“I’m sure you’re wondering a few things. Who am I? Why am I running for City Council? And what am I going to do for you?”
That’s how Amy Foster began her recent Saturday afternoon conversation with the approximately 20 people gathered at Craftsman House, an art gallery and café tucked in a bungalow on St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue.
In April, the 35-year-old Louisiana native announced that she was running to succeed Jeff Danner in District 8, immediately becoming a frontrunner. An informal survey shows Foster yard signs dominating the North Kenwood district (which also includes Grand Central, Central Kenwood and Disston Heights) that she hopes to represent this fall.
Foster gives a quick recounting of the career that has led her to this moment, beginning with her current job at the EdLab Group, a national nonprofit where she’s working on an initiative to increase gender equity in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. Before that she worked with the Girl Scouts for nearly a decade, the holder of the gaudy title Director of Girl and Adult Leadership.
Foster says her work experience is evidence that she’s a consensus builder, and that’s what she wants to do in City Hall. She’s knocked on a lot of doors since April, and proudly says her platform isn’t sexy, but “foundational.”
“There are other things that are important, including transit, arts and a lot of other areas. But if we can’t make people safe for their neighborhood that creates some real big issues,” she tells the audience.
Speaking of safety, Foster says there is some concern about open-air drug dealing and prostitution at motels along the 34th Street corridor. “It’s not enough for Beach Drive to be beautiful,” she says, pointing out that the downtown renaissance has led to some of the homeless being driven out of that area. “Our city needs to be seamless,” she says, echoing the mantra from the Rick Baker era.
Foster later says that it’s not good enough when Chief Harmon deems the corridor better than it was 20 years ago. “There are solutions,” Foster says, pointing to extensive research that she’s done on how other cities have dealt with the problem, “and I’m going to keep looking until we can figure this out.”
The District 8 race is the most crowded of the City Council races on the ballot Aug. 27, with four other candidates attempting to join Foster in a runoff — Alexander Duensing, William Davis and Steve Galvin. But it’s Foster who has been endorsed by the man who’s held the seat for the past eight years, Jeff Danner. The two have held lots of conversations over the years, and Danner thinks she’s prepared to be an effective lawmaker.
“She gets it,” Danner said last month while introducing Foster at a meet-and-greet event. “She knows, not everything — but knows how to find the answers, how to listen to people, how to get through all the details and all the stuff that she’s gotten herself in store for her.”
Among those listening to her speak at Craftsman House was Lisa Wheeling-Brown, a community activist and president of the Wildwood Neighborhood Association. She only met Foster after she announced her candidacy. “She seems to have the community’s interests at heart,” Wheeling-Brown says, including the issues that she cares most about: public safety and youth enrichment programs.
Foster, along with District Four candidate Darden Rice, has received strong support from St. Petersburg’s LGBT community. As such, the Council could see two relative rarities: two women elected to the board simultaneously, and two lesbian women to boot. Though it must be said that neither candidate is making an issue of their sexual orientation during the campaign.
Foster was married for a few years to a man she met while attending Centenary College, a liberal arts school in Louisiana. After graduation the couple moved to Colorado, where Foster had a job waiting for her in Denver and her husband worked at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
She says that it was while on vacation with her family that she first discovered St. Pete, which she could tell was on the verge of becoming a great city. Shortly after establishing themselves here, Foster realized she was more attracted to people of her own gender.
It wasn’t easy. Her father didn’t really understand, but he loved her and said nothing was going to change. Her mom? That has been more of a struggle, but Foster says it’s hard to describe the joy she felt this spring when her mother sent an Easter card to her and her partner with some cash to enjoy dinner — together.
She admits she knew that her sexual orientation would become a story when she announced her candidacy, which meant having a discussion with her family about articles like this. But Foster insists, “My platform is not a gay platform.”
When asked about the significance of possibly having three members of the LGBT community serving together next year on the City Council, she begs off.
“I don’t want to go waving this flag and making this big history statement until it’s time to do that,” she says.
And does it even really matter much anymore? At a recent event, St. Pete City Council candidate David McKalip, running against Darden Rice, said simply, “God bless any candidate elected to City Council … I could care less if you’re gay or straight. That’s not the issue, and in my opinion the LGBT community has matured far beyond those issues.”
For Foster, she says it’s all about making sure people have the access and ability to move forward in their lives. “I’m really powered by the stories that I hear. … People are the best thing in this city, and together we can figure out the solutions and make great things happen.”
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