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But Mayor Frank Hibbard and Rita Garvey don't say how the city will cope.

The popular incumbent and long-time former local leader battling for the mayoral seat agree on little except that the city is in for some tough financial times.

But just how Mayor Frank Hibbard and his challenger, former Mayor Rita Garvey, will guide Clearwater through the projected economic slump is still up in the air.

Both candidates say they want to review each department to determine what services are needed, but neither will commit to cutting in a particular area. They say they need input from residents before making those decisions.

The candidates say mapping the city's future will be challenging, and agree the next mayor must strike a balance between providing affordable living and maintaining the quality of life, most importantly public safety.

They also say it's crucial for Clearwater to create a strong economic base so children raised here today will return to work and raise their own families.

The two met Wednesday night at City Hall during an 85-minute forum that drew about 60 people and was aired live on the local government-access channel. It will be replayed before the election.

Early voting started Monday and the election is set for Jan. 29, marking the first time a Clearwater mayor has been challenged since Garvey faced two candidates in early 1999.

During Wednesday night's forum, Hibbard and Garvey touched on a number of hot city topics: beach parking, downtown redevelopment and proposed state-mandates to cut taxes. They talked about their achievements, what they'd like to see done and ways to fix some problems.

Hibbard, 40, an investment officer who is seeking his second three-year term, touted his ability to work on a regional level, citing transportation as a major issue. He also said he was proud he created monthly breakfast meetings with residents to encourage dialogue, established Veteran's Appreciation Day and worked with area elementary students to engage in healthy living.

"Our best years are ahead of us," he added, but "it will take unity and leadership."

Garvey, 62, who is a volunteer at the downtown library gift shop, said her 18 years in office were partly spent expanding the city's library system by building the East and Countryside branches, establishing a community-oriented policing program that got officers into the neighborhoods and pushing creating a recycling program.

"I believe I can make a difference in our community and that's what it's all about," said Garvey, who served as a city commissioner from 1980 to 1986 and mayor from 1987 to 1999.

Here's a look at some of the issues discussed, questions raised and where the candidates stand:

Will there be additional parking on the beach in three years? If so, where and how much will it cost?

Garvey said she didn't want parking on the sand, but didn't answer the rest of the question, saying it's "much too complicated to make a statement right now."

Hibbard said the city has about $18.5-million from a number of revenue streams and is looking to buy property now that the market has cooled and prices have dropped. He, too, said he'd like a garage built away from the sand, adding, "we will have a parking garage before my next term is over." But it won't be cheap: He warned each parking space could cost as much as $20,000.

What are some solutions to combat the violence and drugs associated with the North Greenwood community?

Garvey said she was concerned whether police were doing as much as they should. She also recommended opening the city recreation centers on Friday and Saturday nights, a move she said could help get gangs off the streets.

Hibbard said he thought the police department was doing a good job. He said already city, community and religious leaders were meeting to talk about what they should do. They were also keeping an eye on certain zones in North Greenwood to battle school truancy. He said Clearwater also has to implement after-school programs. In the long-term, "we need to bring hope back to that area," he said.

Should the city do anything more to help the downtown?

Hibbard said Clearwater still needs to recruit businesses and bring in a movie theater, but he didn't foresee any more major projects on the horizon.

Garvey said she wants property owners - not the city - to spend money to recruit businesses.


Mayoral contest

The Clearwater mayor's seat is a part-time position with mostly ceremonial duties. The mayor also votes on matters brought before the City Council and runs the meetings. The job pays $30,689 annually, which includes benefits. The mayor also gets $7,120 for city-related travel and $50 per month for a cell phone. Here's a look at the two candidates voters will choose from on Jan. 29:

Frank Hibbard, 40

Occupation: financial adviser and vice president of Morgan Stanley, incumbent mayor

Family: wife, Teresa; son, Spencer; daughter, Whitney

Education: Bachelor of science in business, a bachelor of science in economics and a masters in business administration from Florida State University

Community involvement: United Way, Pinellas County Mayors Council (president); Metropolitan Planning Organization (chairman); Jim Moran Board for Entrepreneurial Study Florida State University Business School; member of Advisory Board Clothes for Kids; member of the board of directors for the Florida League of Mayors; Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority (board member)

Hobbies: golf, tennis, keeping up with college football

Web site: none

Quote: "There's an expression that says: 'After all is said and done, more is said than done,' and I'd prefer to run counter to that - I'd like to get more done than just talk about it."

Rita Garvey, 62

Occupation: community volunteer, former Clearwater mayor

Family: two daughters, Lisa and Catherine; son, Mike Education: earned a degree in sociology from the University of Minnesota

Community involvement: Community Pride board member (president); Friends of the Clearwater Library (president); American Association of University Women (president); Main Library volunteer; NAACP; Clearwater Sister Cities Inc.; Marine Science Center; and Clearwater Historical Society

Hobbies: reading

Web site:

Quote: "When I was mayor and on the commission, I had to make some tough decisions, but my basic philosophy is that the decision has to be something I have to sleep with. I've had a lot of people say I didn't agree with it, but I understand and I don't hate you for it."