That was the general thrust of the mayor's 40-minute presentation to the Tiger Bay crowd at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club on Wednesday afternoon. Foster gave an informal state of the city address, and discussed the usual items that dominate public policy in the 'burg: the Pier, the Rays, crime and education. To nobody's surprise, he officially announced he would be a candidate for another four-year term later this year.
The mayor cited a recent Tampa Bay Times poll that showed 63 percent of St. Pete residents believe the city is going in the right direction.
"From 2011 to 2012 we issued over 2,000 more building permits than we did the previous year, equaling over $100 million over and above the previous year in construction value," Foster said. He added that his and the city council's job "is to create an environment that entices and welcomes and makes it easy for people to ... relocate, for people to grow, existing small business, that's our sole function."
Foster said he supports the light-rail proposal that Pinellas County residents may have the opportunity to vote on in 2014, but not if it's just about Pinellas County.
"It doesn't make sense if it doesn't connect to Tampa," he clarified.
The Pinellas County Transit Agency is discussing a proposal for the construction of a rail system that would connect St. Pete to Clearwater. Foster said he is aligned with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in trying to get a state law passed that would allow the two cities to hold their own referendums to pay for transportation projects (state law currently only allows counties to place such measures on the ballot). Though both leaders have extensively covered the topic in recent months, there has not been a bill introduced by local legislators that would call for that.
"I support light rail as a concept, but not in a vacuum. We must be able to connect to Tampa," Foster insisted.
Speaking of his crosstown rival, Foster mentioned the obvious: how St. Pete's downtown has evolved into a dynamic place to live and congregate.
"Tampa has discovered St. Petersburg," he said, adding that people are coming to the city from Hillsborough and beyond because simply, "it's heaven."
On the perennial issues that have dominated St. Pete discussions throughout the past year — the Rays and Tropicana Field, and the status of the Pier — Foster said little that he hasn't repeated in the past.
Attendee and former USFSP poli-sci professor Darryl Paulson asked the first question about the ongoing saga of the Rays/Trop. The Mayor discounted the notion of working with officials in Tampa and Hillsborough County to keep the team in the Bay area, maintaining that the team still has 15 years on its current lease. Paulson said nobody believes the team will fulfill that obligation, and he fears that Foster's leadership could allow the team to jettison the area (we'll have more on this on an upcoming post).
Foster reiterated his support for VoteOnThePier.com's bid to get a measure on last November's ballot, but that bid was rejected by the city council. He said that while StopTheLens might be successful in getting its measure on the ballot, he does not support that idea this late in the process.
"That train — that light-rail — has left the station. Folks, we've gotta move on this. There is a sense of urgency," Foster said.
The current plans are for the Pier to be razed beginning at the end of this May.
Regarding the volatile issue of guns, Foster again boasted that he's not a member of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's led group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He said he's against illegal guns, but is not in support of confiscating legal firearms.
The mayor talked about his gun collection — "I have a Browning, I have a Remington, a Smith & Wesson, I have a Glock" — but said he doesn't believe anybody should buy a firearm without a background check. He also said he believes the gun-show loop hole should be closed.
"It needs to be statewide," he said, adding that "it's a conversation that must take place."