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Ford owns stage at political forum

The candidate says she never called for the firing of police Chief Goliath Davis III.

Mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford had a stage all to herself Thursday night and she criticized both police Chief Goliath Davis III and the St. Petersburg Times.

Her opponent in the March 27 election, Rick Baker, did not attend the forum sponsored by the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association and the Lakewood High School Parent Teacher Student Association. He already had agreed to go to a town hall meeting at the home of one of his supporters and decided not to break the engagement.

Ford stood center stage in the auditorium of Lakewood High School and spoke to a crowd of about 150 on several issues, including:

Code violations (Ford suggested concentrating on the big violators).

Trash removal ("Give me the addresses").

Downtown parking (Ford said not to expect the parking meters' return).

But it was a question on Chief Davis that found Ford on the defensive.

"For the last several years, you've called for Chief Davis to be fired," began Dwight Lawton, the moderator from the League of Women Voters.

"That's not true," Ford broke in. "There are people out there who have misconstrued that."

Ford said the Police Department has allowed drug dealing and prostitution to go unchecked in some neighborhoods, and that response times are poor.

"I never said that, and I'm a little bit angry that anyone would perpetuate that lie," said Ford, referring to Lawton's original question. "Folks, that's race-baiting and it's going on in this race."

Ford also accused the Times of dividing the city, although she did not provide examples.

"For too long we've been observing the St. Petersburg Times divide us rather than bring us together," Ford said. "I like to focus on what we share."

When asked why, if she wanted to be mayor and operate efficiently, she has chosen to answer some questions posed by the Times but not others, Ford said: "Most folks know where I stand on anything, and they can pick up the phone and call me. I don't think any individual should put up with abuse, whether it be from the media or another individual, and I refuse to be abused."

Moments later, Lawton, the moderator, began a question about education:

"Mrs. Fischer ."

"That would be Ford," said Ford, a smile crossing her face at the reference to Mayor David Fischer. She and Fischer have not gotten along over the years.

"I can't even characterize what kind of slip that is," said Lawton, as the crowd laughed.

"Don't even try," Ford replied.

The forum also featured the two City Council candidates from District 5, Robert Eschenfelder and James S. Bennett. The pair were asked questions about cyclists in the road (both candidates advocated safety), whether they would promote recycling (both said they'd look into it) and how they'd handle taxes (both candidates said they'd try to keep taxes stable).

Though Bennett received the most applause, Eschenfelder drew grins and claps when he ended with a passage from Dr. Seuss' My Uncle Terwillinger on the Art of Eating Popovers.

"And as you partake of the world's bill of fare, that's darned good advice to follow. Do a lot of spitting out the hot air. And be careful what you swallow."