ST. PETERSBURG — In the quest for a political seat, it's a familiar scenario:
Veteran serves for years, wants to keep serving.
Newcomer wants change.
But the race in District 4 illustrates the biggest side-by-side experience gap of all the City Council candidates, pitting Leslie Curran, who has served longer than any other incumbent, against Pamella Settlegoode, who has never served before.
It doesn't worry Settlegoode. In her eyes, Curran's time is up.
"Ms. Curran, she has been representing our residents on council for over a decade and there is not much to show for it," said Settlegoode, a 60-year-old writer and former educator.
Settlegoode, a fifth generation St. Petersburg resident, lived in Portland for 22 years before moving back four years ago. She has served on the board of Women in Higher Education and was president of a historic neighborhood association in Portland.
She decided to get into the race after reading newspaper articles about city issues.
"You just read and you think, 'Gosh, what are they doing?' A lot of stuff caught my attention."
She calls Curran a rubber-stamper, Curran balks at the suggestion. "That's unfortunate," she said. "She hasn't been here for 12 years to know what I have done."
Curran, 53, points to achievements during her council tenure that include striving to unite and improve the Central Avenue corridor, negotiating plans to transform the 82-year-old Crislip Arcade on Central Avenue into an artists' community, launching Art in the Park at Williams Park, holding a small business summit and serving on the Pier task force.
Curran, a St. Petersburg native who lives in Northeast Park, owns Interior Motives art gallery and design business. But the known arts proponent denies having tunnel vision. "I'm certainly very focused on the arts and culture, which I feel are just as important as the Rays or any other activity that we have in this city," she said. "But I wouldn't say that is the only thing I am focused on."
When she gets teased for venturing into issues outside her district, which includes neighborhoods north of downtown, including Crescent Lake, she argues that her obligation is citywide. She was a founding member of Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association and First Night St. Petersburg, working at the neighborhood level as well as downtown. There's always room to improve the status quo, she said.
"I have my own style, I have a sense of humor, which helps me through any situation, which I think is positive, but at the same time, I take things very seriously," she said. "I think people do appreciate that you can have a difference of opinion with your colleague but still maintain decorum."
Curran does most of her own campaigning, preferring not to hire political consultants. She spreads the word with signs, fliers, e-mail and talking to people face-to-face.
Settlegoode has the same approach. Low on funds and name recognition, she pulled together a grass roots campaign with the help of two college students. She has been going door to door in Midtown touting plans for economic development and job creation, which would include hiring students from Midtown to work in her office.
She calls the council childish for the way it handled the recent flap over a hot dog vendor. She calls herself progressive on social issues — she would have voted for the BayWalk sidewalk to remain public — but prudent with money. She wants a city master plan with infrastructure and security that could attract the tenancy of businesses like a Nike outlet or Columbia Sportswear. She has plans for creating youth job programs and striking a balance between community and district policing. She has said that no public servant should earn more than $100,000 per year.
While campaigning as the candidate for change, Settlegoode fields a common question: If elected, what's to keep her from becoming just like everyone else?
"I say, 'I'll tell you right now. I'm here standing on your doorstep and I'm talking to you. And I expect you to hold my feet to the fire.' "
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.