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Four political newcomers vying for District 8 City Council seat in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — When City Council candidate Amy Foster and her supporters go door to door in District 8, they hear complaints about break-ins and crime-ridden motels on 34th Street.

But when one of her opponents, Steve Galvin, walks the same beat, he says he's a sounding board for frustration with the $50 million Lens design for the city's Pier, a concern he's placed at the center of his campaign.

Sandwiched between the 34th Street corridor and the city's downtown, District 8 has become a battleground for four candidates, all of them new to politics, and all of them testing different theories of what voters want from this election.

Is it someone who will reject the Lens? A candidate focused on code enforcement and crime? Or, as candidate Alex Duensing, a former poetry teacher, put it: someone who will follow the will of the people, as long as it doesn't "hurt people or property or the earth."

A poll conducted in late July by St. Pete Polls placed Foster far ahead of her competitors, with roughly 44 percent of the vote. But the same poll queried almost as many people who were undecided. And other surveys have found significant support for quashing the Lens proposal, a position Galvin backs.

"If I was to guess, I'd say it's probably those two," Foster and Galvin, who will make it out of the primary, said District 8 Council member Jeff Danner, who is term-limited. He endorsed Foster early in the race, partly because of her "understanding that the Lens is really not the biggest issue right now," he said.

Foster, 35, a program manager for a Seattle-based nonprofit, had little involvement in politics when she entered the race last spring, but she has since made up for it with the twin advantages of time and money. Foster, who is not related to Mayor Bill Foster, began early, her purple signs popping up around the Historic Kenwood neighborhood before others had entered the race. By mid July, she had raised nearly $25,000 and assembled a small army of volunteers and a list of endorsements.

Her campaign has focused on public safety — she has called for hiring more police officers — as well as reducing crime on 34th Street, where cheap motel rooms have long attracted drugs and prostitution. She supports the Lens and is the only candidate in the race who holds that position.

"I appreciate that people are upset about The Rays, The Pier and Red Light Cameras, but my neighbors are worried about their personal safety and their property values," read one of her campaign mailers, which featured a picture of her looking stern, with arms crossed.

Galvin, 55, who makes a living recording music for the toy industry, has immersed himself in the details of the Pier debate, devoting a mailer and a round of robocalls to the issue.

"I felt that the whole process by which we got to the Lens was flawed," he said at a City Council candidate forum on Wednesday night. "I don't believe that the Lens offers the amenities that a municipal pier should have."

He will support the Aug. 27 referendum to end the Lens contract, a move that he hopes will push the city to reconsider earlier proposals or renovate the current structure.

He has also proposed reclaiming Williams Park for families by installing a carousel and has suggested promoting 22nd Avenue, home to many of the city's building supply stores, as a special district, akin to the Grand Central District. Largely self-funded, his campaign has about $15,000.

The last few weeks have been tumultuous for his campaign. His consultant quit after a Tampa Bay Times story revealed that Galvin had lied to a reporter about a 2006 paternity lawsuit. And at the end of this week, his wife is leaving her job as an assistant attorney for the city after officials found she'd violated city policy by sending campaign emails from her work account.

"Despite the press that I've gotten, I still think I'll survive the primary," Galvin said.

Duensing, 39, of Disston Heights, has focused his campaign on how he would change the tone of the City Council. With voters, he has talked about the small, helpful things that he has done, such as helping disabled residents, as an example of the kind of council member he would be.

"A lot of people feel that government generally is no longer representing the will of the people," he said. "They like it when I tell them I'm going to go with what people want."

An assistant librarian for the city, Robert Davis, 53, has campaigned on his experience working in government. He did not attend Wednesday's candidate forum.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779.

Four political newcomers vying for District 8 City Council seat in St. Petersburg 08/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 1:16am]
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