Kathleen Ford makes common cause with Bill Foster at St. Pete mayoral debate

23-year-old Anthony Cates joined the major candidates in the forum.

Throughout the campaign for mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman and Kathleen Ford have been clear about their differences with the man they're trying to knock out of office, incumbent Bill Foster. 

Kriseman kept up that line of attack on Monday night at a debate held before the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association, but curiously, Ford frequently stated how much she agreed with Mayor Foster on a number of issues.

On homelessness, for example, Ford applauded (as she has in the past) Foster's work with Pinellas Safe Harbor (she also mistakenly referred to the James A. Haley facility in Tampa as "Alex Haley"), whereas Kriseman criticized Foster for not "reaching beyond our borders" to try to acquire more funding from the feds in D.C. to address the problem.

Ford has always had Foster's back when it comes to his reasoning for not participating in Mayors Against Illegal Guns. She said she shares his concerns about the national group's possible agenda. She also said she worries about a shortage of ammunition rounds. "Where is all the ammunition?" she asked as almost an aside, but added that she "applauded" Foster and the police department for their effort to remove illegal guns from the streets of St. Petersburg.

Kriseman said he would have no compunction against aligning with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which has been led by New York's Michael Bloomberg and Boston's Thomas Menino. "As the mayor of this city, I would be the strongest voice against illegal weapons in our community," he declared.

On education, Mayor Foster recently announced a partnership in concert with Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego and Pinellas Education Foundation Chairman Jim Myers called St. Pete's Promise.

Kriseman said it was nice to see, but it should have happened sooner, instead of right before a contested primary.

But again, Ford was in sync with the mayor. "I applaud Mr. Foster in taking that step and identifying those issues," she said.

Ford blamed part of the Tampa Bay Rays lousy attendance average on the team. "There's this perception that the Rays want to get out of town, and I think that has impacted their fan base, and that's not our fault," she said.

Foster said it wasn't his job to be the chief marketer for the club, but it was under his mandate to be the top cheerleader of the team (Ford joked later that she could give him some pom-poms). Kriseman chided Foster for failing to communicate with the Rays management until recently.

Toward the end of the debate, Foster boasted that St. Petersburg has never had a more accessible mayor. He gave out his phone number and asked people to send him a message if they felt like communicating with him.

There are actually five candidates on the ballot for mayor in St. Pete. Paul Congemi did not show up last night, but 23-year-old Anthony Cates did, joining the Big 3 on the dais, the first time CL has seen him in action on the campaign trail.

Cates said that if Foster's record is so perfect, "there would be a much larger margin in the polls of him leading." This was the most critical statement we heard from Cates all night. 

"This is me in raw form," the first-time candidate explained, admitting that he's $19,000 "in the hole."

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