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Four candidates, few differences

St. Petersburg Hopefuls in the District 3 city primary are finding precious little to argue over.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 2, 2007



Times Staff Writer

In the District 3 race, City Council candidates responding to key issues often sound like they're reading from the same script.

Should the city consider - for a third time - curbside recycling? Yes, they all say. Absolutely.

Should Al Lang Field be designated parkland? Absolutely.

Should the city do more to stop the tidal flooding in Shore Acres. Of course.

The lack of diverging opinions should not surprise voters in the northwest city district that Bill Foster has represented since 1998. It's the result of an election without something to argue over.

And it makes this race as much about style as it is substance.

On one side sit Cathy Harrelson and Ed Montanari, who through their speech and actions, suggest they want to work with City Hall.

On the other are Bill Dudley and Cliff Gephart, who seem ready to bust the place up.

District 3 is a largely residential and waterfront community north of downtown.

All four candidates are longtime city residents who point to their participation in city neighborhood groups.

On budget issues, Gephart contends that City Hall spending needs to be reduced. Dudley makes the point that Mayor Rick Baker targeted low-wage workers instead of high-level administrators when it came time to make job cuts.

Montanari and Harrelson, meanwhile, shy away from criticizing the mayor or City Council about this year's budget process.

On another issue, Dudley criticizes Baker for failing to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Agreement, while Montanari says he doesn't pretend to know what the agreement means for the city, and says he cannot tell the mayor what to do anyway.

"By signing that, you tell your community that you really are in favor of the environment," Dudley said.

The differing styles are not unusual in a local election.

Gephart, a 37-year-old mortgage broker, doesn't run from the assertion that he can be to the point.

On his Web site, Gephart whimsically lists things he isn't good at. Being politically correct is at the top of the list.

"I say what I think," Gephart says.

And Montanari admits he won't be a change agent if elected.

"I'm a big fan of Mayor Baker's," said Montanari, who has the mayor's endorsement. "I am a firm believer that the city leadership has done great things over the past few years, and I want to build on what they've done."

The top two vote-getters in the Sept. 11 district primary advance to the Nov. 6 general election, where voters from across the city will get their say.

Early voting already has started for District 3 residents. Residents can vote from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday at one of three Pinellas Supervisor of Elections sites. The St. Petersburg site is near City Hall, at 501 First Ave. N.

Shore Acres flooding: What's their plan?

The biggest issue in District 3 continues to be the flood-prone streets of Shore Acres. A high tide or a heavy rain is sometimes all it takes to turn city streets into mucky canals. Cathy Harrelson wants to drop speed limits when the roads are flooded. Ed Montanari suggests raising some of the main roads and possibly using Penny for Pinellas funds to make more improvements.

What others are saying about District 3

"The next council member should be at the tail end of eliminating tidal flooding in Shore Acres on a regular basis. The 30 occurrences per year, when the sun is shining and you're driving through saltwater. That should be about over."

Current City Council member Bill Foster

"There's a lot of apathy. Normally when there's an election, I have a dozen people a day asking me questions. This time, I've hardly had any."

Former District 3 council member Connie Kone

The candidates

The job: District 3, in the northwest section of the city, includes Snell Isle, Shore Acres, Northeast Park and Fossil Park. The council member must live in the district. The member will serve a four-year term and receive $39,330 a year.

John Edmund "Ed" Montanari

Age: 49. He is a pilot for American Airlines who served as chairman of the Albert Whitted Blue Ribbon Advisory

Task Force. Born in Hattiesburg, Miss., Montanari moved to Florida and graduated from Northeast High School. After earning a bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Montanari joined the Air Force, where he flew F-16s. He later was an air operations officer and a simulator instructor based out of MacDill Air Force Base. Montanari is a member of the Snell Isle Property Owners Association and is a past president of the Lutheran Church of the Cross church council. Montanari is married to Pamela Montanari and has two children, Jacqueline, 16, and Matthew, 14. Assets: Home, cars, boats. Liabilities: Mortgage, home equity loan, car loans. Source of income: American Airlines salary. Web site:

Cathy Harrelson

Age: 53. She is a special needs trust consultant and the policy chair of the Pinellas County Environmental Science Forum. Born and raised in the western New York town of Olean, Harrelson has called St. Petersburg home for the past 26 years. She received a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Potsdam. Harrelson held positions at the former William R. Hough & Co., Harbrooks Inc., and was a securities broker at Quick & Reilly. She was a member of the Florida Municipal Bond Club and has held several volunteer positions in the Suncoast Sierra Club. She has been a member of the Shore Acres Neighborhood Association and the Northeast Little League. Harrelson has one son, Dylan, 24. Assets: Home, checking ac count. Liabilities:Mortgage, credit card. Source of income: Salary.Web site:

William H. "Bill" Dudley

Age: 63. He is a retired Pinellas educator who ran for the City Council in 2003. Dudley moved to St. Petersburg from Cambridge, Mass., with his family when he was 12. He graduated from Northeast High School, St. Petersburg Junior College, the University of South Florida and Stetson University. Dudley retired in 2006 from Northeast High School, where he was a driver's education instructor and wrestling coach. He serves as president of the Snell Isle Property Owners Association and is a member of the Northeast Exchange and the Council of Neighborhood Associations. He is married to Michelle Timmel Dudley and has two adult children and one grandson. Assets: Home, timeshare, retirement investment. Liabilities:Mortgage, credit cards. Source of income: School salary, state retirement, Social Security. Web site:

Cliff Gephart

Age: 37. He is a mortgage broker who has lived in St. Petersburg since he was 6 months old. Born in Cleveland, Gephart graduated from St. Petersburg High School, St. Petersburg College and Florida State University, where he received a bachelor's degree in finance. He later attended the University of SouthFlorida, where he took accounting courses. Gephart wrote a pilot for a television sitcom called Pawn'd, about working in a pawn shop. Gephart has been a member of the Shore Acres and Northeast neighborhood associations as well as an instructor at the St. Petersburg Business Development Center. He is married to Carla Gephart and has two children, Brooke, 7, and Bryce, 5. Assets: Home, rental properties, cars, IRA, trust. Liabilities: Credit cards, mortgage. Source of income: Business holdings, rental income. Web site:

[Last modified September 1, 2007, 23:52:05]

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