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A tale of 2 candidates for mayor

The race to be mayor of St. Pete Beach has turned into a he said-he said of who will be best for the city.

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2002

ST. PETE BEACH -- The mayor's opponent presents this year's election as a chance to oust a "good ol' boy system" that prevents fair competition and rewards the city's elite.

The mayor says he simply is trying to run a clean campaign that focuses on the city's work on a new waterfront park and completion of a new City Hall.

The discrepancy is nothing new in St. Pete Beach, where one faction sees this year's election as a chance to rid City Hall of those closest to the city's power structure, and the other side insists no one is pulling the strings of elected officials.

"I think we need to change the atmosphere from "what's good for our friends' to "what's good for our residents,' " said Steve Gordon, who is challenging Ward Friszolowski for the mayor's seat. Friszolowski, who previously served three terms as a city commissioner, is completing his first term as mayor.

Gordon or Friszolowski will serve for either two or three years, depending on whether voters approve a referendum extending the mayor's term.

The campaign, like others in St. Pete Beach, has grown heated, with Friszolowski supporters distributing court documents detailing legal judgments against Gordon dating from the 1980s, when Gordon was a residential developer. But Friszolowski insists he has had nothing to do with the negative campaigning.

"I wonder if it's more his detractors than my supporters," Friszolowski said. "I've consistently kept my campaign focused on my qualifications and what I've done and what I plan to do. I pride myself on running a real clean campaign. I've discouraged anyone from even talking about my opponent."

Gordon has broad ideas for St. Pete Beach, and he admits some of them would be difficult to accomplish in two or three years. That's why, he said, he is hoping not to just win March 12, but to be a two-term mayor.

Gordon said he decided to run for office after speaking out against the city's plans for a new City Hall and seeing how the Commission handled plans to pass a new land development code.

"I just said, "That's it. I've got to do something for my community,' " he said.

Gordon wants to set a goal of planting 1,000 trees a year in the city, particularly along Gulf Boulevard north of the Don CeSar, 75th Avenue and Blind Pass Road. "It's a lot of trees," Gordon said, "but we have years and years to catch up on."

He also is concerned about the condition of Gulf Beaches Elementary School on the city's north end. Though his critics remind Gordon that the city has little influence over the school system, the candidate says the city should lobby the School Board to upgrade the aging school.

"If the mayor doesn't take a leadership role, we will never get a new school," Gordon said.

Gordon also wants to return public comment to the beginning of city meetings and move workshops and committee meetings to the evenings so working people can attend. He criticizes Friszolowski, who moved public comment to the end of commission meetings shortly after taking office two years ago.

Gordon said the change has forced residents who show up to bring something trivial to the commission's attention to sit through three- or four-hour meetings waiting for a chance to speak.

"We need to go out of our way to make sure everyone knows when there's an important hearing coming up," Gordon said.

Friszolowski said that while political opponents have continually raised questions about the city's construction of a new City Hall, he believes residents understand the advantages of the new building.

"Once I tell them about the situation and the fact that we have gone through a process of making sure we are getting the right quality at the right price, that we've had appraisals done ... I think they know that we're doing our due diligence," Friszolowski said.

Friszolowski also has said he is excited to see St. Pete Beach embark on a master plan, an idea Gordon also endorses. Gordon has said that commissioners were forced into launching a master plan after residents protested the city's proposed new land development regulations.

Those new rules called for raising building heights in some portions of the city, even though the city planner insisted that wasn't part of the plan. The planner later apologized, and elected officials admited they should have read the proposal more carefully.

Friszolowski said his support for a master plan goes back to last year's budget hearings, when he lobbied the commission to set aside $50,000 for a master plan. The process likely will cost closer to $200,000, which is what smaller-sized Madeira Beach paid recently.

Though Gordon has emphasized that the city should publicly bid more of its projects, Friszolowski said that process can sometimes cost the city money when a project is complicated.

"You can bid certain things where it's easy to bid, but it's not always easy to compare apples to apples with all of the things that you're buying," Friszolowski said. "We go through a pretty laborious process making sure we're getting good quality for the dollar."

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