This week will mark the end of Bill Foster’s first 100 days as Mayor of St. Petersburg. Here’s what I think of Mayor Foster’s first three months in office:
1. So let me get this straight, Foster’s first three major personnel decisions have been to retain Goliath Davis, to eliminate five Park Ranger positions at Boyd Hill Nature Trail and to hire his former campaign manager for a $50,000 a year position.
2. Foster is said to have narrowed the list of candidates for the city’s lobbying position to six applicants, with a wild-card or two still (unofficially) in the mix. For many years, when current City Councilman Herb Polson had the job, the city’s lobbyist was often regarded as “City Council Member #9” — a nod to the prestige of the position. That’s the model I believe Foster is looking for: not just another lobbyist, but a community leader who can help attract grant dollars, lead intergovernmental committees and, basically, serve as a Secretary of State for Foster’s administration. Whoever Foster hires, this will be his first opportunity to bring in someone who is not a holdover from Rick Baker’s tenure. The only downside to this situation is that Foster will end up hiring one person and end up disappointing dozens of people who think they are the right choice for the job.
2A. Who do I think is the best choice for the job? Well, let me rule out one person: Nick Hansen. But not for the usual reasons. Nick and I have buried the hatchet. Still, I think he won’t get the job simply because with Foster’s hiring of Jim Neader, as a sports marketing consultant to the city, Foster just used up his “hire-a-buddy” card. Sorry Nick.
3. After the dismal display of enthusiasm Foster showed for this year’s Grand Prix, I guess we do need a sports marketing consultant. This year’s event, before it was washed out from a Sunday showtime, was the quietest Grand Prix to not roar along the streets of St. Pete. This is a direct result of a change in leadership. Rick Baker was nothing if not a cheerleader. But as one City Councilmember told me, “Bill doesn’t get the cheerleader component of his job yet.”
4. Speaking of Rick Baker, the best thing to happen to Bill Foster in his first 100 days, although he can never say such a thing, is Baker not winning the St. Petersburg College presidency. First of all, it prevented a brain drain out of City Hall to the SPC campus. But more important, Baker’s loss diminished his stature and kept him from casting a shadow over the new Foster administration.
5. Foster has yet to embrace the concept of the imperial Mayor. In his inauguration speech, he said that “it all begins with the City Council” and so far he hasn’t proven himself wrong. At times, it seems like Foster would rather serve as a ‘first among equals’ as the city’s mayor functioned before the St. Petersburg switched to the strong Mayor form of government. As one City Councilmember described to me, “Foster doesn’t realize, we are waiting on him.”
6. City Council Chair Leslie Curran isn’t waiting for Bill Foster. Despite them both being Republicans, the two appear to have different views on the role of government. Curran has been highly critical of Foster’s knee-jerk decision to allow the Police to engage in high-speed pursuits. And she, rightly so, continues to beat the drum about what a stupid decision it was to vacate the sidewalk in front of the entrance to BayWalk. As much as it pains me to praise her, Leslie Curran is currently the most sensible member of City Council. (And don’t forget it was her leadership that led to the revitalization of the Crislip Arcade.)
7. Oh, man, that vote to vacate the sidewalk in front of the entrance to BayWalk seems like the dumbest move the City Council has made in years. And with the history of this bunch, that’s saying something. Herb Polson’s vacillation on the issue may never be forgiven and before he considers running for re-election, he may want to offer some sort of apology. But the real loser on the BayWalk vote — besides the First Amendment — is Bill Dudley. His brother was arrested for fighting in City Hall over this issue, an episode that, while not Dudley’s fault but still reflects on him, will never be forgotten by the voters.
8. What do I think about the rest of the City Council? Don’t look now, but Wengay Newton asks smart, tough questions. Sometimes. Anyone who criticizes Karl Nurse because he has too many ideas is probably someone who never has any. And Jeff Danner still has the best sense of fashion of any of ’em in City Hall! You don’t like Danner’s blazer and jeans look? Tell that to George Clooney while you’re at it.
9. Jeez, Bill, you are just not a good quote. I knew that the moment he blabbered about wanting to be the city’s first black Mayor. The latest gem was the adamance you showed when questioned about hiring your former campaign manager — “I don’t care if he was my illegitimate son.” Frekin’ beautiful.
10. For a guy who once applied to be St. Petersburg’s city manager and, reportedly, has wanted to be Mayor since he was in high school, Bill Foster has yet to display any of that same ambition. I get it, I get it. He’s laid back. But at some point, sooner rather than later, Foster must begin to make his mark on the city. And bringing international baseball to Al Lang Stadium ain’t gonna cut it.
So for Foster’s first 100 days in office, grading him on the curve against Dave Fischer and Rick Baker, I award him a very low B minus.