Bill Foster awakens this morning having enjoyed what he called during the campaign his lifelong dream. He is now the Mayor of St. Petersburg.
A somewhat exhausted Foster shook hands and hugged supporters on Central Avenue for hours after Kathleen Ford called to concede the election right around 8p.m. last evening.
Foster won with nearly 53% of the vote, to Ford's 47%.
I did not make a prediction prior to last night, but I did believe that the election would not be over by 8PM. That was a stunner to me. In the last poll taken several weeks ago, Ford had a somewhat precarious 5% lead. Ford did much better in the early voting than those who came out yesterday, leading support to those who might believe that her H.N.I.C. comment damaged her, particularly amongst black voters.
At 7:50PM, Bay News 9 showed Foster up by 6%. It was at that time that Ford realized the jig was up, and shortly afterward made her concession speech and called Foster to congratulate him.
I unfortunately missed the speech. A) Because I was just leaving Ferg's, but B) because Ford's campaign event was as far west of downtown as you could get without being on Treasure Island Beach! Arriving at the Sunshine Center around 8:30PM, the place was a virtual mausoleum. Some supporters were in near tears, but others appeared to be moving on quickly, satiating their hurt by consuming some of the generous supply of food prepared earlier in the evening.
I only had a few moments with Kathleen Ford to talk about the results. Frankly, it was difficult. So many months of hard work and dedication, all over in less than an hour. Although she apparently made other remarks to members of the press regarding her media coverage, she wouldn't go there with me, simply responding that she didn't think the St. Pete Times harsh coverage of her on their editorial page made any difference, and refused to speculate how significant their endorsement of Bill Foster might have been.
Foster was extremely humble in victory, praising Ford for running a strong campaign against him, and calling her a friend, saying, "I'm still crazy about her. And I need her."
Foster said it had at times been a grueling campaign, but said it was important for him and Ford to be as accessible as possible in appearing before the oh so many neighborhood associations and other groups for forums and debates. "Too many debates," he acknowledged, but said that they had made him a better candidate than he was six months ago.
"This process beats you to death, but when you survive it, you've earned it," he said, as Mayor Rick Baker, and several past City Council members (Renee Flowers, Ernest Williams, Jay Lasita) and current ones converged on Ferg's as the party continued. He also admitted that he needed to earn the support and trust of the 47% of the voters who chose Ford.
In the City Council races, all the incumbent favorites - Jim Kennedy, Karl Nurse, Leslie Curran and Jeff Danner won.
In the only open seat in District 5, Steve Kornell defeated Angela Rouson handily, 59.5% to 40%.
Kornell becomes the first openly gay elected to office in St. Petersburg, a significant moment, and coming a year after Kevin Beckner became the first openly gay elected official in Hillsborough County, heralds a triumph for the acceptance of gay rights in the Tampa Bay area.