It's decision day in St. Petersburg's mayoral race

Polls opened at 7 a.m. across St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning, including this voting location at Pilgrim Congregational Church on Central Avenue.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. across St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning, including this voting location at Pilgrim Congregational Church on Central Avenue.
Published Nov. 5, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman have made countless arguments on why each should lead the city for four years.

The months of campaigning will come to an end today, with polls open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The former City Council members and lawyers plan to vote early, and then call residents to urge them to get out to vote.

Foster, 50, worked the phones Monday. In between calls, the mayor said he wants residents to consider whether they like the direction the city is headed. If so, they should give him four more years at the helm, he said.

"Get out to vote," the incumbent said as he dialed his phone. "It's all about momentum."

Kriseman, 51, had a similar message for voters.

"Are people satisfied with the leadership they have?" Kriseman asked. "Would they like a better St. Pete? We can do better."

This race, officially nonpartisan, has been one of the city's most partisan elections. It also has been the costliest. The men have collected a combined $613,576 in donations through Oct. 31.

Kriseman collected $331,441 versus Foster's $282,135.

In the campaign's final days, Kriseman drew notable $500 donations from former Gov. Charlie Crist and his wife, Carole, and Goliath Davis, the former deputy mayor and police chief fired by Foster in 2011.

The state GOP also gave Foster $18,850 and another $11,100 for direct mail and phone calls. Meanwhile, the Pinellas County Democrats gave Kriseman $7,600, while the state party donated $10,000 and another $7,100 for salaries and direct mail.

As of Monday, voters had returned 47 percent of the more than 62,466 absentee ballots sent out by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.

The 29,080 ballots nearly matches the 30,100 submitted at this point in the Aug. 27 primary election.

Foster picked up support from Gov. Rick Scott; while Kriseman won the backing of Crist, who announced Monday he will run against Scott as a Democrat.

But one heavily coveted endorsement in the race never came.

Former Mayor Rick Baker worked to help elect Foster in 2009, but didn't campaign or publicly endorse his fellow Republican this year. Kriseman and Foster both sought Baker's endorsement.

It's no secret that Baker is disappointed in the way Foster has handled economic development in the Midtown area, which includes the city's poorest areas. Helping African-American neighborhoods was a hallmark of Baker's eight years on office.

During more than 20 mayoral forums, countless residents lambasted Foster for not doing enough to help Midtown after he fired Davis. Two weeks ago, Foster announced plans to hire a high-level administrator to oversee economic development in Midtown.

As prominent Republicans begged Baker to endorse Foster, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, tweeted last week that "Rick Baker's silence has hurt the GOP on St. Pete Mayor's race."

Baker's silence likely aided Kriseman in the black community — a key group that could prove key to deciding a close race.

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