One major issue was settled (sort of) in Tuesday night’s election in St. Petersburg. But with 10 weeks to go before the general election, the question of who will lead the city for the next four years remains a mystery.
As the polls had indicated a day out, Mayor Bill Foster held on to take the majority of the vote 41-39 percent. But his margin of victory was only 867 votes over the insurgent candidacy of Rick Kriseman, who appears to have lots of momentum heading into the fall.
Early front-runner Kathleen Ford’s campaign crashed and burned rather ignominiously at the end, and she sputtered to take just 19 percent of the total, in her third failed bid to lead St. Pete.
Interestingly, both Foster and Kriseman say they hope that with just the two of them in the contest, the candidate forums that will resume next month will be more substantive than what’s occurred so far this summer.
“The debate formats have been terrible thus far,” Foster complained while talking to CL after giving his victory speech at Midtown Sundries. “Sixty-second response. No opening, no rebuttal. Let’s really get into the issues. Let’s really debate … I’m looking forward to it.”
Kriseman strategist Kevin King agreed that both candidates would benefit by going one-on-one with each other. “I’m hopeful you’ll hear more about education, maybe clean energy, marine science, some of the burgeoning industries in St. Pete,” he said at the Kriseman campaign party at the Palladium Theater.
The campaign has been relatively genteel up to now. But Foster indicated that he’s prepared to hit Kriseman hard in an email sent to his supporters last week. In it, he blasted the Democrat for bringing partisanship into the race, and noted that 75 percent of the money he raised during the primary came from outside of St. Pete, and over 70 percent of his expenses went to out-of-town businesses and consultants.
“I think that’s a fact that voters need to pick apart and figure out why,” the mayor said on Tuesday night.
On Monday City Councilman Karl Nurse endorsed Kriseman, making him the fifth member of the board to publicly oppose the incumbent. Foster dismissed that fact on Tuesday, saying that with the exception of his advocacy to put the Pier up for a vote last year, he’s gotten the five votes he needed from Council on every single issue that mattered to him over the past three and a half years.
But it’s not just the majority of the council opposing his re-election. It's the public as well, with over 59 percent voting for someone else on Tuesday.
No incumbent mayor has ever lost re-election in St. Petersburg.
They won’t have the Lens to kick around anymore.
Both candidates’ camps said they were excited that the Lens will no longer be a subject for discussion at debates. Voters overwhelmingly supported the ballot measure calling on the city to kill its contract with L.A. based-architect Michael Maltzan by a 63-37 percent margin, though Maltzan was still paid handsomely for his efforts.
Nursing a glass of Chardonnay Tuesday night at the über-hip Birchwood was Maltzan’s St. Petersburg-based partner in the Lens design, architect Lisa Wannemacher, who was severely disappointed by the end results.
“The city really missed an opportunity,” Wannemacher said dejectedly. “A world-class architect, internationally known and respected, was fired tonight. You’re not going to get a world-class architect to step into this city again and propose something that could potentially be voted down in the future.”
The vote may have not only scared off the starchitects; it may also leave the city with no Pier at all for years to come, Wannemacher suggested.
“A couple of years from now we might still be in this same spot where we are now, with no Pier, no clear decision, no clear vision about how we’re going to move forward,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate that something so fantastic and monumental could divide this city so horribly. I’m disappointed for the city and what this means to the citizens who did support this project.”
Mayor Foster’s 828 Alliance was scheduled to host its last meeting on Wednesday afternoon, when the members will announce their plan for the city going forward.
Fred Whaley is chair of the anti-Lens group Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg and served on the 828 Alliance. He says that the plan is to try to get 30 proposals going forward and then boil that down to 10 ideas. In terms of a timetable, he says, “I think it would take a year to restart,” which angers him because he said the City Council could have and should have put the issue to a vote a year ago. “That’s a year we lost,” he said wistfully.
At Concerned Citizens’ victory party at the Orange Blossom Tuesday night, the group announced (in conjunction with St. Pete Polls) a new poll on the website VoteStPete.org in which the public can weigh in on four different options for the Pier. The options include “Demolish,” “Refurbish Existing,” “Call for New Designs,” and, oddly enough, “Vote on Recent Designs” — including the Lens.
St. Petersburg’s election bylaws mandate that the top two finishers in a primary, even those who win by more than 50 percent, must run against the runner-up in the primary citywide in the general election. That explains why, even though Amy Foster whipped Steve Galvin in District 8 on Tuesday night 56-18 percent, the two will run again before the entire city in November.
In a bit of a mini-upset, neighborhood activist Carolyn Fries edged out Tea Party adherent Dr. David McKalip for second place in District 4, where Fries now has the uphill battle of trying to beat consensus favorite Darden Rice. Rice took 46 percent of the vote, Fries 26 percent.
Like McKalip, Fries also disagrees with Rice’s strong advocacy for the light-rail measure that will go before Pinellas voters next fall. “McKalip is famously against mass transit and my other opponent has answers that don’t quite make sense and seem to reveal that she’s unprepared about this issue,” Rice said on Tuesday night.
But Rice may have more of a challenge than expected in the fall. Most of McKalip’s followers figure to go toward Fries who has espoused on the campaign trail a slightly libertarian bent (albeit in a much more digestible package than the incendiary McKalip). But Rice’s fundraising advantages and high-profile endorsements will really help as the race goes citywide.
And in District 6, Karl Nurse will be running in November against activist Sharon Russ citywide. Nurse soundly defeated both Russ and Trevor Mallory on Tuesday night, getting 69 percent of the vote to Russ’s 19 percent and Mallory’s 12 percent totals.
The margin is an indication of how popular Nurse has become since the initial controversy over his appointment to succeed Ernest Williams in 2008, when Nurse became the first white representative of the area in nearly three decades.
“I found the more I worked, the less it mattered,” he said of his approach to his work on council. “I tried to not do a lot of bragging, and just get to work.”
Gypsy Gallardo, the editor and publisher of Power Broker magazine, says “Karl has won a lot of hearts and minds with his work ethic and his vision and his willingness to step out on issues and influence his peers.”
And work he has. Nurse says he get satisfaction in fixing basic problems that one needn’t worry about in, say, the Old Northeast — solutions like helping to get a sidewalk built between Jordan Park and Melrose Elementary, or finding new owners for Citrus Grove Apartments, which led last year to the renters finally getting access to air-conditioning.
He’s also proud of the “Rebates for Residential Rehabs” program that he helped initiate on council this spring, which creates an incentive for private investment in the south side by providing a 20 percent rebate of the cost of specific building improvements to the owner of the residential property.
And as one of the area’s strongest environmentalists, he’s excited about the potential to work with Rice if she gets elected in November, believing there will be a solid majority to finally go ahead with city-sponsored curbside recycling, which St. Pete doesn’t have, a harsh setback for Florida’s so-called first “Green City.”