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South Pasadena mayor's race has a strange feel

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


SOUTH PASADENA -- One candidate is campaigning conventionally. One is refusing to campaign because that would justify the candidacy of an opponent he believes is running illegally. And a third candidate is essentially not campaigning at all.

It's an unusual election season in South Pasadena, where city politicos have been wondering for years whether Mayor Fred Held would be allowed to run again for office in 2001. The City Commission, charged with determining whether Held would be defying the city charter's rules on term limits if he ran again, has cleared the path for Held to hold the mayor's seat for three more years.

That doesn't mean Lou Ippolito, a former two-term commissioner who is making a first run for mayor, has to agree.

"He did his job as mayor, but term limits have come for him," Ippolito said.

He characterizes term limits as the central issue in this year's election: If you think Fred Held has already served three terms, Ippolito thinks you should cast a vote his way.

The other alternative is Ray Christensen, who said early in the campaign that he likes what Held has done for the city and decided to run when he heard that Held might be disqualified. He planned to bow out of the election if the commission kept Held's name on the ballot, but even after Held was allowed to run, Christensen decided to stay in the race.

"I originally just got in the race as a backstop in case the mayor got disqualified," Christensen said. "If people read my background, they'll know I'm qualified to be mayor."

The questions surrounding Held's candidacy stem from the fact that he originally was placed in the mayor's seat by the City Commission, not the voters.

Held was first elected city commissioner in 1981 and, except for 1983-1985, served continuously until 1994, when the charter provision allowing officials to serve only three continuous three-year terms prevented him from running again.

But just two days after the 1994 city election, then-Mayor Barbara Gilberg resigned, saying she could not work with the new elected officials. Commissioners appointed Held to be mayor, and he was re-elected to new terms in 1995 and 1998.

The charter states that commissioners fill vacancies "by a majority vote of the remaining commission members by election." The section on term limits says "no commissioner or mayor shall serve more than three consecutive or partial elected terms."

The use of the word "election" in describing how commissioners appoint one of their own means Held has been elected three times, says Al Friend, a longtime adversary of Held's who challenges the mayor's ability to run.

Ippolito and others agree with Friend's interpretation, but commissioners disagreed and allowed Held to stay on the ballot. Friend is seeking a way to appeal their unanimous decision.

Held maintains that all this talk about whether he can run has taken away from discussion about the issues facing South Pasadena. He said he wants to wrap up the beautification efforts along Pasadena Avenue and make some headway in getting utilities underground around the city.

Ippolito said he thinks the current commissioners do a good job but are short on experience. Three of the four are serving their first terms in office.

"I honestly felt I'd be doing the city a favor," Ippolito said. "I have the experience."

Ippolito thinks the biggest issue facing South Pasadena is traffic. He would like to add a stoplight at the entrance to Bay Islands. He also believes the city needs to work more closely with businesses.

Christensen said he is running primarily on his credentials. He spent 17 years supervising accountants and tax lawyers and believes he can bring professionalism to city government.

"I have financial and administrative experience," he said.

-- Times staff writer Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.

* * *

Polls will be open for the South Pasadena city election from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Registered voters who live on the east side of Pasadena Avenue should vote at City Hall, 7047 Sunset Drive S. Those who live on the west side should vote at Bethany Towers, 880 Oleander Way.

THE JOB

The mayor of South Pasadena presides over meetings of the City Commission, which runs the daily operation of this city because South Pasadena has no city manager. The mayor earns $625 a month.

* * *

RAYMOND KENT CHRISTENSEN, 68, is originally from Detroit and moved to South Pasadena about four years ago. He retired here from Colorado, where he spent 17 years as the director of auditing and income tax at Total Petroleum Inc. Before that, he was an accountant at Coopers & Lybrand in Detroit. He served two years in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and graduated from Detroit Business Institute. He also took classes at Wayne State, Central Michigan and Colorado universities. Christensen has been active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion and is currently treasurer of the HarbourSide Yacht Club. He is married and has three daughters.

ASSETS: condominium.

LIABILITIES: none listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Retirement fund, Social Security, stocks and bonds, mutual funds.

* * *

FRED G. HELD, 74, is a retired insurance and investment consultant who spent his 25-year career in Philadelphia. He graduated from Frankford High School in 1944, attended classes at Penn State University and graduated from Pierce Business School in 1950. He has been mayor of South Pasadena since 1994, when he was appointed to fill the remaining term of a resigning mayor. Before that, he served on the City Commission. Held is active in the Elks Club, Lions International, the Suncoast League of Municipalities, and the Pinellas Mayors Council.

ASSETS: Two homes in St. Petersburg and a condominium.

LIABILITIES: None listed.

SOURCE OF INCOME: Pension fund, city salary, income from rental home.

* * *

ASCONIO "LOU" IPPOLITO, 62, has lived in South Pasadena for 12 years. He served two terms on the commission from 1993 to 1999, alternately running the public safety, finance and building departments. He lost a bid for re-election in 1999 to Commissioner Chris Burgess and the late Al Edmiston, who died one year ago while in office. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ippolito served in the U.S. Army for three years and joined the Suffolk County Police Department in 1967. He holds a bachelor's degree in behavioral science from the New York Institute of Technology and an associate's degree in criminal justice from the State University of New York at Farmingdale. He retired from the police force in 1988 and worked briefly for a private investigation company before moving to South Pasadena. Outside of city politics, Ippolito has been involved with the Citizen Emergency Response Team, the Civic Association and the American Legion, among other groups. He is married and has six grown children.

ASSETS: Home, savings accounts.

LIABILITIES: None listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Retirement pension and Social Security.

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