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District 8 fight pits Jimmy Joe vs. Goliath

Political endorsements do not always mean votes in the ballot box, and that is what keeps Jim Biggerstaff striving for the District 8 seat on the City Council.

Biggerstaff, in fact, has been trying to turn Jay Lasita's bushel of endorsements into something of a crutch, as though the best candidate would go it alone.

"My opponent has all the endorsements," Biggerstaff told people at a recent political forum. "I'm the people's candidate; I'm not any group's candidate. I want to be your candidate."

By most appearances, John J. "Jay" Lasita (as his name appears on the ballot) should probably be considered the race's front-runner. But Jimmy Joe Biggerstaff (as his name appears) concedes nothing.

Biggerstaff continues to try to score points at Lasita's expense. He has not landed any clean blows, but he keeps hunting for an opening the few days before Tuesday's election.

For the record, Lasita (pronounced La-SEE-ta) has been endorsed by the local police and firefighters unions, the union representing the city's blue-collar workers, the Florida Consumer Action Network and the Times.

Biggerstaff's one endorsement comes from the Disston Heights Neighborhood Association, a group of which he is president. The endorsement is no small matter because the association is the largest such group in the city.

Wednesday, Lasita received what may be the biggest boost of all: Leslie Curran, the district's current council member, threw her support his way.

"I'm not going to make a formal endorsement or anything, because I hate to see council members get in the business of doing that, but I told him that I would put one of his yard signs in my yard," said Curran, who is precluded by the city charter from seeking a third consecutive council term.

"I don't know him real well personally, but I do feel that he has a good, broad perspective on the issues," she said.

Lasita said of Curran's help, "She served the district well for eight years, by most accounts, so that's really good. I welcome her support."

Biggerstaff has used I'm-the-neighborhood-candidate as his main campaign theme. It has gone over pretty well in different parts of the city.

"I'll be a full-time councilman," he told a group in Fossil Park _ in District 3 _ Tuesday. "Forget District 8, I'll be the councilman for this city."

That night, residents heard Lasita and Biggerstaff discuss issues many neighborhoods have scrutinized recently. Both candidates promised to beef-up the city's police force.

They differed, though, on the city's recent $3.9-million bailout of the Florida International Museum.

The city should not have spent more than $3.5-million, the appraised value of the museum's building that the city took as security, Biggerstaff said.

Lasita said the city should have put the question to popular vote. He supports that approach, he said, because city government has lost the trust of its residents with the big-ticket downtown redevelopment plans that were pushed through City Hall in the 1980s. First came the domed stadium, then came ill-fated Bay Plaza. Both were expensive.

Lasita and Biggerstaff offer different approaches to what the city should do about its drinking water supplies.

Biggerstaff said he would not support "any giveaway" of the city's well fields in Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Actually, nobody has suggested that St. Petersburg give away anything, much less its drinking water. However, the City Council has approved an agreement for Tampa Bay's larger local governments to see if a regional water utility can be built from their combined water systems. A proposal is expected sometime this summer.

Lasita has focused on the council's agreement to let those negotiations proceed. He points out that if participants in the talks balk, the plan is off, no strings attached.

At the very least, a vigorous discussion of the issue is warranted, Lasita said. "I'm thinking about 20 years from now. I don't want to go from water restrictions (in place now) to water rationing."