During key debate, Foster strikes tone of optimism, while Kriseman remains critical

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It’s morning in St. Petersburg again.

As if taking a cue from the Reagan era, Mayor Bill Foster declared Tuesday that “the sun is shining in St. Petersburg” during a candidates’ forum at the Palladium Theater.

Countering attacks by challenger Rick Kriseman, the incumbent mayor worked to strike a tone of optimism, as he told an audience that “72 percent of residents feel that the city is on the right path,” and “the wind is in our sails.”

Foster and Kriseman have been sparring in a series of mayoral debates, with Tuesday night’s TV forum sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9.

Kriseman argued that “we can do better,” noting he would focus on a four-point plan as mayor to improve city services, create more jobs, improve public education and return vibrancy to city neighborhoods.

While the two candidates have stuck to their positions throughout several arduous weeks of debating, their relationship has seemed more strained.

When the candidates were asked the title of the last book each had read, Kriseman replied, to laughs, “Lies and Liars Who Tell Them.” Foster interjected, “I didn’t write that.”

The candidates continued to distinguish themselves on style and the issues they would focus on for the next four years.

Kriseman said he would take a leadership role in regional planning done for improving mass transit or adding light rail. He also said he would work hard to try to recruit businesses from out of state to move to St. Petersburg.

Foster said that it is clear that the city is on the right track, because there is a half-billion dollars in new construction. “All you have to do is look around,” he said.

Kriseman continued to hit Foster hard on the mayor’s decision to include $200,000 in his spending plan for car allowances for city administrators while cutting $40,000 for the Meals on Wheels program, which serves seniors and shut-ins.

Foster accused Kriseman of supporting service learning for students without getting feedback or talking with school board members or the county superintendent.

Kriseman argued that he had pushed the concept with school board members when he served in the Legislature.

To Foster’s question, “Have you ever mentored a child?” Kriseman said, “No.”

The candidates were asked about how they will work to redevelop the City Pier, and Foster replied that he will be presenting an update to the Council on Thursday. Foster said that he plans to do a scientific survey on what residents want, include more people in committees and then send out a Request for Qualifications, which was done the first time around, when voters defeated the plan.

Kriseman said that he would first look at existing task force recommendations and then ask residents what they like. He would form a new task force, which would put out a Request for Proposals on the design. From there, residents would help narrow the submissions to three, which would be presented to the Council for a vote.