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City Council primary has 7 in 2 races

Four vie to replace Bill Foster; two run against Jamie Bennett.

Published August 13, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - If it seems like the city election season came quicker this year, it did.

City officials were forced to move up the City Council primary to Sept. 11 in order to meet new election laws passed in Tallahassee this spring.

Two races will be on the primary ballot. One features a group of four seeking to replace the term-limited Bill Foster. The other includes incumbent Jamie Bennett, who faces two challengers. Here's a first glance at who's running and why.

District 3 covers Shore Acres and Snell Isle as well as parts of the city east of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N between 40th and 62 avenues. Four candidates are running.

Bill Dudley: A longtime Pinellas educator who taught at Northeast High School, Dudley says he will try to slow the development along the downtown waterfront.

"If I wanted to live in Fort Lauderdale, I'd move there," said Dudley, who at 63, retired from teaching a year ago.

Dudley says the current city leadership made budget cuts this year from the bottom up, not the top down. In office, he'd change that. "I'm not advocating anyone lose their jobs, but by the same token, nobody's indispensable," he said.

Cliff Gephart: A mortgage broker who has talked with Comedy Central about a possible sitcom concept, Gephart was compelled to run after hearing about an elderly couple being priced out of their home.

"Everybody talks about taxes taxes, taxes," said Gephart, 37. "I think as a small-business owner, I feel more of the pain than most people. Owning more properties and multiple properties, I feel it even more."

Gephart considered running for council in District 4 in 1996, but pulled out of that race.

Cathy Harrelson: The only candidate who is making the environment a centerpiece of her campaign, Harrelson is a Sierra Club volunteer who proposes investing heavily in energy saving systems.

She has suggested taking out government bonds to pay for energy savings measures. The future cost savings would then pay the bonds off.

Harrelson, 53, also has a 25-year finance background, and says she's uniquely positioned to tackle the city's current budget woes.

"We have to start with police and fire and work from there" Harrelson said. "Those are areas where cutting is not appropriate."

Ed Montanari: An 18-year American Airlines pilot who chaired the Albert Whitted Blue Ribbon Advisory Task Force, Montanari is running as a consensus builder who will bring people together on budget and development issues

Montanari, 49, managed Bill Foster's 2003 council campaign and has Foster's and Mayor Rick Baker's support in 2007.

Montanari said his tenure on the council would not stray far from his predecessor's. "We think alike when it comes to city issues," Montanari said. "I'm not going to be running for office to make wholesale changes."

District 5 covers Pinellas Point and the southern end of the city. Three candidates are running.

Jamie Bennett: The incumbent in the district, Bennett is seeking a second, full four-year term.

Originally elected to fill out two years of an unfinished term, Bennett was re-elected in 2003 without opposition.

Most believe he will run for mayor in 2009, but Bennett, 55, has not revealed his plans. "I'm running to remain the City Council representative in District 5," he said.

Chris Kelly: The co-founder of Pinellas Heritage, Kelly said he hopes to restore trust in local government.

Kelly, 41, said he is crafting a pledge to residents that will detail his commitments.

He also said he will focus almost solely on the concerns of his district's residents - something he says Bennett has failed to do.

"He's done a wonderful job for the people who don't live in his district," Kelly said. "For Albert Whitted supporters, he's been there. For homeless advocates, he's done a wonderful job bringing attention and increasing their rights."

Debra Johnson Woodard: A St. Petersburg elementary school teacher, Johnson Woodard says she wants to take her grass roots causes to the next level.

Johnson Woodard, 55, says she has worked to provide help to the city's youth and affordable housing to the city's needy.

When it comes to the budget, she wants to start next year's public review as soon as possible.

"We cannot let it linger and say it's a done deal," she said. "There needs to be a strategic review of every line item. We need to see how best we can reposition ourself."

Fast Facts:

First round

The city primary election is Sept. 11.

Only residents living in each district can vote. The two top vote-getters move to the November general election, where council members are elected citywide.

[Last modified August 13, 2007, 00:29:19]

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