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Election today to end rocky season

Voters today are choosing among seven candidates for three City Commission seats, bringing a somewhat turbulent election season, marked more by rumor than substance, to an end.

Jill Cincotta and Don Fletcher are running for Seat 1, hoping to replace retiring two-term Commissioner Linda Adkins. Cincotta, 33, is the co-owner of two downtown businesses and has been active in the city's downtown redevelopment efforts. She is the widow of former Commissioner Sal Cincotta, who died last August.

Fletcher, 38, was an appointed commissioner for one month last year, filling the vacancy of Commissioner Dan Pohto, who resigned from the seat in an unsuccessful bid for Pinellas County Tax Collector. Fletcher is the president of Florida Dredge and Dock, a family-owned business.

Incumbent Pamela Corbino is trying to retain Seat 2. She is being challenged by newcomer Paul Marron. Corbino, 45, was elected in 1992, ousting Commissioner George Costage. She is a computer teacher at Safety Harbor Middle School. Marron, 37, is a former jeweller who recently opened Cruise Line Vacations, a travel reservation agency.

Three candidates are vying for the seat of retiring two-term Commissioner Kathleen Bambery. Fran Barnhisel, Bill Rupp and Sandy Huff all are trying to win Seat 3. Barnhisel, a 50-year-old retired nurse, manages her husband's downtown business office and is active with redevelopment efforts. Rupp, 66, is a retired New York police officer. Huff, 51, is a freelance photojournalist and an avid environmentalist.

With no single, pressing issue, this election season has been marked by rumor, scandal and personality conflicts. Bambery accused Cincotta, Corbino and Barnhisel of running a "whisper campaign" to fire City Manager Pamela Brangaccio _ a charge all three candidates vehemently denied.

Then Cincotta called a published report of her 1985 shoplifting arrest an attempt by the opposition to "cloud the issues through the newspaper."

Then Fletcher said a Cincotta campaign flyer, saying that he supports reducing twice weekly trash pickup services, is false. Cincotta recalled Fletcher making the statement at a candidates' forum.

Rupp said he was disturbed by rumors that a bad back would prevent him from serving on the commission, as well as a phone call from Cincotta suggesting that he drop out of the race to give Barnhisel a clearer shot of winning.

City Clerk Bonita Haynes said she had a hard time trying to predict what voter turnout would be.

"There aren't a lot of issues this year, so it's hard to call," Haynes said. "If I had to guess, I'd say maybe around 20 percent."

Last year, 2,443 of the city's more than 10,000 registered voters cast ballots. This year there are 9,621 registered voters out of a population of more than 15,000.

Commissioners are elected to three-year terms and are paid $4,800 a year.