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District 4 hopefuls tout their broad ideas


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Candidates for City Council District 4 are focusing on the same issues and experiencing the same difficulty: Filling in broad proposals with specifics.

The district covers part of downtown and neighborhoods to the north, including North Shore. The candidates are Chris Eaton, Douglas Every, Pat Fulton and Virginia Littrell. Grace Harris, a homemaker, is a write-in candidate.

Although no single issue has taken hold of the campaign, the candidates say they will address permits and code enforcement, which are flash points for many property owners throughout the city. This is particularly true in District 4, which has some of the city's oldest buildings.

Eaton said that the city is inconsistent in its code enforcement efforts.

"With persistent violators, we need to get tough . . . and I'm not talking about elderly persons or disabled people," he said, adding that he was thinking primarily of multi-property owners.

Fulton offered no specific solutions.

"Sometimes it's as simple as listening," she said. "Part of it is in attitude; to take each problem on a case-by-case basis."

Littrell said zoning codes and land development regulations must be rewritten, probably with assistance from a consultant.

"I am willing to spend that money one time to get us in line, so that economic development and neighborhood revitalization can go forward unimpeded," she said. "I think that is a good investment."

Her concern is particularly for the city's predominantly African-American communities.

"I want to emphasize that economic development is moving nicely in the rest of the city, but the community is only as strong as our least enriched economic link," she said.

"Economic development in the African-American neighborhoods is going to have to include educational opportunities and the opportunity to grow small businesses."

To that end, said Littrell, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, she would support expansion of current programs, such as the city's Business Development Center.

For her part, Fulton would "work with the people who are there" to stimulate minority business.

A former officer with the Council of Neighborhood Associations, Fulton said minority business areas need beautification and a coalition of minority business leaders should be formed to serve as advisers.

Reminded that both have been done, she said: "It's not just trees and medians. Storefronts need curb appeal. We should work on a tenant mix, look for more attractive retail, work with property owners to make rents affordable."

Eaton, a first-time candidate, wants the city to increase efforts to attract new business.

"I would like to make sure that the staff who are being paid to do that are doing that," he said. "Tampa is doing that effectively."

If elected, small businesses can count on his support, Eaton said.

"I would spend time talking to small businesses in District 4 to find out how their businesses are going and how the city might help and how the city is not helping," said Eaton, president and owner of Bridge Builders Inc., a small consulting company.

He said economic development should be properly managed, with an eye on its impact on traffic, public safety and water.

"The whole issue of public safety comes into play because my district is downtown," Eaton said.

"There's a perception among some people that downtown is not safe. If we need to hire one or more police officers, that is fine."

Every is more interested in attracting business to other areas of town and advocates earmarking "certain dollars" to woo new companies.

"Rebates and incentives could be offered if you're locating in certain target areas," said Every, a money management officer at MacDill Federal Credit Union.

He gave no specific plans for implementing such a program.

There has been one mild campaign controversy. Callers to the Times have complained that campaign signs for Littrell and Fulton violate state law.

Florida statutes say political advertisements for candidates who are not incumbents must include the word "for" between their names and the office for which they are running. Yard signs for Littrell and Fulton do not.

The violation carries a $100 fine, said Barbara Linthicum, executive director for the Florida Elections Commission.

"It is one of the most minor violations," she said, adding that the commission is unlikely to address the issue unless formal complaints are filed.

"The reason for the "for' is, it is supposed to show that you're not an incumbent."

Littrell, in her first race for public office, said her intention was not to infer incumbency.

It was "as an economy of space situation," she said.

"My name has so many vertical letters, it is very difficult to see it at a distance."

Fulton, making her third try for public office, said she had been unaware of the law and referred questions to campaign manager Ron Sherwood.

"I made the mistake," Sherwood said. "We used art work from the last election and it wasn't required then."

Sherwood said he has ordered a rubber stamp that he will use to make the correction.

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