Rick Baker‘s entrance into the mayoral race may have sucked up a lot of the public attention in St. Petersburg’s political atmosphere this spring. However, there an interesting race is emerging between two capable candidates in St. Petersburg City Council District 2.
Realtor Brandi Gabbard and banker Barclay Harless are vying to succeed a term-limited Jim Kennedy later this year.
Although Harless holds a fundraising lead, Gabbard actually raised more campaign cash in April.
At Central Avenue’s Oyster Bar Thursday night, friends of Harless hosted a downtown meet-and-greet event.
Harless says that the voters he’s been speaking to are focused on “big-ticket” items, which he characterized as the Pier, the Rays stadium issue, the soon-to-be-constructed police station, and the city budget. He also says he’s heard a lot about the need for more affordable housing, referring to a recent conversation with a St. Petersburg police officer.
“I’m obviously interested in community policing and being part of the community,” he says, “And they tell me that they’re not living in St. Pete, that a lot of them have families, and they can’t afford it. That’s an affordable homes issue.”
Councilman Karl Nurse recently called for the city to take more than $20 million slated for Penny for Pinellas projects and put them into the Downtown Tax Increment Finance district to spend money on affordable housing and mass transit.
Another issue that Harless says he hears about is infrastructure spending. In the wake of the well-publicized sewage spills in 2015 and 2016, the city announced plans to spend more than $300 million to improve the sewer system, but Harless says that it’s important for the next council and future ones to remain vigilant on the issue.
“Everybody wants to put money toward it now, but in four to five years, we’re going to have to keep following through, so twenty years from now we’re not scratching our heads wondering why folks didn’t stand up and get it done,” he says.
Nick Janovsky, Harless’ campaign manager, says he feels “phenomenal” about how the campaign is going to date, referring to in part to the endorsements received from Republican Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni and Democratic St. Pete Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman.
The Kennedy endorsement was another big development — and a surprising one at that.
“He normally stayed away from endorsements, but he’s seen Barclay work on the Charter Review and St. Pete Chamber of Commerce,” Janovsky says of that development.
Janovsky says that the Harless campaign has much respect for Gabbard, saying, “I think she’s a credible opponent.”
At the Oyster Bar, Kenwood resident Mark Lombardi sung Harless’ praises, calling him a “mentor and leader in the community.”
Lombardi has known Harless since they both attended USFSP; he says he immediately called Harless when he learned about the run for office this year.
“We need people who are data driven, we need people to take logic and apply it directly,” Lombardi said enthusiastically. “Barclay is taking a model of productivity, ingenuity and innovation and applying it to city government. I love that.”
The primary election takes place on August 29. As of now, Gabbard and Harless are the only two candidates in the race.