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


A new poll commissioned in part by WUSF shows a sharp turnaround is brewing in the race for St. Petersburg mayor. And the political future of St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster may be on the line on Election Day.

What a difference a summer - and a primary - makes. And St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's quest for re-election may be in trouble. That's according to a new WUSF Public Media/Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 poll. Foster is getting trounced in the poll, trailing challenger Rick Kriseman by seven percentage points. The poll shows 40 percent of the roughly 800 people questioned plan to vote for Kriseman, with 34 percent backing Foster.

The numbers are a dramatic turnaround from a similar poll taken in July. Then, Foster got the lion's share of the three-way vote, with 30 percent. Kathleen Ford, who came in third during the primary, was the runner-up, with 20 percent. And Kriseman was then trailing the pack, with 17 percent.

The majority of those who are backing Foster now point to his experience as mayor. One of those people is Rob Ambrose.

"I just think he's done a good job so far, and the other guy hasn't been in office doing that," says Ambrose. "So I would just vote for the person who has done a good job for the economy that we've had."

But in a twist, only one out of every ten people who plan to vote for Kriseman point to his experience - he's a former City Council member and state representative - as a reason. Instead, twice as many of his supporters plan to cast a vote for Kriseman because they dislike Foster.  One of those is John Doyle.

"He is my fallback," Doyle says. "I think we need someone in the city to clean house. But not in a conservative manner."

But the deciding factor may be the "undecided" voter. Seventeen percent of those polled aren't sure just who they're going to vote for. Ginny Davis just wants to throw all the bums out....

"Now, I don't know a thing about Kriseman, to be honest with you," she says. "Foster, I don't know what he's done. Are there any more people on the ballot?"

Sorry. Ford's gone, so you have a choice between Column 1 and Column 2. And Davis has a history of voting against the tide.

"I'll tell you, in the last presidential election, no the one before that, I had Ben Stein for president bumper stickers made up. Oh lord, why would he want to (run for mayor)? Even if you're sincere and you really want to make a change, you're up against a wall, you know?

Those voting for a change - for Kriseman - are more likely to be younger or a registered Democrat. The poll shows more older voters backing Foster. The vote is split evenly among white voters, with more than twice as many black voters favoring Kriseman over the incumbent.

Challenger Rick Kriseman

But Foster gets the nod from the vast majority of registered Republicans And in a category that could help him in the upcoming election - Foster gets the majority of Independent voters. His backers, like Ambrose, say it's Foster's "experience" that give him the edge.

"It's just mainly the economy and how he helps downtown grow, he says, "the downtown and the nightlife that it has."

Doyle, an unemployed electrician, says the economy is so bad that he plans to move back to his home town of Detroit. His vote is more a protest against Foster, for what he says was the mayor ignoring the will of the people in his handling of the downtown pier.

"I think the pier, how it was handled, was disastrous, and in general contrary to what the people wanted," Doyle says. "And nobody was listening. It just got to the point where I used to be a Republican, and I voted for Reagan the first Bush, and I can't vote for them anymore."

St. Petersburg voters will get their chance to put their words into action and vote for Foster or Kriseman on November 5th.

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