Sunday, June 17, 2018
Politics

Most of the St. Petersburg City Council prefers a new person in the mayor's chair

Harmony does not come easily or often to members of the St. Petersburg City Council. While others have lunch breaks, they have cease-fires.

Yet for all the bickering and bellyaching of the past year, a majority of council members have discovered common ground on one interesting issue:

They would rather have a new mayor.

That became official on Monday when chairman Karl Nurse endorsed mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman, meaning that five of the eight council members have publicly thrown their support behind someone other than Mayor Bill Foster.

For the record, Kriseman has picked up four endorsements, Kathleen Ford has one, and Foster has yet to have a current council member step forward on his behalf.

Fair to say, endorsements are not typically headline-grabbing news, nor should they be. But it is hard not to raise an eyebrow when an incumbent gets so roundly snubbed.

"It's pretty unusual,'' said Nurse. "Council members are typically pretty reluctant to endorse anyone in a mayor's race, particularly a challenger. Mostly it's because you have to continue working with that person, and if you're on the losing side, it's going to make for an awkward relationship.

"I think Bill is a decent, honorable and hardworking guy, but he's either uncomfortable or he doesn't appreciate the value of his position the way (Rick) Baker did or (Tampa Mayor Bob) Buckhorn does. I don't want to speak for anyone else. I just think there is a need for stronger leadership in the mayor's office.''

Some of this was to be expected. Wengay Newton often plays the role of renegade on the council, and so his endorsement of Ford makes sense. Leslie Curran and Foster have had a chilly relationship for quite some time, so her support of Kriseman was not shocking.

The idea that Nurse, Charlie Gerdes and Steve Kornell were all willing to endorse a challenger is a little more intriguing. And it has to sting Foster a little bit to know that Bill Dudley and Jim Kennedy, who often side with the mayor on contentious issues, have essentially declined to embrace his first term as mayor.

Of course, Foster can frame it as a badge of honor. As in, he wasn't afraid to make enemies while standing up for the citizens of St. Pete. Considering that his favorability ratings have typically been higher than council members', it's not a bad way to go.

The flaw in that argument is that the mayor is supposed to rise above petty squabbles. He, more than anyone else in the city, needs to build a consensus and a direction.

A mayor may not have the power of a CEO, but he or she should have enough of a voice to get others to fall in line.

"You used to hear that the council would rubber-stamp whatever Baker wanted when he was mayor,'' said Curran. "The difference is Baker could count to five. He would walk the halls and talk to people and make sure he had enough support for an idea. If he didn't have the votes, then he wasn't going to bring it up.''

Right now, there's at least one idea that five council members do seem to agree on.

 
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