Lesbian Politician Looking to Represent St. Petersburg’s District 8
To understand Amy Foster as a politician, you must first understand Amy Foster as a person. Her beliefs, her platform, and her political plans as she seeks the District 8 seat on the St. Petersburg City Council all come from a life dedicated to helping others, developing leaders, and understanding how to solve problems efficiently and effectively. And, believe it or not, the political world is the last place she thought she would be.
“I never thought I would end up in politics,” said Foster, who is a former St. Pete Pride volunteer. “It’s weird that I’m sitting here in this spot, a year ago I never thought this is where I would be.”
She started off her career as a substance abuse counselor for girls at a correctional facility in Denver, but realized within the first year that it wasn’t for her. Instead she found her calling in a seemingly unlikely place.
“There was a Girl Scout group that came in and I was like ‘Girl Scouts come to correctional facilities?’” she said.
Foster began a dialogue with the organization, and when they realized she had a unique skill-set, they approached her about joining their team.
“They said, ‘You have a great background, you could come work with us and design programs for the outreach work we do for at-risk in the communities, and so I began working for Girl Scouts.”She started designing programs for youth-living, as well as working with youth with disabilities. And when she came to the Tampa Bay area 10 years ago, she continued her work with the organization.
“I worked for Girl Scouts here as well, and managed eight counties and two departments—one for adult development, as well as their program department, and a part of that was managing eight properties,” said Foster.
It was work that would show her the importance of leadership development—now a key part of her political platform.
“Girl Scouts is one of those things that most people never realize the types of things that they actually do in communities,” she said. “I never would say that I just worked for Girl Scouts, I would say that I worked for the world’s preeminent leadership organization. And that’s really what it’s about, teaching people how to lead.
“It was really by girls, for girls,” she said. “We trained them how to lobby for issues, we had lobbyists teach them the necessary skills, and in the spring I would take girls to Tallahassee to lobby their legislators for things they cared about. Some would say they were worried about their parents not being able to pay their homeowners insurance; others would say they wanted arts programs and others would say that they wanted mentoring programs. We had a state-wide effort with all Girl Scout councils and we were able to get around $800,000 from the legislature to do these after-school mentoring programs across the state.”
Foster then became involved at the state level with a project called the Florida Girls Collaborative Project. The idea was that if people were brought together and resources were leveraged, it would increase the number of girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
“At first, I would say, ‘No, I’m a social scientist, that’s not my thing,’” said Foster. “But my boss at the time told me ‘Amy, you should really go to New York for this STEM training,’ so I ended up going, and there I built this robot and I programmed it to do what I told it to do, and I felt so empowered by it that when I got home I started building this project and by the time I left Girl Scouts three years later, just from leveraging resources and making connections, we had about $300,000 in funding for STEM programs.”
The national team (The National Girls Collaborative Project) then approached Foster and told her they wanted to apply for another five years of funding from the National Science Foundation, asking if she would want to join their team.
“I did it, ended up getting $2.5 million in funding, and I now manage 39 states and teach them how to do what I did in Florida,” she says. “I’m bringing on four more states in the next three to six months, which I might be crazy for taking on,” she added with a laugh.
It is now that the picture of Amy Foster the politician starts to come into focus. Her platform is based around three goals—building safer neighborhoods, creating jobs and developing the workforce, and preparing our next generation of leaders. And in her eyes, these three issues are all tied very closely together.
Her involvement with the Girl Scouts and the Florida & National Girls Collaborative Project have helped her cultivate the skills needed to develop leaders in the community, but her skill-set further transitions into the realm of politics when you consider the remaining two campaign points.
“Here’s where I think my background translates really well to City Council—it’s not about the funding,” she said. “Money isn’t the sole answer to everything. You bring together government and industry and educators and organizations, and you get them all to the table and you say ‘Ok, here’s the problem, how do we fix it? What can you do, what’s your organization willing and able to give to help fix this problem? Can you give food for a training event, and can you offer up some space for a training event,’ and so on. When everyone comes together to leverage resources, money becomes less important.”
Foster also feels that the only way the city will be able to bridge the pay equity issues, and the only way people can pull themselves from poverty issues, is to have something that, regardless of education level, has more job stability and higher income from the beginning.
“I wanted those anecdotal stories,” she said. “Are there no jobs in St. Pete? So I started talking to people in the area, lawyers, businesses, and they said ‘I have jobs, I just can’t find people skilled enough to work them.’ It’s interesting, as I’ve talked to people who represent us here in the House, they say ‘You’re right.’ And it’s not just a St. Pete issue or a Florida issue, it’s just an issue straight across the board that we have this talent mismatch.
“There’s no way we can create these jobs unless we eliminate this talent mismatch, and we have to be collaborating with the county and we have to be talking to the industry and saying ‘What do you have going on? What do we need to be making sure is on the horizon?’”
