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Black coalition backs Fischer

One of the two groups that claim to represent the leadership of black St. Petersburg residents has endorsed Mayor David Fischer for re-election.

The endorsement, issued Wednesday by the Sevell Brown-led Coalition of African American Leadership, serves as another reminder that former police Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger continues to loom in the city elections, four years after he narrowly lost his own mayoral election.

Brown's group is highly skeptical of Fischer opponent Bill Klein, for instance, suggesting that he has too many former Curtsinger supporters backing him. And it dismissed City Council candidate Pat Fulton, mainly because of her support of Curtsinger in 1993.

The coalition emerged after last fall's disturbances in the city, but it is now divided into two factions _ one led by Brown, the other by the Rev. Manuel Sykes. The Sykes group has not made endorsements.

Brown said Wednesday that his group's political action committee has been impressed with Fischer since the disturbances and that the mayor seems genuinely committed to addressing problems he had not properly addressed earlier. Klein, Brown said, is too much of a mystery.

"The question was, "Do we stay with a mayor who seems to want to walk a new walk, or do we risk all with an unknown variable?'

" said Brown.

The endorsements came from a political action committee led by the Rev. Henry Lyons of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church and Jack Highsmith.

Also endorsed were Ronnie Beck in District 2, Kathleen Ford in District 4 and John "Jay" Lasita in District 8.

The coalition made no endorsement in the District 6 race between incumbent David Welch and Frank Peterman. Brown said both were strong candidates and voters should "vote your conscience."

Klein, who is campaigning for black votes, has repeatedly complained of being unfairly compared and linked with Curtsinger. He attacked Fischer for doing so in a campaign flier distributed in predominantly black neighborhoods.

"I'm not surprised they (Fischer supporters) did that," Curtsinger said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Glendale, Calif., where he now lives. "They have no morals, no scruples. They'll do anything they can to maintain control."

Curtsinger said he gets daily updates on the city elections, and has a clear preferance: "Based on what I've seen, I think (Klein) would be an excellent mayor. He certainly overshadows his opponent."

The former chief did rule out any possibility of returning to St. Petersburg, regardless of the election outcome. "There ain't enough men to bring me back there," he said.

The coalition's political action committee reviewed questionnaires sent to the candidates and issued grades for every candidate:

In the mayor's race, Fischer got a B and Klein a D. In District 2, Bea Griswold got an F, largely because she sent a generic letter instead of answering specific questions, and Beck an A. In District 4, Ford got an A and Fulton a C. In District 6, Welch and Peterman both got As. In District 8, Lasita got a B and Jimmy Joe Biggerstaff a D.