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For Bill Foster, being the mayor of status quo ain't bad

Published Jan. 10, 2013

These are supposed to be polarizing times.

You versus me, or us versus them. You hear it on the radio, read it on the Internet, even see it on the bumpers of cars. Either agree, or risk being called a lousy so-and-so.

So how does that explain the smiling man with the microphone at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting Wednesday afternoon at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club?

Turns out, a lot of people like Bill Foster.

Even people who question his vision as a leader, or his effectiveness as a politician. Even people who aren't quite sure what he's accomplished the past three years.

You see, he is the polite mayor. The status quo mayor.

And, if you believe several polls, the soon-to-be-re-elected mayor.

Don't get me wrong, there are pockets of people out there who are unhappy with St. Petersburg's mayor regarding this issue or that issue. Maybe a neighborhood or two who will vote for whichever opponent shows up on the ballot come November.

But polls consistently show that Foster has high favorability ratings among St. Pete residents. A lot of the same residents who apparently don't like red-light cameras (Foster loves them). Or residents who aren't thrilled with the Lens design (Foster has pushed it). Or residents who worry about baseball's long-term future here (Foster ignores it).

For 40 minutes Wednesday afternoon, Foster gave a state-of-the-city address and answered questions from Tiger Bay members and managed to say nothing of consequence. No new insights on baseball. Or the Pier. Or his vision for a second term.

And yet hardly anyone seemed to walk away either surprised or disappointed.

This is what we have come to expect. Not the bold or the innovative, but the safe and the familiar. He is the chicken soup of St. Petersburg politics.

To many residents, Foster is the guy next door. The guy you grew up with. His appeal is that most of you trust him, even if some of you may not be overly impressed by him.

When he talked about his job performance on Wednesday, Foster often referred to customer service. As if he were a department store manager, and he was going to get those potholes in the parking lot fixed before you knew it.

So what issues can Foster campaign on during his run for a second term?

Moving the homeless out of St. Petersburg has been his signature accomplishment, and that type of issue goes a long way with voters. He should also get more credit for effectively trimming the city's budget during a recession.

But the big-ticket items simply do not exist. The Pier debate has become a fiasco. Scaled-down plans for a new police headquarters feel like a letdown. The hard-line stance with the Rays has some immediate appeal, and yet it could turn into a long-term disaster.

During a recent interview, Foster cited a meaningless international baseball tournament at Al Lang Field as one of his coups. When that's the bold type on a resume, you've got a lot of filler on the page.

Still, in the end, Foster has the polls on his side.

And that means this election is his to lose.

No matter what you think about the waterfront, the lack of progress in Midtown or the absence of a grand vision for the city, Foster has connected with the residents of St. Pete.

Decide for yourself whether it's because of his record, or in spite of it.

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