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One way or another, city gets new mayor

A new mayor will be elected Tuesday, and City Hall will be a different place.

Even if David Fischer wins re-election.

The neck-and-neck campaign between the mayor and challenger Bill Klein concludes after a campaign that has given fresh rise to the notion that style does matter, that residents want their mayor to be more aggressive and visible in charting the course for St. Petersburg.

"There's certainly a constituency out there that wants some change. I've heard that," Fischer said. "My next administration will look different. There are things we will do differently."

The words sound oddly defensive from an incumbent who can point to lower property taxes, a lower crime rate, a more vibrant downtown, Major League baseball, and neighborhood associations applauding city government for the first time in at least a decade.

But when Fischer was simultaneously elected mayor four years ago along with approval of a "strong mayor" form of government, he did not anticipate that two nights of violent racial unrest would prompt voters to consider his leadership in ways far less tangible than his considerable record on paper.

And so, with virtually no record of community involvement or political experience, the retired Army general who trumpets his hands-on management style has defined the campaign more than the incumbent with more than two decades of political experience.

Fischer: Changes from top

So what does Mayor Fischer's next term look like?

Look for some new faces at the top in his new administration. He won't name names or departments, but Fischer has made clear his intention to make some changes at the top. "I certainly will be evaluating who can push us ahead to the next level," he said.

"In my conversations with him, Dave said he understood there needs to be changes, not only in personnel but in attitude," said Leslie Curran, a mayoral candidate who endorsed Fischer because she said she does not trust Klein's advisers. "He (Fischer) told me that loud and clear he heard what people were saying in the primary."

Police Chief Darrel Stephens' job looks reasonably secure, at least initially. But given the department's recent turmoil, leadership a few months down the road is uncertain.

With the pending retirement of Chief of Staff Don McRae, Fischer will likely be looking for an African-American to fill a top job in the new administration.

And what will become of City Administrator Rick Dodge, who became a campaign issue during the primary when Curran questioned his frequent absences?

Fischer has been complimentary of Dodge, who is best known for spearheading the city's efforts to win a baseball team. But Dodge has kept a low profile in recent years, taking an unpaid leave one year and coping with a chronic medical problem last year. A higher profile for Dodge, or a replacement, would be a dramatic change in another Fischer administration.

There will be program shifts, too, many of them sounding like a response to Klein's campaign. Klein has accused Fischer of stealing many of his ideas.

The mayor continues to support house-by-house code enforcement, but he plans to thoroughly review the codes program. He said it has made dramatic differences in some neighborhoods, but it also has unnecessarily annoyed too many residents. Fischer also suggests that more police officers could be hired.

Don't mistake these changes for a philosophical transformation, however. The mayor has hailed his administration as a success story.

His intensive neighborhood-by-neighborhood improvement approach, for instance, will continue in a second term. But the all-out effort will be aimed at the predominantly black neighborhoods where the disturbances erupted.

This is what Fischer expects to tell city employees at his first staff meeting: "Our job, and the success of this next administration, is how we deal with our inner city, and how we eradicate the economic disparities."

Klein: Many new faces

And what does Mayor Klein's administration look like?

It will have plenty of new faces.

Klein has said he has a city manager in mind to bring in from another Florida city, and he already is reviewing resumes for various positions. African-Americans, he has vowed, will have high-level jobs. At the same time, Klein has said he will cut the number of upper-level management positions.

McRae would be gone, even if he had not chosen to retire. Dodge almost certainly is gone, too, although Klein has not said so specifically. The same goes for Stephens. The folks handling economic development for Fischer ought to be looking for jobs, too, based on Klein's campaign rhetoric.

But all this will not happen immediately. Klein plans to go slowly, reviewing each and every department, and he has repeatedly stressed that he has no plans for radical changes.

"I'm not going to go in there with a broom and sweep out City Hall in the first 30 days," said Klein, noting that he made no dramatic changes when he handled non-football operations with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or most recently when he oversaw Air Force bases in Turkey from 1991 to 1996.

People who have not had close access to the mayor's office in recent years will now have Mayor Klein's ear.

Architect and former mayor Randy Wedding is one of them, and he will likely be a close adviser. Other developers who have complained of the mayor letting city regulators trample on them also will have a sympathetic ear.

Budget officials will spend a lot of time with Klein. He has been adamant about not raising fees and taxes, but much of his platform calls for new spending. He expects to find at least $3.6-million in savings to pay for more police officers.

Klein will find some savings in code enforcement. He will cut positions as he returns the city to a complaints-only system.

Low-profile and high-profile departments can expect to see more of Klein, who promises to be much more of a hands-on manager than Fischer.

Mayor Klein will tell city staffers at his first meeting: "We're all public servants. We need to become, all of us, more service-oriented. An awful lot of you are doing a really fine job, but some of you have been burdened by some policies that we need to look at."