The Times recommends the following candidates in the four St. Petersburg City Council races that will appear on the ballot in the St. Petersburg general election on March 25.
There was no primary in this low-key race because there are just two candidates. The incumbent is Beatrice Griswold, who won the seat four years ago that had previously been held by her husband. The challenger is Ronnie Beck, a first-time candidate and president of the Riviera Bay homeowners association.
Beck, who will turn 43 the day before the election, is the clear choice in this race and has the potential to become a leader on the council. A Tampa native who moved to St. Petersburg in 1974, he is a draftsman who has operated his own business for 17 years.
Unlike some challengers in other races who did not decide to seek office until after last fall's disturbances, Beck announced his candidacy last July. He is well-prepared to pursue practical solutions in any number of areas.
For example, Beck wants to expand the use of parks and city recreation centers to keep more kids off the streets. He wants a candid assessment of whether the city needs more police officers and equipment. And in a refreshingly honest approach, he is willing to abandon the recent trend of cutting property taxes if that is what it takes to meet those goals.
Beck also advocates a more rational approach to code enforcement. He supports sending code enforcement officers to every neighborhood, but he suggests reviewing city codes and applying them in a more reasonable manner that could reflect the wishes of nearby homeowners.
He also wants to adjust the City Council's approach to governing and says council members should spend less time micro-managing the mayor and more time in neighborhoods.
Griswold, who spent 25 years as a teacher and union official, was recommended by this newspaper in 1993 over an ardent supporter of former Police Chief Ernest Curtsinger. She is a well-intentioned council member, and years of work by her and her husband led to the new veterans memorial in Williams Park. But Griswold has not blossomed into a leader on the council, and she acknowledges she still has difficulty dealing with the city bureaucracy to get answers for constituents.
Beck has a solid grasp of important issues and can bring new vision to the council. The Times recommends Ronnie Beck in District 2.
To appreciate the disdain attorney Kathleen Ford seems to feel for some people who live in her own city, one need only listen to her speak. Ford, former president of the North Shore Neighborhood Association and a proponent of stringent code enforcement, says the city must not "cater to lower socioeconomic groups" and must "buffer" some neighborhoods from others.
Ford's view of the world:
""Snell Isle is only going to be so nice if the Old Northeast is a good buffer. . . . If you have a yucky neighborhood abutting your nice new neighborhood, the value of your property isn't going to be as high as it would be if you had a nicer neighborhood there. . . . I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that you would mow your lawn, paint your house and keep crummy cars out of your front yard."
Fortunately, in the District 4 race, voters with "crummy cars" have an alternative. Ford is opposed by Pat Fulton, a St. Petersburg native who has demonstrated that she can work with people from all walks of life. Fulton, a former mayoralcandidate with a doctorate in English, is a down-to-earth civic activist who has led the Downtown Core Group and worked with numerous neighborhood associations in self-help projects.
Fulton says she wants to make city administrators more accountable for their actions, and she thinks government has not done enough to help existing homeowners and business owners to thrive.
Fulton has built a credible campaign and offers some thoughtful views on a wide range of city government issues. Ford seems singularly obsessed with making sure her neighbor's yard is mowed. The Times recommends Pat Fulton in District 4.
This race is a rematch of the 1993 contest, but the circumstances are different now. Four years ago, incumbent David Welch narrowly lost to first-time candidate Frank Peterman in the primary but came back to win the citywide general election. Now Peterman has stronger ties to the community, and he won the district primary this time by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
While Peterman and Welch have similar views on most issues, Peterman can bring new energy to the council. The 34-year-old Microsoft customer services supervisor at MCI promises to be accessible to constituents. He also can be a role model for younger African-American residents who often feel alienated from government.
Peterman moves easily among different groups in the black community, and between downtown business executives and some of the city's poorest residents. He offers a specific plan for assisting neighborhoods affected by last fall's disturbances, including a corporate mentoring program and a proven approach for nurturing small businesses.
(Readers should note that Peterman is the son of Peggy Peterman, a longtime Times writer who was a member of the editorial board before retiring last year.)
Welch, 69, is not perceived to be as accessible to constituents as in the past. That should not unduly blemish his long record of distinguished service to the city. As one of this area's most visible African-American leaders, Welch has consistently been a strong voice for racial equality even as he has worked on other issues such as water and transportation.
Peterman is well-positioned to build on Welch's legacy. The Times recommends Frank Peterman in District 6.
John "Jay" Lasita is a political newcomer who offers voters many attractive qualities.
Lasita is an insurance adjuster who grew up in the Tampa Bay area. He has two young daughters, and has been a consumer advocate for the past decade. Lasita says he wants the City Council to tend more to people's "everyday concerns."
"The main issues for the people in my district are neighborhood safety, quality of life and a sense that they will receive fair and equitable treatment from city government," Lasita says. "I believe that people want a government that is more accessible, more accountable and more worthy of their trust."
Lasita, 45, has involved himself in school advisory councils, the Florida Consumer Action Network and numerous consumer causes. He also has done his homework on city issues such as public safety, water and downtown and neighborhood development.
In this race, Lasita is opposed by retired boilermaker Jimmy Joe Biggerstaff. Biggerstaff has worked hard in his Disston Heights neighborhood, but he doesn't show Lasita's breadth on the issues. Lasita holds promise for the City Council. The Times recommends Jay Lasita in District 8.