Elections for Mayor of Saint Petersburg generally break down like this: one candidate is the favorite of the Old Northeast establishment, the other is the champion of a loose confederation of the ‘Forces of No’. The two sides square off, with each bringing about 40% of the vote to the table. The swing vote is the city’s sizeable black vote, which is, in this case, monolithic. Black voters, guided by leaders in the churches and at City Hall, are the trump card in St. Pete campaigns.
Rick Baker won every precinct in Midtown on his way to defeating Kathleen Ford in 2001 and Ed Helm in 2005. Bill Foster was really only able to beat Ford after she made racially insensitive comments, pushing the black community towards Foster, whose courting of the city’s diverse factions had to, at that point, caused some friction, as the Tampa Bay Times‘ Cristina Silva noted.
“Foster’s vow to become the city’s first black mayor by addressing the needs of black neighborhoods elicited eye rolls from some of the city’s prominent black residents,” reported Silva. “And he irked a group of influential black citizens when he refused to pose for a group picture that included city employees like Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis and Assistant Police Chief Luke Williams, who are black.”
But none of that was as bad as when Ford referred to Davis as the “HNIC” of the city.
Ford’s comment was made during an appearance on Bubba the Love Sponge Clem’s radio show. The shock jock described Davi, who also was the city’s first black police chief, as the “quasi-leader of the African-Americans.” Ford responded: “Actually, Cornel West has a whole explanation about the HNIC theory, and I agree with that. We don’t need one spokesman for a group.”
Whether Ford’s comments were racist or insensitive was left to the voters to decide — which they did, soundly rejecting Ford’s second attempt at the mayor’s office.
One of those who rallied to Foster after Ford’s comments was State Representative Darryl Rouson. He did not out-and-out endorse Foster (Rouson had already endorsed Deveron Gibbons), but Rouson did put his political machine (of which I was a part) to work for Foster.
This history is part of why it is so significant that Rouson endorsed Foster’s opponent, Rick Kriseman, earlier this week.
“Rick represents the best of what makes St. Petersburg great,” said Rouson. “His passion and commitment to his community is demonstrated daily in his efforts to create more opportunities for engaging our children and families. I witnessed his commitment to doing what was right every day during his service in the legislature.”
Do not make the mistake of thinking Rouson’s endorsement of his fellow Democrat was pro forma. He could have sat on his hands, especially during the upcoming legislative session when he will need to work with Foster on the city’s legislative priorities. Heck, Rouson could have pseudo-endorsed Foster again, justifying his decision by saying Foster had not done anything to un-earn his support.
Instead, Rouson is the first major coup for Kriseman’s recently launched campaign.
Kriseman will now have both Rouson and Ken Welch behind him when he makes his push for the black votes which went for Foster in 2009. Don’t be surprised if Go Davis ends up pushing votes to Kriseman,
In the zero-sum game of electoral politics, this is not only a gain for Kriseman, this is a loss for Foster.