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Polls open under cloudy skies and predictions of low turnout

6:50 P.M. UPDATE: Final estimates of turnout for St. Petersburg election is 27.4 percent, which includes 13.3 percent at the precincts plus the 14.1 percent via mail balloting.

ST. PETERSBURG — Voters went to the polls Tuesday in a city election marked by cool temperatures, gray skies and predictions of low turnout.

None of which mattered to George Brydon, 60, who was among the first of a steady stream of voters at Westminster Church on 11th Avenue NE when the polls opened at 7 a.m.

St. Petersburg voters will choose five City Council members and a new mayor. Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster, both lawyers and former City Council members, were the finalists from a crowded field of candidates vying to replace two-term Rick Baker as mayor.

Brydon, 60, who works at Cleanpak Products in Tampa, said he spent a lot of time deciding between Ford and Foster and finally chose Foster because of his voting record on City Council and his temperament.

"I think St. Petersburg has come a long way during nine years and I think Foster can continue that for all of the city,'' Brydon said. He said Foster is "not divisive'' like his opponent.

As of 4 p.m. the Supervisor of Elections Office estimates turnout at polling places in St. Petersburg is 10.2 percent, based on sampling eight precincts. That's in addition to the 14.1 percent turnout for mail balloting.

There were no serious problems at the polls, although they did switch out a machine precinct 242 where the battery was acting up, said spokeswoman Nancy Whitlock.

Largo had 2.2 percent turnout at the polls, and 10.2 percent mail turnout. St. Pete Beach has 13 percent at the polls and 19.6 percent mail turnout. That doesn't include 14 percent turnout by mail ballots, bringing turnout to 24 percent.

More than 22,000 St. Petersburg voters cast their ballots by mail — about half the expected total turnout today.

Foster and Ford crisscrossed the city Tuesday, waving to voters outside of polling places.

Foster said he lost 25 pounds throughout the course of election and was looking forward to learning the results. He received some help from Mayor Rick Baker, who stood on a sidewalk Monday night waving a Foster sign.

Largo voters will choose a city commissioner and a charter change, and St. Pete Beach voters will cast ballots on charter amendments.

CJ Ash, 32, also at the Westminster Church poll, was struck by the low turnout in St. Petersburg.

Ash, who works at a restaurant on Central Avenue, said he was the only person in line when he cast his ballot for Ford.

He said he agrees with Ford's opposition to a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays and her support for urban planning and low-income housing.

At Lake Maggiore Baptist Church at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S and 40th Avenue, turnout was steady, with about a dozen people casting ballots by 7:15 a.m.

Despite predictions of a low turnout, Maurice Fagg, 74, said his neighbors seemed interested in the mayor's race.

Fagg, a disabled Korean War veteran, said he voted for Foster because he didn't like Ford's "views or her goals or the way she expresses herself.'' He said he wants a mayor who "would bring about progress. She seems stuck in the same mode.''

City Council member Jamie Bennett, who lost a bid for mayor in the primary, went to Lakewood United Methodist Church on 60th Avenue S before 8 a.m. to cast his vote.

Bennett wouldn't say who he voted for. "I didn't endorse anybody, but I did my part and voted," he said.

But he did comment on the turnout at his polling place, which he said "certainly isn't Obama level."

"A year ago at this time, you couldn't find a parking space here," Bennett said.

The polls stayed mostly empty throughout the morning and into the afternoon.

Fewer than 120 people had cast ballots at Great Explorations on Fourth Street N by 2 p.m.

Voters were greeted by a representative of the Police Benovelent Association, who was pushing Foster, and the St. Petersburg fire fighters union, who was pushing voters toward Ford.

Linda Zamparelli, cast her ballot for Ford. She argued criticism against Ford in recent weeks were rooted in sexism.

"She's an excellent candidate," Zamparelli said. "It's time for change."

But Zamparelli wasn't completely dissatisfied with the status quo.

She voted to elect council members Jeff Danner in District 8 and Karl Nurse in District 6.

"If there is somebody doing a good job, you shouldn't throw them out just for the sake of change," she said.

However, she voted for newcomer Pamella Settlegoode against council member Leslie Curran in the District 4 race calling it a tough decision.

Barry Edwards, campaign manager for City Council District 5 candidate Angela Rouson, was waiving at cars passing by the museum on 4th Street.

Danner also made an appearance at the polling place.

"Seems like the turnout looks kind of low," he said. "I guess we'll see for sure in a couple of hours."

He said he spent Tuesday like many of the candidates, zooming around polling places across the city.

"I think a lot of people are engaged in their districts," Danner said. "Outside the district, you still meet people who aren't sure who you are."

Turnout at Pilgrim Congregational Church, precinct 234, was steady, perhaps a little better than anticipated, poll workers said of the westside location.

Alison Croasmun, 27, west side resident who works in retail and attends college, said she voted for Ford,

"I think she'll get curbside recycling out faster," which is Croasmun's top priority. She said Ford's approach to panhandling resonated more with her as a voter. And Ford's reputation for confrontation didn't dissuade Croasmun from voting for her.

"I think that gives her more of a get-it-done attitude" than Foster. "She does seem kind of mean, but you know..."

Troy Martens, 26, another voter there who is a student, voted for Ford for similar reasons. "She not messing around," Martens said, suggesting Ford will take a better stand to limit panhandling. "I'd like to see less homeless people in the streets," he said.Times staff writers Aaron Sharockman, David DeCamp and Cristina Silva contributed to this report.

Polls open under cloudy skies and predictions of low turnout 11/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 6:54pm]
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