Tough-on-crime president resigns
By ANDREW MEACHAM
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- In what amounts to a changing of the guard, Ingrid Comberg has stepped down as president of the Uptown neighborhood association.
Stephen Finch, who restores homes for a living and recently announced his candidacy for a City Council seat, ran unopposed for the position.
Comberg, 60, will continue working for tougher enforcement against drugs and prostitution for which she has become known, as well as on homelessness and animal protection. She will remain on Uptown's board of directors.
The switch to Finch represents a departure from the neighborhood's stance against crime.
"We're not going to focus on punishing prostitutes and code violators," said Finch, 46, who has lobbied for hexagonal block sidewalks and helped get a playground at Seventh Street and Sixth Avenue N. "Those things are symptoms. Urban blight is the disease."
Comberg, a founding Uptown board member, also led a string of beautification efforts, including tree planting in Round Lake Park, antique acorn lighting on Ninth and Seventh avenues N and awards for attractive home improvements.
She kept track of who was going to be appearing before local boards or the City Council and showed up to represent the neighborhood. For three years, she served as treasurer for the Council of Neighborhood Associations.
Her involvement led to recognition by the city's Neighborhood Partnership Office, which named Comberg "president of the year" in 1996, the first year the award was given.
Since the association was formed in 1987, she missed only one meeting of either the board or the general membership. And that was because she hurt her knee.
Comberg served on the City Council in her native Kiel, Germany, about 50 miles north of Hamburg. She said her father, a well-known pharmacist in the area, hobnobbed with the owner of the Ritz Hotel in Paris and went fishing once with Ernest Hemingway. Ingrid and her husband, Hartmute, emigrated to the United States in 1984 to be closer to their twin sons, Christian and Carsten.
A believer in home ownership, Comberg helped the neighborhood get a zoning change to single-family housing and office-retail. Formed in response to drugs and prostitution, the neighborhood association also has attacked underlying problems such as absentee landlords and dilapidated buildings.
"When the mayor chose Uptown as the first neighborhood for Operation Commitment, we had between 75 and 80 vacant and boarded-up houses," she said. "Now we have maybe two."
Comberg in July spoke in favor of a city ordinance barring any new soup kitchens downtown. The ordinance passed, but she since has joined forces with some of the ordinance's opponents on the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless.
By organizing the local Court Watch chapter in 2000, she hopes to rally neighbors and get the attention of judges. Court Watch brings citizens to sit in sentencing and other hearings for chronic offenders, particularly for prostitution.
She believes such varied interests suit her zodiac sign -- Pisces, the fish. "I'm always swimming in different directions," she said, "and still getting to the point where I want to be."
The remodeling or bulldozing of abandoned properties has created one inadvertent consequence -- an increase in the neighborhood's population of stray animals. Comberg and another woman who had been feeding some homeless kittens are making plans to create some kind of shelter.
"It's only human to help them in some way," she said. "You can go through this world with closed eyes and never have a clue what's going on. Or you can go with your eyes open and see not only the beauty, but the need."
COQUINA KEY: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Clubhouse, 3850 Pompano Drive SE. Crime watch update, officer elections.
EUCLID HEIGHTS: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. First Alliance Church, 5000 10th St. N. City presentation on traffic calming.
GATEWAY: 7:30 p.m. Monday. St. James United Methodist Church, 845 87th Ave. N. Discussion of possible merger with Fossil Park.
LAKEWOOD CIVIC: 7 p.m. Tuesday. Lakewood United Church of Christ, 2601 54th Ave. S. Possibility of new Walgreens store at 31st Street and 54th Avenue S.
UPTOWN: 7 p.m. Thursday. Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N. Introduction of president Stephen Finch.
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