In 2009, faced with the choice of recommending either the politically unstable Kathleen Ford or the reactionary conservative Bill Foster, the Tampa Bay Times, purportedly spurred by then-Mayor Rick Baker, endorsed Foster for Mayor of St. Petersburg.
This recommendation did not sit well with every member of the editorial board, particularly Robyn Blumner, who had serious concerns about Foster’s extra-constitutional belief system. But Paul Tash, Tim Nickens and Joni James (said to be the contact person with Baker) prevailed and the newspaper backed the lesser of two evils.
In a race as close as Ford vs. Foster — there may have been a moment there when Ford was actually polling ahead of Foster — the support of the newspaper was one of the keys to Foster’s victory.
That is why, if Bill Foster is, in fact, running for re-election in 2013, this editorial, written by the same Tim Nickens who three years ago endorsed Foster, don’t expect to see the newspaper lending the Mayor much of a hand.
In fact, the editorial should be taken as nothing less than a declaration of war by the Tampa Bay Times on Bill Foster.
To wit, Nickens personally attacks Foster:
Halfway through his term, he has led on little of significance beyond replacing the Pier. He’s secretive, and he seems suspicious of anyone whose family hasn’t lived in St. Petersburg for generations. He’s a probate lawyer who is quicker to threaten lawsuits than collaborate on creative solutions to public issues.
Nickens then goes to disassemble Foster’s initiatives on several major issues facing the city:
A new baseball stadium? “There’s been no progress under Foster…”
Emergency Medical Services? “Foster was uncooperative…”
Mass transit? “(Y)ou don’t see St. Petersburg’s mayor leading the charge…”
Public schools? “Foster has struggled…”
From there, Nickens returns to the personal:
“Since he doesn’t claim to be a vision guy, perhaps the mayor deserves a break on the big stuff. Maybe he does better sweating the small stuff.
Let’s see. Foster chased most of the panhandlers out of St. Petersburg and over to Tampa largely by trampling their constitutional rights. He raised parking fines, installed more meters and ordered the tire boot for repeat offenders. He let Progress Energy off the hook for much of the $147,0000 it owed the city in unpaid bills and fees. Now he’s negotiating another cozy deal with the operator of Albert Whitted Airport, who hasn’t been paying his bills on time.”
And on and on and on. The editorial reads like an opposition research memo for any candidate considering challenging Foster in 2013. Nickens’ criticisms are both sweeping and vindictive, likely because, after three years of Foster in office, the newspaper’s leadership sounds like it has had it with him.
This begs the question, if the newspaper is abandoning the Mayor and Foster has lost a significant amount of his support in the black community due to his firing of Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis and Foster continues to disappoint his allies in the Chamber of Commerce and similar organizations, who exactly is still behind the Mayor except for contrarians like Virgina Littrell and the rank-and-file of the PBA?
Who, excatly, are the Mayor’s people?