St. Pete Mayor's race could change the political landscape across Florida

Most partisan mayor's race in decades

TAMPA - The St. Petersburg mayor's race is down to two men- both lawyers, close in age, who share many of the same views.

But the results of this election could change the political landscape across the Bay and across the state.

Whether it's the Pier, the Rays or the homeless problem, St. Pete residents have a long list of demands and desires they hope their Mayor can fulfill.  Bill Foster believes his experience on the job should earn him another term.

"If you think, the city is better off coming out of this recession than we were four years ago, then I'm your man" said Foster.  

But even though a recent Tampa Bay Times poll shows 72 percent of St. Petersburg voters believe  their City is headed in the right direction, Foster's approval rating is well below 50 percent.   That has opened the door to former council member and State Lawmaker Rick Kriseman who is polling ahead of Foster  by six points.

"What improvement we have seen is not because of the administration, but in spite of the administration," says Kriseman who claims Foster lack vision.

While the rhetoric is familiar, Tampa Bay Times writer, Mark Puente  says this race is more politically charged than St. Petersburg is used to.

"The race is officially non-partisan, but it's anything but. Rick Kriseman, the Democratic is battling Bill Foster, the Republican" said Puente.  

Indeed, newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist is endorsing Kriseman while Republican Governor Rick Scott is behind Foster.  Both candidates are getting party money from Tallahassee and from outside partisan groups.  

The candidates attack ads and mailers have a sharp edge at odds with the City's laid back image.  

That may be because both parties see broad implications in who ends up in St. Petersburg's City hall.

"If Rick Kriseman does win, the Democratic party would have mayors in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Orlando, the I-4 corridor which is a bellwether in national elections" said Puente.

Mayors are also often  recruited to run for higher office.  But most St. Pete voters are more concerned with their city's future.  What will replace the Pier? What will become of the Rays?  And, as local NAACP President Manual Sykes asked, what will be done to bring economic growth and stability to the  long challenged neighborhoods of midtown and South St. Pete?

"It's no accident. We have just not been a priority," said Reverend Sykes.


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