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    Firefighters, police throw their support to DiDonato

    The incumbent Tarpon Springs mayor also is endorsed by a group of Realtors. But opponent Costa Vatikiotis raises more money.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- The city's police officers and firefighters have endorsed incumbent Frank DiDonato in the race for mayor.

    The Pinellas County Chapter of the Police Benevolent Association and the Tarpon Springs Firefighters Association recently announced their support for DiDonato, who faces a re-election challenge from former City Manager Costa Vatikiotis. But with the police, the decision was close.

    The Greater Clearwater Association of Realtors also endorsed DiDonato in the March 20 election.

    The firefighters endorsed DiDonato and Commissioner Beverley Billiris because the city has improved under their leadership, said Lt. Scott Young, president of the city's fire association.

    "We just believe that they serve the best interest of the city and the employees," Young said. "They've done a good job throughout the last three years."

    The police union used a scoring system to make its decision, said Eddie Hayden, the Tarpon Springs Police Department's union representative. DiDonato scored one point higher than Vatikiotis.

    "I wanted to keep it fair," Hayden said. "In past years, we've sat there and said, "Who do you like?' I felt like assigning a point system would give us a fair outcome."

    Three police officers asked the candidates their opinions about annexation, the service provided by the Police Department and whether another law enforcement agency could provide an equivalent level of service to residents.

    All of the candidates said another agency could not provide equal service. Hayden said that was a welcome response because in the past, some officials have talked about putting the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in charge of law enforcement in the city.

    The Realtors group endorsed DiDonato because members have had "a great working relationship" with him, said Mike Mayo, the group's director of government affairs and public relations.

    Although he did not pick up those three endorsements, Vatikiotis has taken a big lead in fundraising. Through late February, he had brought in more than $17,000 in contributions, compared with more than $9,000 raised by DiDonato's campaign.

    In that time, Vatikiotis spent nearly $9,000 for signs, campaign literature, stamps and other expenses. DiDonato spent $3,800 for signs, stamps, a newspaper advertisement and other expenses.

    In other races, the PBA endorsed Billiris for commission Seat 4 and Karen Brayboy for Seat 3. The firefighters endorsed Billiris but did not endorse anyone in the race between Brayboy and Spanos Harding.

    "We stayed out of that one," Young said. "I have a panel that does it. If they are split, we stay out of it."

    The Realtors group endorsed Brayboy. It did not endorse anyone in the race between Billiris and Joseph Pisani. Mayo said the group has had a good working relationship with Billiris, but it did not make an endorsement because Billiris couldn't attend an interview due to a scheduling conflict.

    - Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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