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Council incumbents out; new mayor in

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Voters swept City Council incumbents Alex Ilnyckyj and Paula Wheeler out of office Tuesday and approved a charter amendment to extend elected officials' terms by two years.

In the race for mayor, Ron Kitchen managed a slight victory over Sidney Kennedy, spoiling the trifecta sought by a powerful faction that backed Bonnie Taylor and Russ Kreager, who defeated Ilnyckyj and Wheeler, respectively.

"I expected it to be very tight," Taylor said. Quite the contrary: The Crystal River newcomer crushed the blunt-talking Ilnyckyj, winning 67 percent of the vote.

Ilnyckyj left City Hall quickly but Wheeler, whose loss was not nearly as bad, stuck around, vowing to remain involved in city affairs. She said it would be difficult, though, noting the shift in political power.

"They make politics their life. Alex and I don't," she said from the driver's seat of her van.

Some observers viewed the contest between Wheeler and Kreager as a referendum of sorts. Along with Ilnyckyj, Wheeler voted in February 1999 to oust Kreager from the post of city manager.

Amid handshakes and hugs, Kreager shrugged off the calculus of small-town politics, saying his win was due to hard work and his experience. "I hope they elected me for my professionalism," he said.

He said he would immediately get to work on initiatives he began as city manager, singling out water quality as a chief concern. For her part, Taylor said she would work to bring stability to the often-unstable council.

The city's new mayor, who will take office Jan. 1, was successful in his third attempt at the job.

Kennedy, a lifelong resident of Crystal River, said he would not ask for a recount.

"It's been a real pleasure to run against him," Kitchen said of his opponent, who ran on virtually the same platform: to end years of internal strife among the council.

Right or wrong, much of the recent criticism of the council has been aimed at Ilnyckyj and Wheeler. The two portrayed themselves as independent voices on a council aligned with one of the city's most influential residents, Ed Tolle.

"It was pretty satisfying to see the two people who conspired to get this man here fired get off council," Tolle said, pointing to Kreager. "I think it's good for the city."

If there was one small consolation for Ilnyckyj, voters approved a measure he supported: to allow the mayor and City Council members to serve four-year terms instead of two years. The changes do not go into effect this year.

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