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Newcomer challenges District 2 incumbent

The first contest has emerged in next year's City Council elections, as a 42-year-old draftsman has stepped up to challenge District 2 incumbent Bea Griswold.

Ronnie L. Beck, who heads the Riviera Bay homeowners association, said fighting crime will be his top priority. He said he worries that council members have let public safety suffer in the name of continuing to reduce the property tax rate.

"It may be time to stop lowering property taxes and use that money to pay for a little larger police department," said Beck, who listens to a police scanner and said he hears too many calls that take 45 minutes for police to show up.

"It's not that some of the ideas of (police Chief) Darrel Stephens are not good ideas, but their implementation is not always what it should be," said Beck, who is active on his neighborhood crime watch.

Beck is a political newcomer who said he was encouraged to run by City Council members Larry Williams and Leslie Curran, among others. He is a Tampa native who moved to St. Petersburg in 1974.

Beck faces former school teacher Bea Griswold, 63, the one-term incumbent who succeeded her husband, Bill Griswold, after he finished eight years on the council. While he shares Griswold's support of the city's aggressive neighborhood revitalization initiatives, he said he did not share her continued support for the city's former downtown redevelopment partner, Bay Plaza.

Griswold has yet to file papers for the non-partisan March 1997 election, but she has said that she does intend to seek another term. "The more competition the better for debate on all the issues," Griswold said after learning she had a challenger.

Griswold is the first incumbent to draw a challenger so far. Council member David Welch is also up for re-election, but has no opposition at this early stage. Term limits are forcing Edward Cole in District 4 and Leslie Curran in District 8 to step down from the council, though Curran is running for mayor.

Beck is an astronomy buff whose Sunwest Space Systems business used to sell telescopes.