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You want fireworks, we've got fireworks.

One candidate says the other one can't balance her checkbook.

The other candidate says the first one is a narrow-minded snob.

Oddly enough, both Kathleen Ford and Pat Fulton say they come by their City Council ambitions through grass-roots volunteer work. But the similarities end there.

Ford is a long-time leader and former president of the North Shore Neighborhood Association, one of the city's busiest homeowner groups. She was a prime mover in the effort to toughen neighborhood standards. This is her first run for public office.

Fulton may be best known as the founder and leader of the Downtown Core Group, a loose organization of small business owners and other interested folks who want city leaders to put less faith in mega-projects like Bay Plaza and more in home-grown development. She ran for mayor in 1993, finishing third.

Both women can be quite outspoken, although some of Ford's comments early in the campaign didn't have quite the effect she intended.

In an interview with the Times editorial board, Ford defended her sometimes controversial neighborhood projects as necessary to preserve the Old Northeast as a "buffer" between Snell Isle and less desirable, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Later, she expanded those remarks to complain about the city's tendency to "cater to lower socio-economic groups" _ the sort of people who might patronize a tattoo parlor or recycled denim store downtown, which she disdains.

Fulton, ever the master of the caustic remark, seized on these missteps.

"If I had charged $100 an hour to every person I'd offered advice to or helped them take a concern to City Hall," she said, responding to Ford's mention of Fulton's past financial problems, "hey, I could be living in North Shore, too. Hell, I could even live in Snell Isle, and she could guard me _ be my buffer.

"But I didn't. I was dumb. I did it for free."

Ford is a lawyer, married to another lawyer. Fulton is a divorced writer who has changed jobs frequently over the years. Four years ago she fell behind on her mortgage and lost her house to foreclosure. She says, somewhat proudly, that she got another job and started over _ without resorting to bankruptcy.

And while not everyone may want a tattoo or a used pair of dungarees, such stores are part of the trendy and eclectic mix that can make downtown lively, she says.

For her part, Ford said her remarks didn't reflect her true attitude about neighborhood improvements. She thinks anyone can _ and should _ get involved in a common effort to make neighborhoods stronger and to improve the tax base.

"I think it's important that the city realize that I have the whole city's best interests at heart, both the business and the residential communities," she said.

On the campaign trail, Ford also has not softened her claim that she is better suited to serve on the council.

"We cannot afford to elect candidates who have endorsed divisive candidates in other elections" _ a reference to Fulton's endorsement of former police chief and mayoral candidate Ernest Curtsinger four years ago _ "or who have not exercised personal financial discipline," Ford told a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

Ford's supporters also tout her intelligence and energy, and complain that Fulton's breezy enthusiasm often runs short on specifics.

Fulton says her best attribute on the council will be her ability to listen to ordinary people.

Ford has raised far more money than Fulton _ $9,981.56 to $2,643.45, as of Feb. 28 _ and is supported by many prominent St. Petersburg business and professional leaders. But Fulton was endorsed by the police and firefighters unions and the Suncoast Board of Realtors.

In the district primary, which covered the Old Northeast, Crescent Lake, part of downtown and some other northside neighborhoods, Ford finished first with 42 percent of the vote. Fulton was 309 votes behind with 35 percent.

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