The St. Petersburg Times wasted no time before declaring war on Kathleen Ford’s Mayoral Campaign, now that she has made it into the General Election. Not even allowing for a day of reconciliation (and a few victory laps), the Times published this editorial:
St. Petersburg voters will have a clear choice when they elect the city’s next mayor in November. Bill Foster, who narrowly finished first in Tuesday’s primary, would build upon the city’s progress over the last eight years. Kathleen Ford, who finished second, would head off in a different direction that would threaten that progress.
In a primary that featured 10 candidates and generated little voter enthusiasm, Foster and Ford finished at the front of the pack by running disciplined campaigns and capitalizing on their name recognition. First-time candidates Deveron Gibbons and Scott Wagman raised far more money, but that could not buy instant connections with voters or overcome their inexperience in campaigning. Both Foster and Ford are former City Council members with solid bases of support. Their challenge in the next two months will be to reach out to the more than seven of every 10 voters who did not bother to vote in the primary. The dismal turnout hardly signals an unhappy electorate hungry for dramatic change.
As difficult as it was to distinguish among so many candidates in the primary, there are clear distinctions between Foster and Ford that will come into sharper focus before the general election:
Crime. Foster offers a measured approach, including encouraging the police to more aggressively go after drugs, prostitution and burglaries in Midtown; expanding community policing; and working more closely with the Sheriff’s Office. He would give Chief Chuck Harmon an opportunity to embrace his agenda. Ford wants to micromanage the way officers are dispatched and says more officers are needed even as tax revenues are declining. She has not said she would force Harmon out, but he would not be around long if she is elected.
Spending. Foster would be methodical in looking for ways to reduce spending while maintaining essential services. He would not raid reserves to pay for recurring expenses. Ford would dismantle City Hall, fire top staffers who keep the city running, and cut taxes even as she raids reserves to increase spending on public safety and other areas. It is a reckless, irresponsible approach.
Baseball. Foster promises to work with the Tampa Bay Rays on developing a consensus plan for a new stadium that would require some public money and approval of the voters. Ford insists she will force the Rays to honor their long-term lease at outdated Tropicana Field, which is unrealistic and sure to drive the Rays to look elsewhere.
Intangibles. Foster has at times been intemperate in describing his conservative social beliefs, but those views have little to do with being mayor and he has pledged to uphold constitutional rights and protect civil liberties. Ford was a particularly divisive force as a City Council member, berating city staff members and belittling colleagues. She has been on her best behavior during this campaign, yet says she has not changed since she unsuccessfully ran for mayor eight years ago against incumbent Rick Baker.
Most of St. Petersburg’s voters will be tuning in to the mayor’s race after Labor Day. They should have no trouble telling these two candidates apart.