St. Petersburg voters sent a clear message Tuesday that they want their mayor to provide stronger leadership and their city to aim higher. That is why they replaced incumbent Mayor Bill Foster with Rick Kriseman, who promises to bring new energy and fresh ideas to City Hall. Now Kriseman should build on his solid victory, unite the city and lead St. Petersburg in a more positive direction.
Kriseman became the first challenger to unseat an incumbent mayor in more than 25 years because he understands the city, embraces inclusiveness and invites creative solutions to familiar problems. He is a former City Council member and state legislator who knows the issues, welcomes debate and understands the importance of developing relationships inside and outside the city. Kriseman convinced voters he can lead St. Petersburg to new heights — and not off a cliff.
Before he takes office in January, the mayor-elect has to build a leadership team. Foster started the search for a new police chief to succeed the retiring Chuck Harmon, but now Kriseman will steer that effort. Kriseman also has an opportunity to bring new people to City Hall, and he will have to find the right mix of fresh faces and old hands. It would be a mistake to replace all of the top aides to the three previous strong mayors.
Two of the larger stalemates need immediate attention. Kriseman and Foster should agree on how to keep moving forward with another design for a new pier. If they can't, the mayor-elect will have to wait two months until he takes office and start over. The incoming mayor also should reach out to the Tampa Bay Rays and renew discussions about allowing the franchise to look at potential stadium sites in Tampa. It's understandable that the new mayor wants to try to build attendance at Tropicana Field, but that effort should be simultaneous with talks on the long-term approach to keeping Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.
Voters also will be counting on Kriseman to fulfill his other campaign pledges. Those include pumping up the city's effort to help improve schools, adding universal curbside recycling and revising the police chase policy. He should place particular emphasis on bringing more jobs and development to Midtown, where minority voters who backed Foster four years ago felt neglected. Kriseman should receive help from a re-energized City Council, which will include new members Darden Rice and Amy Foster.
Most importantly, Kriseman should rebuild relationships with City Council members, the Rays and elected officials outside St. Petersburg that became strained under Foster. He also should ease fears that the city's first Democratic mayor in years will inject partisanship into City Hall. The mayor should be all about policy and results, not patronage jobs and state politics.
As a longtime City Council member and in four years as mayor, Foster has been a public servant who cared about St. Petersburg and was well-intentioned even when he was wrong on policy. He was gracious in his concession speech Tuesday night and said he was disappointed but not upset. He remains upbeat about the city's future, and Kriseman should accept the olive branch and take office in that same spirit.
Kriseman asked voters to imagine the possibilities for St. Petersburg. They embraced that vision over the status quo Tuesday. It will be up to the new mayor to capitalize on that optimism and lead the city to greater successes.