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A day for newcomers

DISTRICT 2: Craig Patrick and John Bryan leave veteran Bill Griswold in the dust.

By LEONORA LaPETER, JON WILSON and WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- For the first time in 16 years, there will not be a Griswold on St. Petersburg's City Council.

Bill Griswold -- who represented District 2 from 1985 to 1993 and then turned it over to his wife, Beatrice -- was clobbered by political newcomer Craig Patrick and John Bryan, a retired builder who captured the highest percentage of the vote in the far-north district.

Also Tuesday, District 6 voters solidly backed City Council member Earnest Williams for a full term. Even though he captured nearly 64 percent of the vote in a five-person race, he'll have to face Chimurenga Waller in March.

In District 4, newcomer Chris Eaton, the owner of a consulting company specializing in humanitarian work, was the top vote getter, followed by St. Petersburg native Virginia Littrell. For the second time in four years, voters rejected Patricia Fulton's City Council bid.

Candidates in all three council races quickly started looking to attract supporters of the vanquished. Griswold immediately tossed his support to Patrick.

"It was an honor and privilege the citizens bestowed on me and and my wife the past 16 years," Griswold said. "I'm not sure we'll miss the phone calls day and night, but I'm sure we'll get used to it."

Patrick, 28, and Bryan, 50, both went door-to-door in their neighborhoods to meet voters directly. Both gave credit to the grass-roots approach for their primary success.

"I know this isn't over yet. We're going to keep working hard," said an elated Patrick. A newcomer to city politics and a three-year resident, Patrick at one point led the voting. Only 17.56 percent of District 2 voters turned out Tuesday, the lightest among the council races.

Bryan and some of his supporters gathered at City Hall to await returns. They sent up a small cheer when their candidate regained the lead, which happened when results from Meadowlawn and Riviera precincts came in. Bryan had recently been knocking on doors in Meadowlawn; his wife, Alicia, had worked Riviera.

"We had a good message, and a good, well-run campaign. We're not going to change our strategy citywide," Bryan said.

Bryan, who served for 11 years on the city's Environmental Development Commission, said he believes that experience will serve him well in a citywide campaign.

Bryan said he was surprised at Patrick's strong showing. "I thought Griswold would be number two. But Craig worked a lot harder," Bryan said.

DISTRICT 4

In District 4, scrappy newcomer Eaton beat two St. Petersburg natives with substantial civic involvement and name recognition to win a spot in the March 27 general election, where voters citywide will get to choose in five council races.

Eaton, 43, will face Littrell, 50, for the council district that covers part of downtown and neighborhoods to the north, including North Shore.

"I'm very pleased," said Eaton, who runs a consulting company called Bridge Builders Inc. "I think that the key was the diligent efforts of our organization."

Littrell, who entered the race late, said she is now ready to put all her efforts into the March contest.

"Where to now is that we start putting together a citywide campaign and we are going forward full force . . . and we will start walking districts all over the city," said Littrell, chairwoman of both the city's Planning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission.

Littrell, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, said she will continue to promote her platform for "unwinding the permitting process so that people can use it effectively."

Fulton, who made her third unsuccessful run for elected office, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. She had promoted herself as a grass-roots candidate who abhors red tape and advocates a direct approach to solving problems.

DISTRICT 6

In District 6, voters must now choose between Waller, 49, a lab technician at R.P. Scherer North America, and Williams, 53, owner of his own insurance company. Williams acknowledged he had the upper hand in the race, because he was appointed to represent District 6 in December after Frank Peterman was elected to the state House.

"I think people had an opportunity to see me serving as a council person and they felt I was doing a good job and they wanted me to continue doing that," he said from the home of his campaign treasurer in Gulfport where family and friends gathered.

But he pointed out that he did a lot of walking door-to-door these past weeks. Nearly 29 percent of the eligible District 6 voters turned out Tuesday, the highest rate in the city. Four years ago, just 20 percent voted.

Waller, who ran a flashier campaign than Williams, sat quietly at the Masonic Lodge on 18th Avenue S as his supporters leaped to their feet and cheered when it became clear he would move on to the general election.

"It's hard to get me excited," he said.

But he told the crowd that "obviously, this is just the beginning." Waller said that his opponent doesn't know what the issues are and predicted that there would be a different outcome next month.

"I'm optimistic. He has a lead we need to overcome. I think that's possible. I'm comfortable," Waller said.

-- Staff writer Jounice L. Nealy contributed to this report.


DISTRICT 2: Craig Patrick and John Bryan leave veteran Bill Griswold in the dust.

DISTRICT 4: Newcomer Chris Eaton will meet Virginia Littrell in March.

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