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Two hope to unseat incumbent in Ward 2

A local activist and an auto technician are running against Jack Olsen, who has been on the council since 1991. He decided only recently to run again.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


GULFPORT -- In Ward 2, a five-term incumbent is hoping to make it six, and two people who have never run for office want to bring a new face to the Gulfport City Council.

The challengers are Dawn Fisher, a local activist, and John Hamilton, an auto technician and father of two young children, and both are trying to unseat longtime council member Jack Olsen, part of the panel since 1991.

Fisher, 67, leases property to the Backfin Blue Cafe and previously operated her own business on Beach Boulevard called Elizabeth Dawn, an antiques and collectibles shop. She said she believes in "hands-on" and "grass-roots" leadership and walks Gulfport two hours daily to pick up litter.

Fisher believes the current council does a good job and decided to run for the Ward 2 seat this year because "it just seems like the right time."

"I don't know that anything is missing on the council, I just feel they need some fresh perspectives and maybe some new blood," Fisher said.

She said she supports the 49th Street improvements as well as the city's attention to its Waterfront Business District, but she questions why so much time is spent planning instead of implementing.

"I'm for the 49th Street redevelopment. However, I think I could go out and clean it up myself," Fisher said. "Take a truck and a few men. Edge the properties, mow them, plant a few plants. It doesn't take that much to clean up an area if you have people who are interested.

"I'm kind of a grass-roots person. If I see something that needs done, I just go and do it myself."

John Hamilton, 40, said he is challenging Olsen because he believes the five-term incumbent has lost touch with the part of the city he represents.

"In the past several years, we can't seem to get him to pay any attention to our neighborhood," Hamilton said.

Hamilton believes many of Gulfport's problems stem from the city's high number of rental properties, particularly those owned by absentee landlords who don't take care of their properties. He thinks the city should step up code enforcement.

He says candidates have talked about solving the absentee landlord problem for years in Gulfport, but he has not seen the council devote attention to it.

"It seems the ordinances are there," Hamilton said. "For some reason or another, we just don't want to enforce them."

Though he supports some of the City Council's work -- from the 49th Street redevelopment to the focus on the Waterfront Business District to the construction of the Catherine A. Hickman Theater -- Hamilton questions why no major projects are planned for Ward 2.

The 49th Street project, for example, extends only north of Gulfport Boulevard. Taking it south would mean improvements for Ward 2, but that's not part of the plan, Hamilton points out.

If elected, Hamilton said he also would like to start community meetings in his ward.

According to court records, Hamilton and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 1994 after Hamilton was injured on his job. He has worked as an auto technician for about 16 years.

Jack Olsen, 56, first elected to the City Council in 1991, has been re-elected every two years since then, though not always by the majority of voters in his own ward.

In the 1999 runoff that put Olsen into his fifth term, he lost to his challenger in three of the four wards in Gulfport. But he won Ward 1, the powerful bloc that includes Town Shores and the Pasadena Yacht & Country Club.

Olsen, who said he supports term limits and even proposed a local resolution creating term limits in Gulfport, decided only recently to run for another two-year term. He said he wants to bring several projects to fruition before vacating his seat.

"This time last year, I'd pretty well decided not to run again," Olsen said. "It's been fun, it's been very gratifying. But people said, "please run.' "

The biggest initiative he wants to see completed is the redevelopment of the 49th Street corridor.

"The importance of 49th Street is greater than a lot of people think because at least 60 percent of people who come into Gulfport come on 49th Street or on 22nd Avenue."

Olsen is also interested in new projects, including laying utility lines underground, getting reclaimed water for Gulfport and considering the need for new water sources.

Eventually, Olsen said, Gulfport may need to build its own water utilities so it doesn't rely so much on St. Petersburg. "This state is running out of water," he said.

Olsen said he would like to see all of the incumbents retain their seats on the council.

"If somebody asked me, honestly I would say the folks who are running have done an incredible job, and give them a chance to finish it," Olsen said.

Gulfport City Council, Ward 2

DAWN ELIZABETH FISHER, 67, has lived in Gulfport three years and owned property in the city since 1995. She has been active in the Gulfport Arts Council, is a board member of Friends of Strays, and is vice president of the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce. She also has helped organize Fourth of July events in Gulfport and the Taste of Gulfport. She graduated from high school and from the University of Illinois, receiving a bachelor of fine arts in advertising design in 1955. She also did some graduate work at Kansas State University in the 1960s. She has three grown children and one grandchild.

ASSETS: home, Backfin Blue Cafe property, 3,000-acre farm in Illinois.

LIABILITIES: mortgage on Backfin Blue Cafe.

SOURCES OF INCOME: husband's trucking company, income from farm, restaurant lease.

* * *

JOHN WILLIAM HAMILTON, 40, was born in Chester, Pa. He moved to Gulfport 12 years ago. Hamilton graduated from Sun Valley High School and served in the Air Force as an aircraft maintenance specialist. He has worked as an auto technician for 16 years and currently works for Maher Chevrolet in St. Petersburg. He also has been a Boy Scout den leader since 1998. He is married and has two children, a 10-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.

ASSETS: home.

LIABILITIES: none listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: salary, workers' compensation insurance.

* * *

JACK BARRY OLSEN, 56, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He moved to Gulfport in 1978. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Florida State University and an associate's degree in nursing and has taken additional graduate classes in business. Olsen served in the Army for seven years, including a tour during the Vietnam War. After working for two national health care companies in the home health care industry, Olsen started his own business, Southern Home Care & Medical Services, which provides health care services. He has served on the city's Board of Adjustment and has been a Boy Scoutmaster. He was first elected to City Council in 1991, then re-elected in 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999. He is married with one grown son.

ASSETS: investment retirement account, stocks, home, rental properties, office at 340 49th St. S.

LIABILITIES: none listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: home health care agency, Gulfport city salary, rental units.

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