February 22, 2011

District 7: Three challengers take on incumbent in diverse geographic area

By Tia Mitchell, Times Staff Writer

NORTH TAMPA - The Tampa City Council District 7 race pits incumbent Joseph Caetano against three challengers with contrasting resumes.

Caetano, 77, is a New Tampa business owner whose financial woes have attracted as much attention as his actions on the council. He says those setbacks - foreclosures, bankruptcies and lawsuits - will make him an even better council member.

"I know what the small businessman is going through," he said, "because I've been through it."

District 7 encompasses the gated communities of New Tampa as well as older neighborhoods, stretching south to Busch Boulevard such as Forest Hills, Terrace Park and the University of South Florida area. The geographic diversity requires candidates to balance the needs of growing suburban areas in the northern half of the district with those of more established and lower-income areas to the south.

Charles "Charlie" Perkins, 35, is making a third attempt at a City Council seat. His platform is largely unchanged: The district's older communities deserve more attention and resources.

Four years ago, Perkins won a majority of votes in these very neighborhoods, even though it wasn't enough to send him to the runoff against Caetano.

Caetano says he has spent time with North Tampa crime watch groups and other organizations during his term. But he agrees it's time for these communities to move to the top of the city's priority list for new sidewalks or drainage improvements.

Now that the Bruce B. Downs Boulevard widening project is well under way, Caetano said, New Tampa has most everything it needs for now. Homeowners associations and community development districts are equipped to deal with most service requests stemming from those neighborhoods, he said.

Perkins gained notoriety in the late '90s when he drew the ire of elected officials after airing raunchy videos on a county government cable-access show. He has moved far beyond that persona, he said, and is now a community-minded husband and father.

The candidate list is rounded out by two first-time candidates.

Dean Hale, 44, says his light resume would be an asset on the council, especially when it comes to the budget, attracting businesses and creating jobs.

"I have zero political experience," the New Tampa Realtor said. "I just felt that the current elected officials had lost touch with what everyday people like myself and families are going through."

Lisa Montelione, 49, says even though she has never held office, she has the most experience of all the candidates.

A former Hillsborough County planner, Montelione currently works in the green building industry and serves as president of the Terrace Park Civic and Crime Watch Association.

She was the last of the four to throw her hat in the ring, filing to run near the end of 2010. It was encouragement from others that ultimately led Montelione to join the race.

"When I started looking at the field of candidates that were running, I thought I need to jump in there," she said. "The people of District 7 deserve a strong voice for our area."

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

[iCopyright] 2011 St. Petersburg Times.

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