Despite primary win, Foster in predicament

After Tuesday's primary win, Mayor Bill Foster is on the cusp on becoming the first St. Petersburg mayor in 26 years to lose re-election.
After Tuesday's primary win, Mayor Bill Foster is on the cusp on becoming the first St. Petersburg mayor in 26 years to lose re-election.
Published Aug. 28, 2013

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's predicament is remarkable in so many ways.

Very few people think the city is heading in a seriously wrong direction. The panhandling problem that consumed the mayoral race four years ago is largely gone, and the homeless problem much improved. Foster steered the city through a historic recession, and these days construction cranes are working again.

And yet after Tuesday's primary win, Foster is on the cusp of becoming the first St. Pete mayor in 26 years to lose re-election.

Yes, he edged out Rick Kriseman for first place in what essentially was a three-person primary. But Foster heads into the general election facing the challenger that worried him most, Kriseman, and an electoral map that not only stands to be much different from prior modern city elections but one that in critical ways may favor Kriseman.

Kathleen Ford, the chief anti-status quo candidate who focused largely on opposing the new pier proposal, finished a distant third. Ask yourself: How many of Ford's nearly 10,000 voters are likely to now support Foster, the only candidate who supported the Lens proposal for the pier?

"With those two candidates still in the race, it's a crapshoot," said former City Council member Larry Williams, a Foster supporter.

The standard recipe for winning mayoral races in St. Petersburg is to win over the business community and then dominate northeast precincts as well as heavily African-American precincts south of Central Avenue.

Kriseman, 51, should be strong in western St. Petersburg, which he represented for a dozen years as a state legislator and city council member. Preliminary results Tuesday suggested Kriseman is also stronger than Foster, 50, south of Central Avenue, including precincts with significant numbers of African-American voters.

Count on former police chief and deputy mayor Goliath Davis, still bitter over Foster firing him in 2011, to do all he can to help Kriseman.

"You have someone who was let go from the city, and he just hasn't gotten over it," said School Board member Renee Flowers, who is officially neutral.

Foster's strength clearly is northeast St. Petersburg. In a two-person race, that's not enough, particularly if the business community remains mostly ambivalent.

A few pieces of unsolicited advice to hizzoner:

• At least try to act like you enjoy the job. Stop glumly telling audiences how you work many nights and weekends.

• Often it seems like the most powerful man in town is not the mayor, but mortgage executive/developer/music promoter Bill Edwards. You'd be well served to lean hard on Edwards soon to announce Baywalk tenants and perhaps even help out with the vacated grocery space in Midtown.

• There are valid questions about Kriseman's leadership and accomplishments as a council member and legislator. You need to do all you can to raise doubts about a challenger who otherwise looks like a safe alternative.

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• You say you're negotiating with the Rays? Wrap it up.

• Stop complaining about Democrats helping Kriseman in a non-partisan race. It may end up only energizing Democrats, who are in the majority yet haven't elected a Democratic mayor since 1975.

• Finally tell voters what you want to do in second term. Otherwise, you may not get one.