How Kathleen Ford could have won St. Pete’s mayoral primary election

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Seeing as how Kathleen Ford finished twenty points out of second place, it’s difficult to imagine any scenario in which she could have made the run-off election. Yet, it’s important to remember that in both private and public polling, Ford was in first place as late as July 11.

In one survey from St. Pete Polls, Ford was actually twelve points ahead of Rick Kriseman, meaning there was a thirty-two point swing between these two candidates in the course of forty-seven days. That kind of movement is all but heard of in a normal political environment.

But this is Chinatown, err, I mean Saint Petersburg, so there is no such thing as a normal political environment.

Many observers of city politics argue that Ford’s fall was inevitable … that she simply couldn’t help herself from making unforced errors. While I tend to agree with this analysis, I also believe Ford needed a little nudge off course. Hence, my work as The St. Petersburg Chicken.

But what if Kathleen Ford had done some things differently? Could she have hung on to to make it into the general election? Here are five things Ford could have done that may have been enough for her to make the run-off.

1. Hire professional consulting and management – Much of the advice I would have given to Ford is so obvious, it’s surprising that some of it has to even be discussed. Case in point is the need for her to have hired a professional political consultant and a campaign manager. Sure, she would have blown through two or three consultants and she would have driven any decent political operative bonkers, but if she would have had a team around her to insulate her from attacks and protect her from herself, it may have limited the self-inflicted damage.

2. Self-fund her campaign – This recommendation would actually come first before hiring a consultant and manager. The biggest difference between Ford and her opponents was not the media coverage or the unforced errors, it was that Kathleen’s campaign had relatively no money. No money for a campaign infrastructure. No money for direct mail. No money for television ads. Imagine if Ford had self-funded her campaign to the tune of $50,000, which isn’t a lot to expect from someone reportedly worth $1.1 million. She could have put that money in her account on the day she filed and sent a message that she was serious about winning. Then she could have spent it during the heaviest period of early voting, perhaps staving off her rapid decline in the polls. 

3. Organize the black vote on Election Day – Yes, Goliath Davis and Wengay Newton, among others, were with Ford, but the black vote is won with green. $10,000 on Election Day to key community leaders, ministers and police leadership would have given Ford another four or five thousand votes in Midtown (just ask Darryl Rouson or Deveron Gibbons how it’s done). Before Election Day, Ford could have set up a campaign headquarters on the southside, perhaps near the shuttered Sweetbay grocery store which has become a symbol of Bill Foster’s failures in the black community. Do this and whatever else that could be done to draw a line around Midtown as Kathleen Ford territory.

4. Engage on social media – Here you have this batsh*t crazy, but intelligent candidate with ample time on her hands but relatively little money. That reads like a perfect recipe for a candidate who should just OWN social media. Ford should have been ubiquitous on Facebook and Twitter, pointing out where the not-so-strong men stumbled. She should have written blog posts on Patch. She should have tweaked Foster for not being on social media. For two or three hours a day, Ford should have made her presence known via a cheap, important medium that is under-utilized in local elections. The strength of social media was harnessed by the “Stop the Lens” crowd; Ford should have taken a page from her allies.

5. Don’t swing at the pitches, Kathleen – The chicken suit would have never worked against Bill Foster or (probably not) Rick Kriseman. Why? Because they don’t swing at the pitches outside of their comfort zone. They either take the strike or let it go by as a ball, but, either way, they wait for a better pitch. Ford simply does not have that discipline. Of course Ford should have shown up for more debates. Of course she should have better communicated with the media. Of course she should have not said many of the stupid, stupid things she said. You would think that in her third attempt and after twelve years of running, she would know better.

Fortunately for the great city of St. Petersburg, Kathleen Ford, in a nutshell, does not know better.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.