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Runaway for Yakes, a runoff for Ward 2

The mayor gets his sixth term. Dawn Fisher and Council incumbent Jack Olsen, just 324 votes apart, face another election in two weeks. Larry Cooper returns to his Ward 4 seat in a landslide.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001


GULFPORT -- Mayor Michael Yakes is poised to become the longest-serving mayor in Gulfport history, following re-election Tuesday to a sixth term as mayor.

Also remaining in office is Larry Cooper, the council member who represents Ward 4. A third incumbent is still hanging onto his seat despite finishing second in a three-way race for his Ward 2 seat.

"This is history for the Yakes family," said the mayor, who has lived most of his life in Gulfport.

Election season in Gulfport isn't over yet. A runoff election to decide the next Ward 2 council member will be held March 20.

In Gulfport, a candidate must receive a majority of all votes cast in order to win the election. On Tuesday, local activist Dawn Fisher earned 47 percent of the vote while longtime incumbent Jack Olsen took 45 percent. A third contender, auto technician John Hamilton, grabbed 8 percent and will not compete in the runoff.

John Freiberger, who received less than 18 percent the last time he ran against Yakes, said he was unsurprised by his third-place finish in the mayor's race. Freiberger, a longtime critic of Yakes and other city officials, took 5 percent of the vote this year, behind Yakes' 71 percent and recently retired Gulfport police lieutenant Larry Tosi, who earned 24 percent.

"It's status quo in Gulfport," Freiberger said of the candidates who won.

Both Freiberger and Tosi claimed in their election campaigns that major changes were needed to please dissatisfied employees, particularly in the Gulfport Police Department. Yakes said he will consider raising some of those issues in his new term.

In Ward 2, Olsen, who owns a home health care business, will face Fisher, who last year received the Spirit of Gulfport Award after Olsen nominated her for it. Olsen has represented the ward since 1991.

Fisher, who picks up trash for two hours daily, urged a common-sense approach to government in her campaign. Hamilton, who will not be part of the runoff, said he will remain active in city politics.

"The voters of Gulfport have good taste in candidates," Olsen said upon learning of the runoff Tuesday night.

Cooper, who has been on the City Council since he was appointed in 1996, easily won his third elected term on the council. He defeated challenger Ernest Stone, who also lost the same race to Cooper two years ago.

Cooper received 77 percent; Stone, 23 percent.

Cooper focused his campaign on his desire to complete the work he started in redeveloping Gulfport's 49th Street corridor. Stone also supported that work, though he said the city needed to work more quickly.

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