriseman, the Democratic challenger, took a lead with 40 percent of prospective voters in the most recent poll from the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and WUSF Public Media.

Foster, the Republican incumbent, had 34 percent. But a whopping 19 percent of voters were still undecided.

Monday will be a busy campaign day, but today will be quiet. It's a day of rest, and people don't appreciate politicians knocking on their doors on Sunday.

Both candidates will go to church, get down on their knees and pray.

"We never stop praying," Foster said, referring to his family and campaign team.

"We're doing everything we can to reach people," Kriseman said. "We've given our all every day. No regrets."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.

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