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Mayor bounces back, gets new term

Mayor David Fischer, often criticized as passive and colorless, proved himself strong enough to withstand a determined challenge from Army veteran Bill Klein on Tuesday.

Rebounding from a beating in the mayoral primary last month, Fischer, 63, won a 6 percentage-point victory over Klein, 65, a highly decorated, 33-year Army veteran.

St. Petersburg voters also put three new faces on the City Council and gave the Renaissance Vinoy Resort a go-ahead on plans to build a 15,000-square-foot conference center behind the downtown waterfront landmark.

Most notable of the council changes is the departure of David Welch, 69, a fixture in city politics since before his first election to the council in 1981. Frank W. Peterman Jr., 34, beat him handily.

In the mayoral race, Klein tried to convince voters that Fischer failed to provide the strong leadership the city needed. The violence in the city's streets during October and November underscored that failure, he said.

But Fischer fought back and ran strongest in the precincts south of Central Avenue, those closest to the disturbances. He pointed to a lower crime rate, lower taxes, an emerging downtown and revitalized neighborhoods as evidence of leadership.

Klein attributed his defeat to what he called Fischer's "very, very negative campaign" in black precincts, a campaign that he said portrayed him as a racist.

Klein said he hoped to work to heal the community but said he didn't see politics in his future.

Fischer also sounded a healing theme. "This is a new day and a time for everybody to work together," he said. "My door is open to everybody."

The mayor defended his campaign against Klein's attacks. "I've had everything thrown at me _ everything _ in three elections," including a recent flier from the Police Benevolent Association that sharply criticized him, Fischer said. "I'm sorry he (Klein) feels that way."

One City Council race finished in a near-tie.

In the District 4 seat being vacated by another longtime council member, Edward Cole, Kathleen S. Ford, 39, a former president of the North Shore Neighborhood Association, apparently won a squeaker. In her first try for public office, she led Pat Fulton, 56, founder of the Downtown Core Group, by about 500 votes.

The campaign featured an exchange of sharp personal attacks. Fulton called Ford an elitist for remarks suggesting the Old Northeast is a "buffer" between expensive Snell Isle and less desirable neighborhoods.

Ford attacked Fulton for lacking "personal financial discipline." Fulton lost a house to foreclosure four years ago.

Peterman challenged Welch four years ago and came close to unseating him then. Peterman won handily in last month's primary, and then duplicated his victory Tuesday.

Indirectly, both candidates made an issue of age. Welch touted his long service to the community, while Peterman argued that he better understood the needs of his constituents.

In a relatively quiet District 2 race, incumbent Beatrice Griswold, 64, made short work of Ronnie Beck, 43, a former president of the Riviera Bay Homeowners Association. Griswold, a retired schoolteacher, was elected to the council in 1993, succeeding her husband.

The District 8 seat being vacated by Leslie Curran was won by John J. Lasita, 45, an auto insurance claims adjuster, over Jimmy Joe Biggerstaff, 56, president of the Disston Heights Neighborhood Association.

Little opposition formed to the Vinoy's plans for a new conference center, and the measure passed with ease.

_ Complete St. Petersburg city election and Penny for Pinellas results are on TimesLine. Using a Touch-Tone phone, call TimesLine (find the number for your area on the back page of this section); punch in category code 1057.