Sunday, February 25, 2018
Politics

St. Petersburg mayor's race proving to be costly, one week remains

ST. PETERSBURG — One thing is certain no matter who wins St. Petersburg's mayoral election on Tuesday: It will be the costliest per-vote tally in city history.

So far, Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman have spent a combined $424,382 in the race to lead city for the next four years. The spending easily surpasses the $346,163 that Foster and Kathleen Ford doled out in 2009 when Foster paid about $10 for every vote on Election Day.

Foster and Kriseman have collected a combined $500,560 in donations through Oct. 11. Both men can accept money through Thursday. The key to victory could come down to who does a better job targeting undecided and absentee voters in the final days.

With outside groups and the Republican and Democratic parties bombarding residents with negative ads, voters could see a shift before Tuesday.

"Conventional wisdom says they have to turn the corner and bring it back positive," said Greg Wilson, of the political consulting firm Parsons-Wilson, which has an office in Tampa.

He added: "If anyone would have found a silver bullet, they would have used it by now."

A Tampa Bay Times analysis of campaign contributions found that both candidates continue to tap political heavyweights, business leaders, lawyers and consultants.

Foster's relationships with the political and business leaders, who overwhelmingly supported him in 2009, are paying off. The real estate and insurance industries and police unions are his biggest donors.

Similarly, Kriseman's biggest donations have come from lawyers and consultants across the state. The smallest donations come from within the city.

Through Oct. 11, Kriseman collected $263,443 versus Foster's $237,116. In the period from Sept. 28 to Oct. 11, Foster collected $28,875 compared to Kriseman's $22,690.

Foster has the advantage heading into the final week, with about $52,000 on hand versus Kriseman's $24,000.

A look at donations shows:

• Foster, 50, collected 55 of his 72 individual donations from inside St. Petersburg. Only two came from outside Pinellas County.

Prominent donors included Echelon Real Estate Services, headed by Darryl LeClair; Richard Gonzmart, president of the Tampa-based Columbia Restaurant Group; Maher Chevrolet; and Wright National Flood Insurance Co.

The Florida GOP donated $13,850, which carried Foster over the top in the period. Although he has criticized Kriseman for taking cash from the Democratic Party, Foster now says he needs the GOP money to counter attacks.

• Only 35 of Kriseman's 100 individual donations came from inside the city; 45 came from outside Pinellas County. Lawyers and consultants in South Florida and Tallahassee made 13 donations, totalling $5,900.

Prominent donors include Julie Rochman, president of Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety in Tampa; Lisa Blair, CEO of Meridian Community Services Group; and Crystal Connor, president of The Connor Group Miami.

The state Democratic Party also donated $2,000 to pay the salary of Kriseman's campaign manager, Cesar Fernandez.

Still, raising the most money doesn't always guarantee bigger victories. While Foster raised three times more than Ford in 2009, he won by only 2,350 votes, or 6 percent.

A recent Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9, WUSF Public Media poll shows the race is tight. Forty percent of voters supported Kriseman, 34 percent supported Foster and 19 percent remained undecided. The poll's margin of error was 3.4 percentage points.

Foster did not return a call for comment for this story.

Kriseman said his team plans to knock on doors and call voters this week, saying: "We have to make sure people get out to vote."

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.

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