St. Petersburg deserves a mayor worthy of its charm and potential, a mayor who seizes opportunities for the city and helps shape Tampa Bay into one of the nation's great metropolitan areas. Over the past four years, Mayor Bill Foster has demonstrated he lacks the skill to build consensus, the imagination to solve problems and the vision to move the city forward. Rick Kriseman has the breadth of experience and leadership qualities to lead St. Petersburg with new energy and a fresh approach.
Foster asks voters to judge him on his record. It is not a flattering report card. The Pier is closed on the downtown waterfront because voters would not follow the mayor's lead. The Tampa Bay Rays are four years closer to leaving Tropicana Field and perhaps the region because the mayor could not negotiate an agreement to let the team consider other stadium sites. Promising city efforts to improve struggling St. Petersburg schools and bring prosperity to Midtown wilted because the mayor failed to make them a priority.
On each of these issues, Kriseman is better positioned to build goodwill and move the city forward. He promises to forge consensus on a design for a new pier and get it built. He wants to help the Rays increase attendance. But he also recognizes the best way to protect St. Petersburg taxpayers is to negotiate a fair agreement that lets the team look at stadium sites in Tampa — and not simply watch the countdown on a long-term lease to play in an outdated stadium.
Kriseman strongly supported public education during his six years in the Legislature. As mayor, he would keep working to incorporate community service more broadly into public schools. In Midtown, he can regain community support that has eroded under Foster. Kriseman is genuinely more interested — and not just at election time — in helping the city's disadvantaged neighborhoods. He better understands the connection between good schools, more jobs and safer communities. Five elementary schools with a high portion of poor, minority students in south St. Petersburg have lower reading scores than any school in Hillsborough County. Public education is not the mayor's primary responsibility, but this is a crisis that constrains the city's future. Yet there is little urgency at City Hall to work with the school district to improve the situation.
From running city government to nurturing relationships to imagining new possibilities for St. Petersburg, Kriseman is the better choice. He helped advocate for sound spending priorities in the Legislature and previously on the City Council. He opposed Foster's regressive fire fee, and as mayor would invest more in neighborhoods and marketing St. Petersburg's assets. He has a creative proposal for setting clearer city performance standards and measuring progress more frequently and openly. He would be more aggressive in recruiting fresh talent to fill key city jobs that have been held for years by the same people who are nearing retirement.
Four years ago, we recommended Foster as the best choice to succeed Rick Baker and at least maintain St. Petersburg's momentum. His service on the City Council, devotion to his hometown and understanding of the issues were attractive even if he lacked Baker's vision and negotiating skills. He has not met our modest expectations, and his failure to build relationships and speak candidly with residents is particularly disappointing.
Foster has a reputation with some public officials and business leaders as being less than forthright and reliable. He acknowledges there are times he has been "misconstrued," but St. Petersburg deserves a mayor who can be trusted to speak honestly in private and in public. There is a reason that six of the eight St. Petersburg City Council members have endorsed his opponent.
Kriseman has the best shot at rebuilding relationships and looking beyond the city limits, just as he listened to various points of view in Tallahassee and considered the best interests of Florida as well as his district. In Foster's pinched view of the world, regionalism is a dirty word. Pinellas County, Tampa and other neighbors are adversaries rather than partners. Kriseman recognizes the success of St. Petersburg and the larger region are interconnected, and he has broader experience and perspective that the incumbent lacks.
For St. Petersburg, the last four years were spent surviving the recession and struggling to maintain the status quo. The next four years are about moving forward, recognizing opportunities and fulfilling the city's potential. St. Petersburg needs a mayor with the credibility to build consensus on a new pier and break the stadium stalemate. It needs a mayor with the vision to sell the 2014 Pinellas transit referendum, shape a new downtown waterfront plan and refocus on improving neighborhoods. It needs a mayor with the sophistication to lure major companies, attract clean energy startups and high-tech businesses, and nourish the area around the University of South Florida St. Petersburg into a robust center for education and health care. There is no indication the incumbent could advance those priorities in a second term any better than in his first. Kriseman can provide a fresh perspective and build the partnerships required for success.
For voters, this mayoral election is not a choice between candidates with substantial policy differences. Kriseman supports universal curbside recycling, and Foster prefers a voluntary program. The incumbent adopted a more aggressive police chase policy, and the challenger would limit it. But the broader challenges loom for both candidates, and this election is about leadership. It is about choosing a mayor who has the credibility, imagination and energy to help St. Petersburg more fully realize its great promise.
In the Nov. 5 general election for St. Petersburg mayor, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Rick Kriseman.
In the Nov. 5 elections, the Times recommends:
Mayor: Rick Kriseman
City Council District 2: James R. "Jim" Kennedy Jr.
City Council District 4: Darden Rice
City Council District 6: Karl Nurse
City County District 8: Amy Foster
Referendum to allow Clearwater Marine Aquarium to negotiate a 60-year lease for City Hall property: Yes
To read the full recommendations, go to www.tampabay.com/opinion.
The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. The candidate for St. Petersburg mayor should send a reply no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday to: Tim Nickens, editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or through our website at: www.tampabay.com/letters. Replies are limited to 200 words.