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
BY AARON SHAROCKMAN
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