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When it comes to casting votes on issues before City Council, there's probably not a dime's worth of difference between David Welch and Frank Peterman Jr.

Still, the differences the two have drawn between each other have made their race for the District 6 council seat arguably the most clear-cut choice for voters this season.

In a nutshell, it is this: Welch, 69, holds his age high, saying he has the long public experience this city needs in this potentially chaotic time. Peterman, 34, also holds his age high, saying he has the energy and the staying power to advance the city's interests.

Within the district, Peterman's voice has been clearly ascendant. He trounced Welch in the Feb. 25 primary, taking nearly twice as many votes as Welch, a 12-year incumbent.

"I think there was a good deal of complacency among our supporters, who figured that my dad was just going to put in a strong performance without any help," said Kenneth T. Welch, one of his father's campaign coordinators.

"This time (in the general election), we're going to show our strength, show that his experience is needed after all that has gone on," the younger Welch said.

"All that has gone on" is a reference to the outbreaks of arson and looting that occurred in the heart of District 6 during two fall nights last year. The violence flared after a police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old black motorist in a traffic stop.

Welch was on the street during the two nights of violence, trying to keep things calm. He followed up with days full of meetings and strategy sessions.

Peterman has not faulted Welch's response, but he has quietly criticized the incumbent by saying that somebody in better touch with constituents and their concerns would have known that tensions were reaching the breaking point before violence erupted.

That message of prevention, coupled with Peterman's youth and his campaign's hustling style, clearly resonated with the district's voters.

"I think it's going to be a blowout," Old Southeast resident Karl Nurse said of the March 25 elections. "I think that Frank won by so much (Feb. 25) that the rest of the city will tend to endorse that."

Nurse is a partisan, to be sure. A Peterman sign has been a fixture in Nurse's front yard since before the primary, but Nurse knows the district. He ran against both Welch and Peterman in 1993, has served as president of his neighborhood association and currently serves on the city's planning commission.

"When you run Welch and Peterman citywide, and there's no significant difference in their public philosophies, then I think the rest of the city will see how the district reacted and tend to go along with that."

How Peterman's primary win translates into the larger community clearly concerns him. "I think I can get my message to go citywide," Peterman says. "I want voters in the other areas of the city to think "If the people of his district feel that strongly to vote for him like that, then I feel comfortable voting for you, too.'


But Nurse is quick to give Welch his due. He notes that the incumbent is skilled in the public arena and is quite capable of making a big splash in the waning days of the campaign.

"He won't go quietly into the night," Nurse said of Welch.

Candidates on the Web

St. Petersburg's 1997 elections have hit cyberspace. Supporters of both David Welch and Frank Peterman Jr. have gone online with sites on the World Wide Web. All you need is a personal computer with a Web browser and a modem to find the sites. Welch's address is http://home1.gte. net/ktwelch/votewelch.html.

Peterman's address is user/frankpeterman.