Friday, October 24th, 2014

Fact-checking the St. Petersburg mayoral election

St. Petersburg mayoral candidates Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman and Kathleen Ford. (Lara Cerri | Times)
St. Petersburg mayoral candidates Bill Foster, Rick Kriseman and Kathleen Ford. (Lara Cerri | Times)

St. Petersburg voters will soon go to the polls to vote for the city’s next mayor, and PolitiFact Florida is helping sort out the truth among the candidates.

Five candidates are vying in the Aug. 27 primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a November runoff.

The incumbent, Mayor Bill Foster, is touting a drop in the crime rate as a reason he deserves four more years. In a campaign brochure, Foster said, "Since I was elected, crime rates have been at their lowest in over a decade." He’s right about the statistics, but it’s unclear just how much of the credit should go to Foster. We rated that claim Mostly True.

The person Foster defeated four years ago, Kathleen Ford, is running again in 2013. The three-time mayoral candidate and former City Council member recently made a pitch for the city to get more involved in youth programs and education. She said that "private prison systems are calculating how many new beds (they will need) based on the ... number of third graders." We found that claim is a spin off an often debunked myth. The largest private prison operators in the country say they get their estimates from the states where they do business. And the states tell us that what a third-grader does isn’t a factor. We found this claim to be Pants on Fire.

We also checked a claim from Rick Kriseman, a former City Council member and state legislator who is running for mayor. He said that "red light cameras change driver behavior and cut down on the most dangerous types of accidents." The statement came as part of an argument that red light cameras should remain at city intersections.

The experts and studies are split on the matter, however, and there is no clear consensus that red light cameras reduce the most dangerous types of crashes. So we rated Kriseman’s claim Half True.

Foster, Ford and Kriseman are all expected to appear at a 7 p.m. Aug. 6 debate hosted by the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9. The hour-long debate will be televised live on Bay News 9 and PolitiFact Florida fact-checkers will be in attendance.

If you hear something worth fact-checking, email us at truthometer@politifact.com.