Thursday, May 24, 2018
Opinion

John Romano: Foster, Welch and Kriseman likely to run for mayor of St. Petersburg in 2013

We have issues. We have controversies. We have a backstory.

Give us a few more weeks and the 2013 St. Petersburg mayoral election will even have some honest-to-goodness candidates.

If you haven't been paying attention, the drama has been growing in recent weeks. Not that there have been any announcements from the steps of City Hall, but playing connect-the-dots has never been more enjoyable.

Rick Baker? He's got a new job, and so he's out. Now, there is no hard evidence the former mayor was actually plotting a return, but just the possibility of a Baker comeback was enough to have a chilling effect on everyone else.

Kathleen Ford? She's suddenly back in the picture. The former City Council member has re-emerged in the fight over the Pier, and there is a growing presumption that she is readying herself for a third stab at the mayor's office.

Ken Welch? He's somewhere between here and there. Welch won re-election to the Pinellas County Commission last month, but a court battle over term limits could cost him his seat in early 2013. If so, expect to see his name on the mayoral ballot.

Rick Kriseman? He's been quiet. Very quiet. The kind of quiet that usually precipitates a major announcement.

Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner? Both are facing term limits on the City Council, but neither has officially committed to run for mayor. They might be waiting to see what the rest of the field will look like before committing.

That leaves … Mayor Bill Foster.

In the last mayoral election, a half-dozen candidates had already committed to run at this point. But that was back when Baker was being forced out by term limits. This time, the mayor's office is occupied and that makes a huge difference.

A survey done by StPetePolls.org last month indicated Foster had a favorability rating above 55 percent, and it was pretty consistent across various demographics.

"I'm going to run on my record. That's one of the advantages of being an incumbent,'' Foster said. "If I've made mistakes, I'll gladly admit them and say, 'I don't know what I was thinking.' But I've also got a long list of accomplishments where this city has made advancements and shined during the worst economy since the Great Depression.

"There are a lot of people to thank for that, but it's happened on my watch, so I'll own it. I'll own every bit of it.''

Can Foster be beaten?

Yes, but it won't be easy.

The current City Council is not as popular as the mayor, so it's hard to imagine Curran or Danner generating enough support. Ford could parlay the anger over the Pier into an effective campaign, but a six-point loss to Foster in 2009 makes her an underdog. Others could jump in the field, but it's doubtful they could challenge Foster's name recognition.

That leaves Welch and Kriseman.

Kriseman is a former council member and state legislator with a strong reputation. Welch is wildly popular in his county district, which nicely mirrors St. Pete's boundaries.

If Kriseman decides to run, you can probably expect an announcement after the holidays. We won't know if Welch is in the picture until the county's term limits case is decided, which could be as late as April or May.

Either way, the intrigue is just starting.

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