The race for mayor of St. Petersburg has been a low-key affair that has not matched the election's high stakes. The campaigns have been predictable, and many voters are uninspired by their choices. The lack of enthusiasm for Mayor Bill Foster provides an opportunity to embrace more aggressive leadership, and voters should take a closer look at Rick Kriseman before Tuesday's primary election.
Kriseman is a former City Council member and state legislator who understands how the mayor of the state's fourth-largest city can be much more than a caretaker. He has fresh ideas about improving neighborhoods and marketing the city. He is familiar with what has worked in cities such as Baltimore and Seattle, and he is eager to bring their successful strategies to St. Petersburg.
At the same time, Kriseman has the negotiating skill to make more progress on issues that have festered, from the stadium stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays to the messy fight over the future of the Pier to curbside recycling. The trial lawyer's legislative experience gives him a broader perspective and a more regional view than the incumbent. That will be helpful as the next mayor navigates the future of the Rays, the 2014 Pinellas transit referendum and other opportunities to build consensus outside the city limits. While Kriseman tends to speak in generalities at candidate forums, he is more specific in other formats. He can bring his vision into sharper focus if he finishes among the top two candidates in Tuesday's primary election.
Foster has spent more time defending his record than sketching an agenda for a second term. He led the city through a recession that forced millions in spending cuts and hundreds of job cuts, and St. Petersburg suffered no major harm. But bad ideas such as closing some city pools and imposing a regressive fire fee, which were not adopted, will receive more scrutiny before the general election. So will his failure to maintain his predecessor's momentum in helping public schools and improving Midtown.
St. Petersburg expects about $500 million in new construction this year, evidence that the economy is improving. Foster takes credit for positioning the city to take advantage of the rebound, but there is little to suggest that city policies rather than broader market forces are driving the resurgence.
Former City Council member Kathleen Ford offers few new ideas, and her harsh criticisms of City Hall staff and the police department echo her two previous unsuccessful campaigns for mayor. So does her carelessness in choosing how she criticizes her opponents or describes how she has helped Midtown. Ford has been attacked in a series of mailings by independent political committees, and it is unfair that donors to those groups won't be publicly reported to the state until October.
More than 26,000 St. Petersburg voters already have cast their ballots by mail, but this election is far from over. Rick Kriseman remains the best choice for voters seeking a viable alternative to the incumbent mayor and a more vigorous general election campaign about the direction of the city.