1. Florida Politics

Campaign rhetoric heats up between Foster, Kriseman over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayoral hopeful Rick Kriseman has a message for the Tampa Bay Rays as the team negotiates with Mayor Bill Foster over the lengthy stadium stalemate.

"I don't lie," he said. "You can trust me."

If elected, he pledges to move the issue forward, not let it fester for years.

"We will have honest dialogue," Kriseman said Thursday. "That is something the Rays haven't had. They don't feel they can get that with the mayor."

The stadium saga is likely to become a focal point on the campaign trail in the coming weeks because Foster told the City Council late Wednesday that talks with the Rays have fizzled recently.

Foster's response to Kriseman's comments showed growing tension between the two candidates.

"There is a big difference between politics and governing," Foster said. "I'd appreciate it if he'd leave the governing to me. I'm not going to play politics with taxpayers' money."

A user agreement binds the Rays to Tropicana Field through 2027. The Rays say the Trop is outdated and the reason the team ranks near the bottom of attendance in baseball.

If Kriseman unseats Foster in the Nov. 5 election, he said he wants to immediately meet with the Rays to hear their ideas on a new stadium, boosting attendance and playing in a different city. Protecting city coffers is a priority, he added, echoing one of Foster's most common themes.

As for what Kriseman would do differently from Foster, he said he would:

• Grant permission to the team to explore sites outside the city without having to pay a fee in exchange for lowering ticket prices next season to lure more fans.

• Create incentive programs with restaurants and hotels to make games attractive to tourists and visitors.

• Ask bay area transit agencies to establish direct bus routes to bring fans to Tropicana Field.

• Ask the team to support the proposed Greenlight Pinellas plan for a sales tax to improve transportation.

He also wants to explore high-speed water taxis between St. Petersburg and Tampa.

The Rays declined to comment on Kriseman's ideas.

Meanwhile, Foster called Kriseman naive for thinking he could implement the ideas.

"I have been working with the organization for two years to make sure taxpayers' interests are preserved and recognized," he said. "It sounds like a Kriseman administration would give everything away."

Reducing ticket prices might pose a problem for the Rays.

In late 2012, the Rays were named the most affordable team in professional sports, according to ESPN The Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings." It marked the sixth straight year that the Rays ranked in ESPN's top three in affordability out of 122 MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises.

The Rays already support mass transit in the region.

Team president Matt Silverman served on a Tampa Bay Partnership board that endorsed Hillsborough County's November 2010 voter referendum on mass transit. More recently, the team endorsed Greenlight Pinellas.

The Greenlight website lists Rays' senior vice president Michael Kalt as a supporter, saying, "Transit is really the linchpin to economic success and improving the quality of life in any major metropolitan area."

Foster's declaration on Wednesday came three weeks after baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the slow pace of the talks might prompt him to intervene in the discussions.

Since 2010, Foster has always said he would protect taxpayers who paid $150 million to build the Trop.

He shifted his stance to go outside the city earlier this year after team representatives visited Pinellas and Hillsborough county commissions to talk about the need for a new stadium.

Kriseman blamed Foster for not solving the stalemate sooner.

"You can't have real, honest negotiations if you don't trust the people sitting across the other side of the table," Kriseman said. "The mayor has really stuck his head in the sand."

Foster countered: "There's a big difference to being on the outside than being on the inside of the negotiations."

Contact Mark Puente at or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.