Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Fact-checks for the St. Petersburg mayoral election

From left, Kathleen Ford, Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman debated Aug. 6 at the Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 mayoral forum.
From left, Kathleen Ford, Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman debated Aug. 6 at the Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 mayoral forum.

With the St. Petersburg mayoral race heating up, the three major contenders have been trading jabs. PolitiFact Florida has rated a number of their claims on the Truth-O-Meter in preparation for the Aug. 27 primary.

The three major candidates are incumbent mayor Bill Foster; former state representative and City Council member Rick Kriseman; and former Council member Kathleen Ford, who also challenged Foster four years ago.

Here are the claims we’ve checked so far:

  • "Private prison systems are calculating how many new beds (they will need) based on the ... number of third graders." Ford used this statistic at the first debate to emphasize a need for improving city graduation rates. But a school discipline expert and prison operators deemed it an urban myth. We rated the statement Pants on Fire.

  • "Since I was elected, crime rates have been at their lowest in over a decade." Foster touted this in a campaign brochure. He was correct on the numbers: The city is at a low since at least 2000. It gets tricky, though, since St. Petersburg’s decreasing crime rates are part of a larger nationwide trend. We can’t say for sure how much the lowered rates directly correlate to his initiatives. We rated his claim Mostly True.

  • "The fact is that red light cameras change driver behavior and cut down on the most dangerous types of accidents." Kriseman said he supports the use of red light cameras for safety purposes. How cameras affect serious crashes is still up in the air. It depends on which studies you read and how you interpret the data. We rated Kriseman’s claim Half True.

The Aug. 6 Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 mayoral forum left us with lots of questions. Needless to say, that left us with an abundance of fact-checks.

  • "There is no planned air-conditioned restaurant out on the Lens." Voters will decide whether or not they want to void the controversial Lens proposal for a new pier on the upcoming ballot. Ford’s wording here is correct, but there would still food for sale on the Lens, as well as an air-conditioned restaurant on its approach. We rated this Mostly True.

  • "If we don't spend money on a pier, then that money does wipe into the general funds of the city or the county, and if you send it to the county, you never see it again." Foster and Ford tiffed about TIF, the method of financing for the construction or refurbishment of a pier. Foster, a Lens proponent, warned that if the city doesn’t use the money set aside for a pier, it’ll go back to the city and county for general use. That’s true, but it wouldn’t happen until 2035. Experts say the chances of that are slim, so we gave Foster a Half True.

  • "If we use (Tax Increment Financing) funding, that's going to take funds from the general fund for Pinellas County, as it will take funds from the general fund for the city of St. Pete." On the flipside of Foster’s claim, Ford said that the pier money could’ve been used for other projects. Because of the specifics of a special district created in 1981 for the purpose of developing the downtown area, it’s not possible for the city to spend the money on, say, adding more cops to the beat. We rated her statement False.

  • While Foster was mayor, Kriseman was "ineffective" in the Florida House of Representatives because "there was no legislation that passed the House that had (Kriseman’s) name on it." Foster said Kriseman didn’t get bills passed, but there’s no evidence that made him an ineffective lawmaker. Kriseman’s a Democrat, and it’s especially tough for the minority House party to get bills passed in Tallahassee. We rated the claim Half True.

  • "For anybody who's trying to cross the street and has seen those signs that say you have to stop when pedestrians are in the crosswalk, that was a bill that I passed." Republican Senator Mike Fasano sponsored the bill that ultimately got passed, but gave credit to Kriseman in the House for the original idea. We rated Kriseman’s retort Mostly True.

  • "Sixty percent of the auto thefts that we have in (St. Petersburg) are caused by people leaving their keys in the car." In the midst of a discussion about bike thefts in the city, Foster broadened the issue to stress the importance of locking personal property. Not only was Foster right about car thefts, but the police chief told us he was actually undershooting the number. This year, 83.4 percent of thefts have been due to owners leaving keys in their vehicles, so we rated Foster’s claim True.