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Dudley vs. Foster: Who'll get sent to the bench?

They were once on the same team, the Northeast High School Vikings.

Now Bill Dudley, who once coached football, and his former player, City Council member Bill Foster, find themselves face-to-face on a different field: politics.

Dudley, 59, and Foster, 40, are the candidates in Tuesday's election for the District 3 Council seat. And neither has mercy for the other.

"I didn't enter this race to come in second," said Dudley, now the head wrestling coach and driver's education instructor at Northeast. "I will be surprised if I don't win."

Said Foster: "I don't expect to lose, either. But it's not up to us. It'll all be decided by the people."

District 3 covers northeastern neighborhoods including Snell Isle and Shore Acres, but the election is citywide. Council members serve a four-year term and earn an annual salary of $24,758.

For the most part the race has been without surprises, except for possibly the outcome of the September primary. Many expected Foster and funeral home operator John McQueen would come out of the primary as the top two vote-getters and advance to the general election. Foster had the incumbent's advantage, and McQueen had the support of influential business leaders and council member John Bryan. Some thought Dudley, who has worked at Northeast for 35 years, would be eliminated easily.

Foster received 51 percent of the vote. But Dudley came in second with 26 percent of the vote, eliminating McQueen from the race.

Since then, the contest between Foster and Dudley has generated few sparks. One reason for the lack of friction: The coach and his former player agree on many issues.

They agree that the police department, which has been plagued with turnover, must do more to attract and keep police officers. They agree safety of residents is paramount. They agree Albert Whitted Airport should remain open. They agree that economic development is one key to attracting and keeping residents.

But the men have worked to stand out in voters' eyes.

Dudley has painted himself as a "grass roots" candidate, a friend of the "working man." As a council member, the University of South Florida and Stetson University graduate said he would work to make City Hall, particularly the permitting process, more user-friendly for residents. He said he would make himself easily accessible to constituents.

"I'm not a professional politician," he said one morning this week as he instructed student drivers.

But the father of two adult children added he is as comfortable in khaki pants and blue blazers, which he wore to a candidates forum this month, as he is in cargo shorts, polo shirts and sunglasses, which he has worn while teaching students how to drive.

As an attorney, Foster often sports the somber suit. Foster, who received undergraduate and law degrees at Samford University, points to his past five years on the council as reason enough for voters to re-elect him.

Foster says relations between the city and the business community have grown more congenial in the past half-decade, spurring development and new jobs. More than $33-million in stormwater and other infrastructure improvements has poured into District 3.

"I think my record speaks for itself," Foster said this week. "I have worked hard to unite this city, and have built bridges with people, neighborhoods and business, balancing the needs of all," the father of two young children, says on his Web site. "We have advanced economic development more in the past five years than any other time in our history."

Foster is known for his devout Christian beliefs, and he acknowledges those beliefs have at times been a factor in how he votes as a council member. For example, he opposed relaxing the city's Sunday blue laws, and he was against including gays and lesbians in the city's human rights ordinance.

During the campaign, Foster has raised $19,350, nearly double the $10,550 Dudley has raised, according to campaign treasurer's reports filed this month with the city clerk's office.

_ Marcus Franklin can be reached at mfranklinsptimes.com or (727) 893-8488.

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