As early returns came in Tuesday night, challenger Bill Klein had reason for optimism: The numbers, all from precincts north of Central Avenue, showed Klein with winning margins.
Then returns from polling places south of Central began arriving. Gloom turned to joy at the Fischer camp as the margin suddenly flip-flopped, and David Fischer was returned to City Hall.
It has become a familiar geographic split in St. Petersburg elections. It was the same map played out in last month's primary when Klein upset Fischer. It was the same split that nearly ruined Fischer four years ago, when former police Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger dominated the areas north of Central Avenue.
Complete district-by-district results were unavailable early today, but at polling places on different sides of the city Tuesday afternoon, the divisions were unmistakable.
Asked about candidate Klein, voter Viola B. Wiggs squinted, then frowned. "Who?" the 66-year-old said. "I don't know anything about him. I wouldn't know him if he walked right up here." She cast her vote for Fischer at 2350 22nd Ave. S, a predominantly black precinct where the returning mayor won with 93 percent.
Across town, voter Bob Miller had harsh words for Fischer: "He's a wimp." Like 61 percent of voters in the mostly white Walter P. Fuller Park precinct at 7891 26th Ave. N, Miller picked Klein. "I don't know a whole lot about Klein. I voted against Fischer. I want a stronger mayor."
Around the city, the election seemed to be more of a referendum on Fischer than a contest between two candidates.
Anti-Fischer voters said his behavior after last fall's violent disturbances was reason to discard him. Fischer's administration wasn't firm enough, they complained.
"It was disgraceful," Russ Gordon said after voting at Fuller Park. He recalled the October night when an angry crowd gathered after a police officer fatally shot a black man. "I was embarrassed by our Police Department, cowering in a corner. They looked like sheep in a pasture being herded by sheep dogs.
"I don't think Fischer makes the tough decisions," Gordon said. "He sits and he waits and he hopes it will all work out."
Said Raymond Culver Sr.: "Why not take these people who were doing all that and prosecute them? We need a change."
Pro-Fischer voters, meanwhile, also pointed to Fischer's handling of the disturbances _ but as a reason to support him.
"He showed tact and a calm head," said the Rev. O. B. Bartley. "Klein seems more reactionary. He doesn't have that human touch."
Said Johnnie Norris: "Fischer did the best he could. He's a good man."
The Rev. Larry Billue said Fischer had shown his support in the black community by attending its churches and neighborhood association meetings and couldn't be held accountable for the violence.
"In the world, you have good and bad," Billue said. "It's not Mr. Fischer's fault for who threw bricks and bottles."
Voters around the city seemed to know little about Klein, a relative newcomer to St. Petersburg politics. Several voters could not remember his name, even though they had just cast ballots. Others said they knew he was a military man. Nothing more. That may have helped Fischer.
"If you buy an old car, you can fix it," explained Gladys Morgan. "If you buy a new one, you don't know what you're getting."
The past few weeks have been "horrid" for Doris Eitel, who first picked Klein, then Fischer, then Klein again. "Finally I voted for Fischer because he had been in there."
In Fischer's home precinct on Snell Isle, he won 54 percent of the vote. That was a turnaround from the primary, when Klein won Fischer's neighborhood. Klein also won his own neighborhood on Tuesday, carrying 54 percent of the Shore Acres precinct.
In the Kenwood neighborhood, home to former mayoral hopeful Leslie Curran, Fischer took 53 percent of the vote. Curran, the outgoing council member who lost the mayoral primary, had endorsed Fischer.
There, voter Johnnie Stone, who supported Curran last month, picked Fischer.
"I guess I just want to go on like this, like we are," she said. "We're prosperous. We look good."
David J. Fischer 29,237 53%
William "Bill" Klein 25,444 47%
Ronnie Beck 19,564 43%
Beatrice M. Griswold 26,074 57%
Kathleen S. Ford 23,081 51%
Patricia Fulton 22,571 49%
Frank Peterman Jr. 29,885 63%
David T. Welch 17,590 37%
Jimmy Joe Biggerstaff 16,599 38%
John J. (Jay) Lasita 27,351 62%
Penny for Pinellas
Yes 86,433 65%
No 47,543 35%
Yes 36,037 70%
No 15,641 30%
Here's a sampling of how precincts representing a cross-section of the public voted in the St. Petersburg mayor's race Tuesday.
Klein: 167 (54%)
Fischer: 142 (46%)
(Klein was a primary winner here among the rows of apartment dwellers.)
Klein: 342 (63%)
Fischer: 200 (37%)
Klein: 358 (58%)
Fischer: 263 (42%)
(Both precincts were Klein territory in the primary.)
Klein: 419 (61%)
Fischer: 267 (39%)
(This is a Klein stronghold.)
Fischer: 257 (53%)
Klein: 228 (47%)
(The Kenwood area. This was Curran country in the primary.)
Fischer: 334 (67%)
Klein: 165 (33%)
(Middle class neighborhood that was Fischer territory in the primary but offered Klein potential for inroads.)
Klein: 425 (54%)
Fischer: 360 (46%)
(Shore Acres. Klein was a primary favorite here.)
Fischer: 686 (54%)
Klein: 588 (46%)
(Fischer's home district. Klein narrowly won here in the primary.)
Fischer: 589 (93%)
Klein: 42 (7%)
Fischer: 396 (92%)
Klein: 33 (8%)
Fischer: 485 (93%)
Klein: 38 (7%)
Fischer: 382 (86%)
Klein: 64 (7%)
(Predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Traditionally strong Fischer territory.)