Saturday, January 20, 2018
Opinion

Romano: Listen up if you want to be mayor

Standing on the steps of City Hall, the candidate talked about vision.

This will likely be his buzz word. This is how he'll hope to connect with voters.

Rick Kriseman has a vision for St. Petersburg, and Mayor Bill Foster does not. Or at least that is how Kriseman's campaign will attempt to frame the upcoming election.

Is it true?

That's for you to decide.

Will it work?

That may just be up to voters south of Central Avenue to decide.

The issues, personalities and times have changed, but there has been one inescapable truth in St. Petersburg politics the past 20 years:

You can't be mayor without the support of the city's most integrated neighborhoods.

Kathleen Ford won much of the western part of the city, a good portion of the north and the major downtown precincts, and still lost to Foster by a good margin in 2009.

The story was similar in 2001. And 1997. And 1993. It was even partially true in 2005, but it didn't matter because Rick Baker swept every corner of the city.

"Midtown and Lakewood Estates is the path to victory,'' said State Rep. Darryl Rouson, a longtime St. Petersburg resident. "I don't think you can win without getting that vote.

"You need to pull a certain percentage in west St. Pete and north St. Pete, but a candidate is going to need that crossover appeal to close the deal.''

When Baker was elected mayor the first time in 2001, he trailed Ford in neighborhoods north of Central Avenue, yet he won by 13 points overall because he crushed Ford in the city's southern precincts.

And it wasn't simply getting a higher percentage of the black vote that delivered the election for David Fischer over Curt Curtsinger in 1993; it was getting voters in predominantly African-American precincts to turn out in high numbers.

Black voters make up less than one-quarter of the electorate, but their influence has been dramatic because they often vote in blocks. Winning by a few points in the Old Northeast or the west side of the city won't make up for a poor showing in the city's most integrated neighborhoods.

So what does all of that mean for 2013?

That this election might be closer than it appears.

Foster has a lot of advantages. He has name recognition. He has a record to run on. And he has enjoyed fairly high favorability ratings for quite some time.

However, his victory in some precincts in 2009 was seen by many as a wave of anti-Ford voters. And the recent closing of the Sweetbay grocery store in Midtown won't play well for him either.

It seems logical that Foster will again do well in his northeast base, and Kriseman has inroads on the west side of town, where he once held a City Council seat. That, presumably, leaves the most important part of the city up for grabs.

Granted, predicting a local election this far out can be fool's play. Ford, at one time, was leading Foster in the polls in '09. Fischer actually finished behind Bill Klein in a nonpartisan primary one month before the general election in 1997.

This election may yet have more candidates. It may have gaffes. It may have unforeseen complications or victories in the mayor's office.

But no matter what happens in the coming months, it's safe to say voters south of Central will be heard.

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