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City Commission elections frame ongoing debate about St. Pete Beach

ST. PETE BEACH — Five candidates will compete Jan. 31 for two seats on the City Commission in an election that will give residents another opportunity to react to the city's ongoing debate over the future character of the city.

That years-long contentious debate has now cost the city more than $1 million in legal fees.

In District 1, incumbent Al Halpern has two challengers — Deb Edney and Lorraine Huhn.

District 3 incumbent Marvin Shavlan has a single opponent, Brooke Anderson.

Huhn and Shavlan are heavily backed by hotel and business interests that favor a strong effort to reinvigorate the city's tourism and business sector.

Ironically, Halpern once was a pro-development volunteer for Save Our Little Village — a political action committee backed by hoteliers and led by Huhn.

Edney and Anderson are supported by former commissioners and mayors favoring more cautious redevelopment.

Anderson's husband, Jim Anderson, is suing the city to stop implementation of the comprehensive plan. She maintains she has no conflict of interest, but does not say that she is opposed to the lawsuit.

Here are brief bios and platforms for each of the candidates:

District 1

• Edney, 61, ran unsuccessfully against Halpern in 2008. The Michigan native and retired critical-care nurse has lived here since 2004. She is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She has two children and five grandchildren and likes to garden at her "little tiny beach cottage."

Edney stresses that she wants to be a "voice for all the people" and present all sides of critical issues. She supports what she calls "sensible development" that requires developers to "pay their fair share" of infrastructure costs.

• Halpern, 65, is a retired mechanical aerospace engineer at Lockheed Martin. He has served two terms on the commission, and served on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the Estuary Committee of the Tampa Bay Management Committee and the Florida League of Cities. The Bronx native and his wife have lived in the city for 12 years. They have two children and a grandchild. Halpern is an avid boater and tennis player.

Halpern supports the city's comprehensive plan that gives hotels the density they need to get redevelopment financing. He also supports a proposed revenue-generating marina at the city's recreation center as long as the city is successful in securing federal grants to pay for it.

• Huhn, 81, is making her first run for elective office. As president of SOLV, she has been closely involved in the city's political and legal debate over redevelopment. The Chicago native, retired school teacher and mother of six has lived in the city full time since 1985. Before retiring, she worked in advertising and marketing for area newspapers, banks and accounting firms.

She makes no apologies for her hotelier supporters and their vision of a "healthy" balance between residential and business interests. Huhn says "change is inevitable" and the comprehensive plan will create an environment for vibrant growth.

District 3

• Anderson, 51, has been a resident since 2005, serving as secretary of the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum, vice president of the St. Pete Beach Community Club and a member of Friends of the Library. The Virginia native retired as a senior zoning inspector and fire official in Falls Church. She is married and likes to spend time with her dogs, traveling, boating and reading.

If elected, Anderson says she will "promote strong property values and code enforcement." She supports lower taxes and fees, making "high rise developers" pay for any city redevelopment costs, and strongly supports the city's police officers and firefighters. The police union has endorsed her candidacy.

• Shavlan, 55, was first elected to the commission two years ago and previously served on the Historic Preservation Board. He is president and owner of Bond & Company Jewelers. Also a Virginia native, Shavlan is a "lifelong" resident of Pinellas County and moved to the city with his wife in 2001. He is a founder and past president of the Continental Buying Group, a major jewelry buying entity that now represents about 250 stores nationally. He enjoys boating and running.

Shavlan is an unabashed supporter of the city's comprehensive plan — a position he says has garnered him "broad-based support" from residents, business, community leaders and hotels. He also supports the commission's efforts to renegotiate a new pension plan with police and fire unions, which he says will sharply reduce future pension costs for the city while preserving benefits for employees. His platform includes fiscal responsibility, keeping taxes low and economic development.

City commissioners serve two-year terms and are paid $5,400. They are elected in their districts.

City Commission elections frame ongoing debate about St. Pete Beach 01/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 21, 2012 3:30am]
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