Tuesday night’s election final between Jackie Toledo and Guido Maniscalco took a stunning turn at about 7:20 p.m.
After the first results from early and absentee balloting showed Toledo holding on to an eight-percentage-point lead over Maniscalco, the second round of ballots cast (and the first from Election Day itself) showed Maniscalco making a major turn around. By around 8 p.m. it was all over, and the 30-year-old small businessman from West Tampa had taken in 151 more votes than Toledo, winning by a 51-49 percent margin.
After she graciously made the rounds of thanking each and every supporter individually around the bar at the the Fodder & Shine eatery in Seminole Heights, Toledo acknowledged that the three- week period in between the primary election (where she took 46 percent of the vote to Maniscalco’s 29 percent) and the runoff did not go well for her, and undoubtedly changed the trajectory of the race.
When this reporter asked if the treatment she received in the media played a part in her loss, Toledo immediately responded. “It made a big difference.”
“The newspapers were constantly attacking me,” she said. When asked later if the press was unfair to her, she responded. “Yes, absolutely. You blame me for everything. But you know what? That’s what your job is.”
But she said that the Democratic Party’s attacks on her hurt more.
“I think that made the biggest difference, when it became a partisan thing. It’s unfortunate because I had a lot to offer this city. … I really had a lot to offer this city.”
The heaviest coverage in the media regarding the District 6 race had little to do with issues and everything to do with mysterious third-party mailers from a group called Moving Tampa Forward. Reporting by the major dailies indicated a possible connection between Toledo campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini and Moving Tampa Forward, though both he and Toledo denied any association with it.
On Tuesday night, Toledo said she still didn’t know who was behind Moving Tampa Forward, and said she looked forward as much as anybody in learning more about the group. “It certainly didn’t help me,” she said. “It hurt me, so whoever is behind it. …” her voice trailed off. “We’ll find out.”
At this point in the conversation, Toledo was joined by her husband Jose, who asked, “What does that have to do with the other opponent’s accomplishments? So what? You lost a traffic engineer on City Council,” he said with disgust in his voice.
Toledo followed up. “That’s the truth of the matter. It’s an unfortunate thing for the city to have lost such a great candidate, she said of herself. “Such a qualified person. To a person who, you know, hasn’t experienced as much as I have.”
Guido Maniscalco agreed that the negative mailers were the difference in his narrow victory. He also credited the endorsement of the third-place finisher in the primary election, air conditioning contractor Tommy Castellano.
“I think the negativity backfired,” he said at an exuberant victory party at Garcia Y Vega Cigar Factory on Armenia Avenue in West Tampa. “And that’s what we were looking at. If we win this race it’s because of the mailers. People got turned off.”
The mailers were the difference. They became a factor in the last couple of weeks leading up to the primary, but became the only story of the race in the 21 days between the primary and runoff election. At least to those who were paying attention. Many voters told both candidates when they would knock on doors that they had no idea there was another election, though 14 percent did turn out overall for the runoff, a slightly higher margin than the 12.7 percent that came out on March 3.
Toledo said it’s possible she’ll run again. In the meantime, the crowd at the Garcia Y Vega Cigar Factory was loaded with Tampa Democrats, thrilled to maintain an all Democratic Party City Council. Current Council members Yolie Capin, Mike Suarez and the soon to be departing Mary Mulhern were on hand. As were Dick Greco, Ed Turanchik, David Straz, many other party activists.
Yes, it’s only a City Council seat. But when you’re a Democrat in Florida, you don’t have too many parties to celebrate. Not last November, when Charlie Crist narrowly lost to Rick Scott. Not last March when Alex Sink lost to David Jolly. You’d have to go back to Barack Obama’s re-election in November of 2012 when some of these folks had an electoral victory to celebrate. And they were.