This idea of giving opportunity for talent match and achievement is one that, Foster feels, starts with the youth of the community and may be linked to building safer neighborhoods in the process.
“After school programs are key,” she said. “If you have kids involved in enrichment opportunities from 3-6 p.m., they are less likely to be involved in alcohol abuse,” Foster said. “If we keep kids involved in enriching opportunities in that 3-6pm window, we can lower crime.
“Research shows that parents are willing to enroll their children in more programs if they could afford it, and there lies this achievement gap. Youth whose families have higher income have enrichment opportunities, so that out of school time is even more important that what happens during school time.”
Foster also wants to see the dissolution of the separatist mentality of South and North St. Petersburg.
“There’s a big misconception,” she said. “Everyone says ‘All this crime, it moves up to the north end from the south.’ Well, if we say the drug problem is moving north, my question is, ‘Where is the demand coming from, if that’s the case?’ It’s this perception that ‘South St. Pete is problematic,’ but I think we need to come together and determine what the issues are and how to solve them.”
Foster feels that one of the biggest potential solutions to this issue is the local police force.
“If you look at Tampa, they have very different crime rates than we do, and they have 2.9 officers to every 1,000 residents—here we only have two,” she said. “They also have a proactive policing policy where they are required to do more self-initiated calls than response calls, meaning basically, they will be riding around, stop, and talk to residents about what’s going on in the neighborhood.”
This, she feels, is a key component to helping the city of St. Petersburg.
“That makes a big difference, and you can only do that when you have enough officers to do it,” she said. “There are some people who say ‘Well I don’t want to be harassed,’ and that’s not at all what I’m asking for. Community policing allows for the officers to get to know the neighborhood, get to know families.”
This type of policing was formerly used in the city, but Foster said it wasn’t used in the most effective manner, and therefore eventually dissolved.
“It started off in one or two neighborhoods and it really worked, so then more and more neighborhoods wanted it, so they expanded it to five neighborhoods and it did very well,” she said. “Then they expanded it to all neighborhoods and ended up not being able to afford it.”
“There were certain neighborhoods that didn’t really need community policing.”
Foster feels that community policing should be based on a needs-assessment approach.
“My mother always used to say growing up, ‘What’s fair isn’t that you get the exact same thing; what’s fair is that you get exactly what you need.’” she said. “That’s common sense government to me. Saying ‘Ok, if there’s no need to put a police officer in Shore Acres, then why would we do it?’ Let’s think about that. There has to be some form of needs-assessment—if it’s not working somewhere then pull it, but if a community is asking for it and needs it then it needs to remain.”
Foster is passionate about building the city of St. Petersburg and making it a better community for all that call it home.
“I think it’s really important for our city to grow, because if people don’t feel safe, then as soon as they have kids, what happens—they move to Clearwater, they move to the suburbs,” she said.“There’s this energy here, it’s really amazing For example, there’s the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, and they were going to tear it down because it was in disrepair. The young crowd in the city said no, and started getting people out there. Now there are hundreds of people that go out there on Fridays, they have bands, they have craft beer, it’s amazing what they were able to do.
She goes on to cite young innovative minds, like Katie Talbert who founded Tampa Bay’s “Operation Coexist”—an organization that seeks to grow the local art and music scene, as well as increase music programs and music therapy services in the Tampa bay area.
“I met [Talbert] and she’s trying to give back to the community, she’s trying to provide music education opportunities for kids who can’t get music education opportunities any other way,” Foster said. “That’s the kind of energy I want our city to build on.”
With primaries right around the corner in August, Foster is optimistic and feels that a strong female presence on the council would be very beneficial to the city.
“It’s that collaborative nature, and figuring out a winning outcome for everyone at the table, and that is part of a woman’s nature,” she said. “Having someone who is little more able to see all sides and figure out what the middle ground may be is very beneficial, and I think that’s one of the strong suits of having a female presence.
“I can assure you not everyone is going to agree on every issue. The reality is that my skill-set is all about brining everyone to the table and trying to figure out that win-win. We still may end up disagreeing, but I think it’s important to hear out every stakeholder.”
She cites the recent debates surrounding the new Pier design as a prime example.
“Sixty percent of our voters feel disenfranchised, so something didn’t go right,” she said. “There is a way that you go about big decisions like that that will make people feel involved and build consensus from the beginning. There are certainly still going to be groups that aren’t completely happy with the end decision, but at least they were informed, it was transparent, and they were involved from the start.”
In the end, Foster feels positive about the future of the city, and is hopeful that she will be an integral part of its transformation.
“We’re already a great city,” she said “But I feel like we’re on the verge of something really amazing, and I’m looking forward to hopefully being a part of that.”
If elected, Foster, who is gay, would hold the seat currently held by Jeff Danner, who can’t seek re-election due to term limits. District 8 encompasses the Grand Central District and Historic Kenwood, which are at the heart of St. Petersburg’s LGBT community.
From our media partner Watermark