There’s been relatively little focus on the St. Petersburg City Council District 2 race between Barclay Harless and Brandi Gabbard, but that will change once the calendar turns to September.
Because there were only two candidates who qualified for the contest, it bypassed the primary process and went automatically to a citywide race in November.
The two candidates have talked about the issues during relatively casual settings, but that changes next week when they will take part in a candidate forum sponsored by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.
Unlike the District 6 Council race, where the two candidates surviving the primary will now expand their campaign citywide, Harless and Gabbard have from the end of qualifying been campaigning across St. Petersburg to win the District 2 seat, which begins north of Gandy Blvd. and encompasses the Gateway section of the city.
Gabbard, a 41-year-old Realtor, says that quality of life issues are brought up most often when she meets voters on the campaign trail. This includes public safety concerns, as well as Councilmembers being good stewards of taxpayer money, she says.
It also includes “showing that we are really trying to help make St. Pete grow as efficiently and effectively as we can so that there is opportunity for everyone,” she says.
Both Harless and Gabbard have made a case for investing in infrastructure, which is not surprising when the sewage system crisis was such a prominent campaign issue this summer. Harless says that infrastructure spending transcends just sewers to include repairing and replacing some of the city’s bridges.
“From 2024-2028 there’s $50 million in bridges alone that the city is going to have repair or replace,” he says, adding that no one is certain what the funding source will be for these improvements.
Harless also issued a news release after the city announced earlier this month that it was shutting down the 40th Avenue Bridge for emergency repairs after inspectors found that support strands were rapidly deteriorating. The bridge connects Northeast Park and Shore Acres.
“I can’t tell you how many people called who were upset about that,” he says. “It was unfortunate that it happened during the start of school.”
A commercial banker, the 31-year-old Harless says that his financial acumen is a plus as the Council contemplates how much it will bond versus how much it will fund infrastructure items through “user fees.”
In her role with the National Association of Realtors, Gabbard has experience dealing with flood insurance issues in Pinellas County, which she says is “ground zero” for homes affected by the National Flood Insurance Program.
“I think that St. Pete has been a great leader with the sustainability and the work that Kriseman and Council have done,” she says, referring to the city’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan. “I want to continue to see that move forward because sea-level rise is a real concern to our community here. That is something that I am personally very passionate about,” she says.
Gabbard notes that there are 69 days left until Election Day. She says she looks forward to using that time to get to know more voters and “sharing a good vision of St. Petersburg for all of us.”
Recent voter surveys have shown Gabbard leading Harless, but both candidates dismiss those polls. Harless says that most voters he’s encountered are happy with the leadership of Councilman Jim Kennedy, the current occupant of District 2.
“Jim knows the job, and he’s gotten behind me 100 percent,” he says.
Harless and Gabbard will debate at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on Thursday, Sept. 7. The forum will take place at the St. Pete Yacht Club.