ST. PETERSBURG — Incumbent Mayor Bill Foster and former state lawmaker Rick Kriseman will meet in a runoff Nov. 5 to decide who will lead the city for the next four years after a city-wide vote Tuesday spelled a third electoral defeat for attorney Kathleen Ford.
Foster pulled in 40.6 percent of the vote in the three-way race, but his slim lead over Kriseman suggests he will face a tough battle to stay in office.
Kriseman received nearly 39 percent of the votes cast, comfortably ahead of third-place finisher Ford, who received 19 percent. Candidates Paul Congemi and business owner Athony Cates each pulled in less than 1 percent.
Foster supporters greeted the results as a victory at an election-watch party at Midtown Sundries, chanting “four more years.” The mayor stressed that the campaign wasn't over.
“We have a lot of work to do to reach voters and make sure the facts come out,” he said.
After twice losing in runoff elections, Ford's third place showing ended her campaign.
A strong supporter of saving the inverted pyramid pier, she was expected to benefit from sharing the ballot with the referendum on The Lens. But though she led in early polls, her support dwindled after she was criticized for missing debates and attacked as “unfit to lead” in mailers paid for by a group tied to Florida Realtors.
With just $30,000 in campaign donations, Ford also lagged well behind Foster and Kriseman, each of whom raised roughly $150,000.
Ford said her campaign was damaged by outside interests such as the Realtor group. Attacks by such groups could deter other people from becoming candidates, she said.
“This is going to have a chilling effect on people running,” she said. “I ran the best campaign with what I had.”
Kriseman's second place finish represents a dramatic swing of support in recent weeks. In March, he was polling at just 16 percent. But his campaign gained momentum as Ford's floundered, and he picked up significant endorsements, including half of the eight-member city council, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, possible gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink and longtime Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala.
Kriseman's election night party at the Coliseum on Fourth Avenue North was attended by many City Council members who have endorsed him over Foster, including Karl Nurse and Steve Kornell.
Kriseman said Tuesday's result was just a first step toward changing the city's leadership.
“People are not satisfied with the status quo, and why should they be,” Kriseman said at his election-night celebration at the Colliseum on Fourth Avenue North. “But let me be clear, we're up against a well-funded incumbent mayor. And he has well-funded friends and powerful special interests behind him.''
Foster said he was looking forward to debating Kriseman and was confident voters would opt to keep him in office. Foster has repeatedly attacked Kriseman's record in Tallahassee, saying Kriseman achieved little during his six years in the Capitol.
A Democrat, Kriseman says he did what he could as a member of the minority party.
“Let's talk about records,” he said. “He's going to have to run on his and I'll run on mine.”
As expected, the referendum on the controversial Lens pier design boosted the number of those who went to the polls. Turnout was 31 percent, up from 23 percent in the 2009 general election. More than 50,000 of the city's roughly 160,000 eligible residents cast votes.
Nonetheless, precincts were relatively quiet Tuesday, in part because most voters already had cast a ballot. Election figures showed more than 33,000 people participated in early voting.
In the District 4 City Council primary, Darden Rice will face Carolyn Fries in the November general election. Rice won 2,981 votes, or 45.9 percent of the 6,492 cast, compared to 1,691 for Fries, who had 26.1 percent of the vote.
Fries narrowly edged Dr. David McKalip to move on to the November election. McKalip, who was considered a strong challenger, took 1,522 votes, or 23.4 percent.
In the District 6 race, City Council Chairman Karl Nurse garnered 3,876 votes, or 69.2 percent of the votes cast, and will face Sharon Russ, who received 1,043 votes, or 18.6 percent.
District 8 voters will choose between Amy Foster, who collected 2,847 votes, or 56 percent, and second-place finisher Steve Galvin, who pulled in 933 votes, or 18.3 percent.