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DISTRICT 4 // North Shore leader wins close, bitter race

Kathleen Ford, a North Shore neighborhood leader making her first run for elective office, overcame questions about her commitment to the wider city to win a seat on the City Council.

In the closest race of Tuesday's election, Ford defeated community activist Pat Fulton with just a hair more than 50 percent of the vote.

"Well, isn't that special," she said when a reporter phoned her for comment. "You can print that. And that's my only comment."

After a moment, she went on to credit the "many wonderful volunteers" who helped her campaign.

Her victory ended what may have been the most personally bitter of the four City Council campaigns.

Ford, a 39-year-old lawyer and former

nurse, had seemed a shoo-in early in the campaign. After nearly a decade of volunteer work on various neighborhood and city committees, she had collected endorsements and campaign contributions from many established St. Petersburg professional and political leaders.

But then she stumbled with several controversial comments, and Fulton, who finished second to Ford in the District 4 primary, seized upon it.

In two separate interviews with the Times just before the primary, Ford described her home neighborhood, the rapidly gentrifying Old Northeast, as a necessary "buffer" between Snell Isle and less desirable, more crime-ridden neighborhoods farther south.

Fulton denounced Ford as a snob out of touch with most city residents.

A number of Ford's friends said her remarks had been poorly phrased and politically naive, but that they did not reflect her true feelings toward the city.

Fulton, best known for organizing and leading a group of small downtown business owners known as the Downtown Core Group, herself had been subject to attacks from the Ford camp. Ford said Fulton, who lost her house to foreclosure four years ago, did not have the "financial stability" to serve on the council. She also said Fulton's endorsement of former Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger in the mayor's race four years ago made her unfit for the council.

Fulton defended her financial troubles as something many ordinary people might identify with, and said she did not agree with many of Curtsinger's opponents who thought he was a racist.