Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman squared off in a mayoral debate last night the focus of which was business development in St. Petersburg. A quick scan of the post-event reporting isn’t too shocking. Mark Puente at the Tampa Bay Times ably covered the blow-by-blow quite well. It is no surprise to anyone paying attention when he goes on to characterize the heightening tensions as a “battle”.
Will Mansell at the St. Pete Patch is not wrong when he reports that things are heating up, and that over the course of the debate — and campaign –the “jabs increase”. Mitch Perry reported in his Creative Loafing piece that during the debate the candidates “clash[ed] early and often”.
But a closer reading of Puente’s article reveals a flat-out unbelievable quote from Mayor Foster, and I must confess that I am at a loss to explain why it didn’t get more play in the local media:
He [Mayor Foster] then surprised many with his answer on the importance of higher education when he mentioned Gov. Rick Scott. He boasted about spending a long weekend in Tallahassee securing $5 million for a business school at USF St. Petersburg.
“It’s something the governor was going to veto,” Foster said. “It helps to have a friend in the governor’s mansion.”
It helps to have a friend in the governor’s mansion.
I will concede that I thought the reported response from Kriseman — who spent six years in Tallahassee as a State Representative — was appropriate: “‘It would have been nice during my six years in Tallahassee if Mr. Foster was up there every session to advocate’ for issues that impact citizens.”
Indeed, a long weekend in Tally does not an effective advocate make.
But I am floored that Mayor Foster would brag so brazenly of such loyal allegiance to Governor Rick Scott. This is the same Rick Scott who is “in no rush” to fulfill his obligations to the Florida Constitution and (finally) select a Lieutenant Governor.
This is the same Governor Rick Scott whose chief of staff resigned in a flurry of scandal.
This is the same Governor Rick Scott whose education commissioner resigned amid a cloud of scandal.
This is the same Governor Rick Scott who is one of the least popular — and by a factor of a lot, most vulnerable — governors in the nation. In recent polling, Scott gets trounced by a man who hasn’t even declared his intentions yet.
Even this week, this is the same Governor Scott who had to stand by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as she weathered nation-wide criticism for having an execution rescheduled to accommodate her campaign kick-off.
In other words, it is not terribly difficult to prove that Rick Scott is a highly unlikable politician, not at all very popular, and very vulnerable.
Why would you tie your political fortunes in such an open, clear way to Rick Scott’s sinking ship? I am sure Mayor Foster would offer some sort of platitude about loyalty — but there’s loyalty, and there’s having your priorities all mixed up.
The debate last night was about businesses and jobs — which Governor Rick Scott, whose jobs initiative has recently been characterized as “stalled out” — hasn’t always been good for, either. Perhaps Mayor Foster needs a new set friends.
Or maybe St. Petersburg needs a new mayor.
Benjamin J. Kirby published the Spencerian, a political blog covering national and local politics, for eight years. He spent twenty years serving in national and local government as well as the non-profit sector. A contributor to Context Florida, he is currently the principal of Typeset Media Strategies, providing writing services, social media content, and communications strategy for non-profits, political leaders, and drivers of community conversations.