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District 2's quiet runoff promises to be close

(ran Beach, East, West editions)

Political newcomer Jim Myers outpaced Maria Repas last month by 20 votes, but it was not the majority needed to capture the District 2 seat.

The pair will face off again Tuesday. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"I just think it's going to be tight all the way down the line," Repas said.

The quiet race has turned pivotal for a City Hall shaken by sexual harassment complaints. This is a vote that could mean the ouster of City Manager Danny Walker who, according to an investigation, used sexual humor in the workplace on an almost daily basis.

Walker has been an integral part of Myers' platform.

Myers said he would vote to fire the 24-year employee despite a City Commission decision in February to place him on probation. Myers said the first issue he would tackle is "Walker. Walker. Danny Walker."

"I think you have to start anew in City Hall," Myers said.

Repas, however, has preferred to spotlight district issues, rather than dredging a past commission's decision, she said.

"I'm just not a negative person. I don't like beating a dead horse," Repas said. "There are so many other issues that have taken a minor role in the campaign versus that issue."

Repas supports probation, she said, because she wants the city to move forward.

"If there's another mistake, there are no more chances," she said of Walker.

Here is a look at each candidate:

Myers, 68, has a master's degree in urban affairs and a master's degree in industrial engineering. He has lived on St. Pete Beach since 1989 with his wife, Greta.

Myers has the support of Malcolm Ogden, who ran for the District 2 seat with Repas and Myers. He also has the endorsement of City Commissioner Saranan Lauck, who could be the third vote for Walker's termination, though she is not saying how she would vote.

If elected, Myers said he would work with the chamber of commerce to attract varied retail and entertainment ventures and would push for a master plan to beautify Gulf Boulevard.

"Overall, my approach would be to place much more emphasis on the city's capital improvement program, looking five to 10 years into the future," he said.

Myers, who has served in various positions on the Silver Sands community association, said he decided to run to get more involved.

He has not been a political hack, but he said he has the education and work expertise to lead the community.

"I'm ready," Myers said. "But I need to learn more as I go, but I think everybody does. I'm a fast learner.

"You can have 10 years of experience but that can always be one year of experience 10 times."

Charles and Alice Keator live in Silver Sands. They support Myers.

"It's just that we know he's very cautious and educated," Mrs. Keator said.

Added Mr. Keator: "I respect his judgment."

Repas, 36, has a bachelor of arts degree in social and behavioral science. She has lived on St. Pete Beach for 18 years.

Outgoing City Commissioner Robert Mariner, of District 2, endorses her.

If elected, Repas said she would help secure land for a park because District 2 is the only district without green space. She also would work to fill empty storefronts by pursuing grants for revitalization.

Repas is operations manager for Jeff's Desserts and serves on the city's 40th anniversary committee. She has worked as supervisor at the beach McDonald's.

"My number one priority is making sure citizen input is there on every issue and that people feel represented . . . before the fact, not after the fact," she said.

Jack Ohlhaber, president of the Bahia Shores Community Association, will vote for Repas because, he said, she is energetic and hard-working.

"What's very important is although Jim has a lot of credentials for the job, he really doesn't have the background and experience in the community that Maria does," Ohlhaber said. "I don't think he's well-informed to make the decisions."

Repas has the support of influential business leaders such as Theresa Crane, the Pinellas County sales manager for Busch Gardens, and Deborah Nicklaus, of the Sirata Beach Resort.

Repas said she would vote her heart.

"You can count on the fact that I'll be a decision-maker."