Bill Foster, Kathleen Ford and Rick Kriseman took part in the first mayoral debate as they prepare for St. Petersburg's November 2013 election
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida- At the first mayoral debate Thursday night, the three candidates running for mayor of St. Petersburg this November did not spell out in-depth plans on any of the hot button issues like The Lens, or the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, instead electing to share broader visions for the future of the city.
The debate, sponsored by the NAACP and held at St. Pete Hospice, provided Bill Foster, Kathleen Ford and Rick Kriseman an opportunity to reintroduce themselves to the community, and debate on a variety of issues for the first time together in front of one audience.
Much of the focus and many of the questions surrounded the future of Midtown and south St. Petersburg, attracting businesses and restaurants to that area of town and keeping money that's going towards local construction in the community.
All three candidates talked about the importance of investing in local neighborhoods and keeping our parks and our streets looking great. Education was also a key issue, with emphasis on reducing the dropout rates- especially among young African American males, and tailoring higher education curriculum to meet the needs of employers.
"Education is economic development," said incumbent Bill Foster. "It's job creation and it is public safety."
His challengers also stressed education, but also focused in on the importance of supporting vibrant neighborhoods.
"I think it's really critical we restore our neighbors. They are slipping," said Kathleen Ford, who moved to St. Petersburg in 1987, and says she's been active in the community ever since.
Former state legislator Rick Kriseman also stressed his belief in supporting strong neighborhoods.
"We've got to get back to what made us special, and having strong vibrant neighborhoods," he said.
Most attendees say they were impressed by the three candidates slated for November's ballot.
"I think there was a lot of information that was given helpful to make a decision," said Helaine Neal. "I found out a lot of things I wasn't familiar with about some of the candidates."
Tom Dunn agreed. "I thought they all handled the questions very well. I think we have three good choices."
But not everyone got all the answers they wanted.
"I think there was a lot of politicizing," said Mark Madrick. "I'm going to have to come to a lot more of these to get a feel for the candidates."
There were even a few fireworks with former city employee Goliath Davis questioning the current mayor's credibility, and local community activist "Momma Tee" Lassiter threatened with a possible trespass warning after she became outraged, refusing to stick to her allotted time.
After the debate, Lassiter accused Davis of stacking the audience with supporters of Kathleen Ford.
There were no arrests and everything ended peacefully, but certainly the three candidates will have many more questions to answer from all their potential constituents leading up to November's election.
Follow 10 News Reporter Beau Zimmer on twitter @Zimm10
Beau Zimmer, 10 News