ST. PETERSBURG — It couldn’t have been a coincidence could it?
At the very same hour that Mayor Bill Foster celebrated the creation of almost 100 new jobs in Midtown, challenger Rick Kriseman held a hastily-scheduled news conference just one mile away to announce he had scooped up another endorsement from a Florida political heavyweight.
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg resident, on Monday became the latest political name to lend his support to Kriseman’s bid to lead St. Petersburg. Kriseman on Monday also picked up an endorsement from City Council Member Wengay Newton, meaning six of the eight-member council have now backed the former Democratic state lawmaker over Foster.
Kriseman was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2006, the same year that voters put Crist, then a Republican, into the Governor’s mansion.
Although on opposite sides of the political aisle, the two worked together in 2010 against the threat of off-shore oil drilling. Crist backed Kriseman’s calls for a special legislative session to draw up a constitutional amendment banning drilling from state waters. Republicans shot down the idea but Crist on Monday pointed out that calls for drilling later subsided, which he attributed to Kriseman’s leadership.
“I know he will be a great mayor; Crist said at a press conference in Midtown. “I know he is a tireless advocate for education, for the environment, for the things that are so important here in the sunshine city.”
Foster on Monday, attended a ribbon-cutting event close-by to celebrate the opening of a new hiring center for the Midtown Walmart Neighborhood Market store, which will replace the shuttered Sweetbay store in Tangerine Plaza on 22nd Street South.
He described Crist’s support for his opponent as “an endorsement from one career politician to another.”
Kriseman has also been endorsed by Florida Senator Bill Nelson and former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. Foster has endorsements from local police and fire unions, realtor groups and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.
“If Mr. Kriseman would spend half the energy to come up with an original thought on jobs rather than collecting endorsements, we may actually have a debate,” Foster said. “The endorsement today is more about Charlie’s run for governor than it is the mayor’s race.”
Cesar Fernandez, Kriseman’s campaign manager, denied that the Crist endorsement was an attempt to steal Foster’s limelight.
“We did it in accordance with Gov. Crist’s schedule,” Fernandez said.
Newton, who has clashed with Foster on red-light cameras, the city’s pier and the police pursuit policy, endorsed Kathleen Ford in the primary election.
He said he switched his support to Kriseman because of the challenger’s support for a system of civil citations for some juvenile offenders. Newton said numbers from the city police department show that 2,185 juveniles were arrested between Dec. 1 and Sept. 5.
“The current administration wants nothing to do with that,” Newton said. “The kids end up with a permanent record.”
Foster led Kriseman in the primary election by roughly 900 votes. A recent poll shows Kriseman has a one-point lead but that is well within the poll’s margin of error.
Campaign reports filed or mailed by Friday’s deadline showed that Foster out raised Kriseman by roughly $5,000 in a two week period that ended Sept. 27, although Kriseman has still out raised Foster overall.
Foster brought in about $30,000 in the two-week period, meaning he still has $67,000 on hand to spend on his campaign. Kriseman, who has also outspent Foster, raised just under $25,000, leaving him with roughly $61,000 on hand.
The city-wide election is Nov. 5.