St. Petersburg mayoral candidates Bill Foster, Kathleen Ford show clumsiness on race issues

It's less than two weeks before St. Petersburg elects a new mayor, and a recent misstep by one candidate has supporters of both candidates talking about perceived flaws in their rivals.

Months ago, Bill Foster said he wants to be the "first black mayor." More recently, Kathleen Ford made a remark on a local radio show suggesting that Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis is the HNIC for the African-American community.

Problem is, both statements offend some residents — black and white.

And with a recent St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll showing Ford narrowly leading Foster with 39 percent of the vote to his 34 percent, the undecided voters could prove crucial in determining the next mayor.

The poll also revealed that most of the undecided voters supported Deveron Gibbons in the primary. If those voters turn out on Nov. 3, they may well play a pivotal role in electing the next mayor.

Both candidates have angered some black voters before. Foster refused to pose for a photograph with a group of leaders in Midtown. Ford said at a candidates' forum that crack cocaine was being sold out of the house where 8-year-old Paris Whitehead Hamilton died in a hail of gunfire.

For some voters, the choice may come down to which misstep was more offensive: the snub or the flub.

Davis is likely out of office no matter who wins this election. Foster has hinted that the police chief in the next administration won't have to deal with Davis, a former chief. And Ford has all but struck Davis' name from the payroll, along with the other deputy mayors.

In the black community, a group that calls itself "The Machine" has been heavily involved in local politics in recent years. This group, which includes a number of high-ranking police officials, has had an on-and-off relationship with Foster. Recent flip-flopping by some members of the group has confused its supporters, which makes "The Machine" seem more like an old car with a sputtering engine than a powerful voting bloc.

In the meantime, will all this chatter about racial politics awaken a sleeping giant — large voting blocs in predominantly white areas west of 34th Street that might otherwise sit out this election?

• • •

Sunken Gardens was the perfect setting last week for the 43rd annual City Beautification Awards presented by the City Beautiful Commission.

The group is charged with the creation and enforcement of statutes for property maintenance and sign ordinances.

The event marked the unofficial start of the "farewell tour" of Mayor Rick Baker and outgoing council member Jamie Bennett, who leave office Jan. 2.

More than 20 awards were handed out to businesses, nonprofit organizations, an elementary school and private citizens. A special 30-year award went to the St. Petersburg Women's Club for its decades of work in maintaining the beautiful vista along Snell Isle Boulevard.

• • •

That odd-looking structure going up just west of Ferg's Sports Bar near Tropicana Field is the seven-story garage for Fusion 1560, a 325-unit, five-story apartment complex, set to open next year.

The project by the Ohio-based Zaremba Group should be ready for occupancy by October 2010.

Sandra J. Gadsden is editor of Neighborhood Times. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or sgadsden@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg mayoral candidates Bill Foster, Kathleen Ford show clumsiness on race issues 10/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 24, 2009 4:31am]

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