During Wednesday night's debate at the Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, the mayoral candidates were asked what they have done to help Midtown. Fair enough — until Kathleen Ford started channeling her inner 1970s Julia Child whipping up fondue.
Mayor Bill Foster cited new businesses created in the impoverished area south of downtown and the effort to create a Community Redevelopment Area. Rick Kriseman mentioned his efforts as a state legislator to expand voting rights. And then there was Ford, who cited her commitment to better neighborhoods and her recent appointment to a literacy program by the Friends of the James Weldon Johnson Library. Very nice. But then she started to crow about those halcyon days in the 1990s when she worked tirelessly whipping up potato salad at Campbell Park. Crowd guffaws ensued. Not a good sign.
Think of this as Ford's epic "I have a side dish!" speech.
Ford's attempt at culinary statecraft set Foster and Kriseman back on their heels. Clearly, the candidate was endeavoring to open up a casserole gap in the rough and tumble of the campaign.
And so the next time they are asked what they intend to do to help the city's black community, instead of jabbering on about esoteric nonsense like jobs, or public safety or voting rights, or education, Foster may wax poetic over his macaroni and cheese recipe from college while Kriseman extols his way around his wonderful avocado dip of the 1980s.
You know a campaign has entered its silly phase when in the pandering for votes, you have to start worrying about the candidates showing up for events with recipes from another century.
Ford has developed a preoccupation for food and ancient history in her third campaign for mayor. In the Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 debate, when the candidates were invited to ask questions of one another, Ford wasn't interested in pinning down her opponents on arcane stuff like crime, or the controversial Lens project, or mass transit, or potholes. She took Kriseman to task for a politically incorrect Krispy Kreme doughnut calendar he passed on to Foster when they were on the City Council together years ago.
Asked during a meeting with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board about her thought process in raising an obscure, dated topic, Ford said the issue went to the character of her opponents, and she mentioned the San Diego mayor and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Asked if she was comparing her opponents to those men embroiled in high-profile scandals, she smiled and mentioned character again. Asked if she knew of any harassment accusations against her opponents, she said no.
This sort of gamesmanship is fairly typical of Ford. She raises a potentially explosive issue with precious little to back it up, then lets the salacious implications hang in the air.
During a discussion about crime and security in Midtown at the same editorial board meeting, Ford mentioned the fence erected around a Walgreens drugstore — an event that took place in 1997. That was more than two failed Ford mayoral campaigns ago.
Now there is Ford and her "We shall overcome — indigestion!"
In her previous campaigns, Ford has not won wide support in Midtown. In her third bid for mayor, she has enjoyed a kinda/sorta/maybe nod from Goliath Davis, former police chief and deputy mayor, who once said something nice about her. But the flickering, emberlike endorsement that isn't came about only because Foster fired Davis. Still, a candidate has to take a pat on the back even if it's served up like a bowl of cold, withered peas.
The residents of Midtown are no different from any other residents of St. Petersburg in caring about public safety, jobs, economic opportunity, home values, services, parks and everything else that goes into creating a livable city.
Yet when asked what she has done for Midtown, Ford could only point to her love of neighborhoods, her recent service on a literacy project and dredge up 15-year-old potato salad? Now there's "Profiles in Picnics" for you.
It could have been worse. At least Ford didn't claim that she could see Cuba from her back porch.