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Difference in hopefuls a matter of styles

In a quiet campaign seemingly devoid of divisive issues, the main differences between the two candidates vying for City Commission Seat 4 are most easily seen in their campaigns.

Carlen Petersen, formerly an attorney for the city of Chicago, has been a regular at City Hall since Commissioner Whitney Gray announced in October she would not seek re-election.

In three months, Petersen, 49, has built broad-based support and received backing from a veritable who's who of Clearwater power politics. Armed with a campaign treasury of $16,570, she has attended nearly every City Commission meeting since November, pored over the city budget and met with a string of city staffers to learn the inner workings of local government.

"I do my homework," Petersen said Wednesday. "I spend most of my day working on some aspect of it."

Don Casey, by contrast, has taken a more hands-off approach. He prefers to watch commission meetings on television and says he will wait to be elected before reviewing the budget in detail.

He believes the city can make better use of taxpayers' money, but said he has not identified potential targets for spending changes.

"I'd really have to wait till I got on the commission to look at those things," he said.

According to his most recent campaign treasurer's report, Casey has raised $7,138, all but $338 of which he put up himself.

When it comes to citywide issues, Petersen and Casey sound many of the same themes.

Both support downtown redevelopment, are loathe to raise taxes and express concern with the rising tide of condos on Clearwater beach.

Asked about their strengths, both put experience at the top of the list.

Petersen touts her track record as chairwoman of the city's Community Development Board and membership on the national YWCA board of directors.

Casey, meanwhile, points to his 40 years as an administrator with Pinellas County schools. For support, he said he will rely on former students.

Before retiring, Casey, 66, decided he wanted to be mayor of Clearwater and said he had planned to run next year when Mayor Brian Aungst leaves office to seek election as Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Instead, Casey opted to seek a commission seat when Gray stepped down to move with her family to Fort Myers. Asked why people should elect him, Casey has a simple answer: "I'm a good man.

"I'm for the individual people," he said later. "They know that I will be standing up for them."

Petersen praised the city's current leadership and said she hopes to build on momentum with the opening this year of the new Memorial Causeway Bridge, the new Main Library and Bright House Networks Field, home of the Philadelphia Phillies during spring training.

"We really have exciting things happening," she said.

But as the city faces a $2.6-million budget shortfall next year, city leaders will be forced to make difficult choices. Each department, Petersen said, should be challenged to find creative ways to make money.

One of her ideas is to rent out the new library for functions such as weddings, but Petersen said she would rely on the city staff to bring forward more suggestions.

"I certainly am not a micromanager," she said. "If you have talented people, let them do their job."

Petersen and Casey are scheduled to face off in a series of candidate forums scheduled before the March 9 election.

The first is set for Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. in City Hall at 112 S Osceola Ave. Sponsored by the city, it will be televised and moderated by Joe Childs, managing editor for mid and north Pinellas at the St. Petersburg Times.

_ Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or farrellsptimes.com.

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