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New Poll: Bill Foster Leads in Race for St. Petersburg Mayor

Mayor Bill Foster hasn't won many new friends recently for not budging on a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays and his support for the Lens to replace the upside-down pyramid on the St. Petersburg waterfront. But that apparently isn't enough to nudge him out of the lead in his quest for re-election.

A new WUSF Public Media/Tampa Bay Times/ Bay News 9 poll shows Foster with a significant lead for the upcoming mayoral primary. The poll of 810 registered voters shows 30 percent plan to vote for Foster. Former City Councilwoman Kathleen Ford is the runner-up, with 20 percent. And former City Council member and state representative Rick Kriseman is third, at 17 percent.

One of the people polled, St. Pete resident Jeff Hazzard, says he's reconsidering his support for Foster because of his backing of the controversial Lens project.

"For me, Mayor Foster has been a mixed bag of good and bad," says Hazzard. "His approach to reformulating the use and construction of the St. Pete Pier into the Lens project, when it has very poor popular support, it is a poor decision, politically economically and aesthetically. In my opinion, it makes me hold our mayor in less esteem."

Because of that, Hazzard says, he's not voting for the mayor for re-election.

"Because of the poor decisions the mayor has made in supporting the Lens," he says, "I no longer support the mayor."

But who will he vote for? More than one out of four St. Petersburg voters polled say they haven't made up their mind yet. Count Hazzard among them. But he's focusing his vote on the Lens.

"Well, I haven't decided who it's going to be, but it will certainly be a candidate that opposes the Lens," continued Hazzard. "It will certainly be a candidate that continues to protect the Bayfront infrastructure as a public use park space and enhance that, because it's important to me. It will be someone who is pro-development in the rest of the city."

One out of every three voters polled give Foster an average grade for his first term. About the same number gave him good or better marks, while an equal number gave him a poor grade. The poll revealed only a small minority - five percent - plan to vote for Foster because of his views on the Lens and the Pier. Most say he's doing a good job and that he's a better choice than the other candidates.

Kathleen Ford

St. Pete resident Brittany Ashley isn't sold on Foster's performance.

"I've lived here my whole life, and I think that, over the past couple of months, things have gotten a little better in town as far as certain areas. But I do believe that other areas have been impacted negatively," she says. I know that he has been an advocate for, in a way, removing the homeless. I think there are other ways he could have gone about that in a more humane manner, shall we say. But as far as a lot of the politics go, I'm not too factual on a lot of it yet."

Still, Ashley doesn't know who she'll vote for. She had planned on backing Ford, but now, she's not so sure.

"Originally I was leaning towards her, but in an interview that I had seen with her a few months ago, I kind of lost a little respect for her as far as how she carried herself and the manner that she spoke in," Ashley says. "So I'm probably going to go back to my fact checking policy and kind of look and see from there."

The city's racial divide is also illustrated by the new poll.

Although Foster would best Ford in a head-to-head contest by a margin of 49 to 43 percent, the numbers are reversed for African-American voters. They back Ford, giving her 51 percent of the vote.

Rick Kriseman

And Rick Krisemen would fall to Foster if the two of them survive the primary, trailing by nearly 10 percent. That widens for black voters, who support Foster over Krisemen by more than 20 percent.

Still, Tim Ahern says he likes Kriseman a lot more than Mayor Foster.

"Rick, he seems to have a personality," says Ahern. "He seems to be more open to suggestions and speaking with folks. Where our present incumbent, if you try to get in to see him, if you're not dressed in a three-piece suit, carrying a donation check for him, he doesn't want to know you."

St. Petersburg voters will go to the polls to pick their mayor - and vote on the Lens - on August 27th.

WUSF interns Maryam Saleh and Eric Staab contributed to this report.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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