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Mayor Foster, black leaders spar over race relations | Politics

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Mayor Foster, black leaders spar over race relations
Politics
Mayor Foster, black leaders spar over race relations

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Hoping to put racial division in the city's past, Mayor Bill Foster gathered a small group of pastors Thursday evening for a brainstorming session at St. Petersburg College.

However, notably absent from the closed-door meeting were other prominent leaders from South St. Pete, including Rev. Manuel Sykes, the president of the local NAACP.

In an e-mail obtained by 10 News, Sykes called Foster's meeting an attempt to "divide and conquer" black leaders.  Sykes also canceled a second meeting with clergy set for Friday because Foster didn't want to address everybody in a single meeting.

Sykes, along with the coalition "Agenda 2010," have been lobbying for more inclusive policies for South St. Pete (Midtown) and an open meeting where representatives from religious, community, and economic groups could gather.

But Foster rebuffed the comments Thursday evening and told 10 News that he is always accessible and has a plan to reunite the city after his controversial firing of former police chief Goliath Davis.

He plans to meet with the multi-faith, multi-race Agenda 2010 group soon, but wanted to start with small, controlled meetings first to wipe clean years worth of pent-up frustrations.

"I have never turned down a single meeting from anyone," Foster said, adding that nobody from Agenda 2010 had ever contacted him or his office to request a meeting.

Dr. Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich said Agenda 2010 had spent years analyzing Midtown's needs and in January, asked for a meeting with the mayor.  He said it simply was not true.

Foster said he called for small meetings at first with clergy because he didn't want people who truly want to change the landscape in Midtown drowned out by a vocal minority who don't.

E-mails sent among "Agenda 2010" members this week detail a Thursday morning "strategy meeting" designed to "clarify key points regarding the upcoming meetings with Mayor Foster." 

Agenda 2010 members stayed away from Thursday's meeting, which was originally organized by former City Councilmember Rene Flowers.

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