St. Pete City Council Archives - Page 5 of 31 - SaintPetersBlog

An inside look at Lisa Wheeler-Brown’s campaign challenges

Victorious St. Pete City Council candidate Lisa-Wheeler-Brown’s campaign wasn’t exactly ideal. Negative attacks following the Primary Election clouded her intended message and dominated conversation in the media.

And, as a result, her campaign management became too much of the conversation.

“We work very hard to keep the consultants out of the story,” said Tom Alte, a consultant with the campaign. “You want the candidates to be able to get their message out and to talk to the voters and tell them what they’re running for.”

As more and more information emerged about Wheeler-Brown’s campaign finance activity early on in her campaign, the message became increasingly blurred.

First there was an updated treasurer’s report that showed an expense listed in February for “office space” was actually for a “photo shoot” expense to a dental practice for personal dental work.

Ultimately, Wheeler-Brown paid the $500 expense back when questions swirled about whether or not it was an appropriate expenditure.

Then other mistakes emerged – unreported in-kind contributions, misreported contributions, and various mix-ups in attributions for expenses and contributions.

But Wheeler-Brown wisely steered clear of the controversy. The only times she weighed in were to apologize for the mistakes. And supporters seemed to not take notice even as critics hammered away at the issues.

Instead, the dialogue increasingly shifted toward a battle of consultants.

Wheeler-Brown had initially hired Nick Janovsky of Strategic Campaigns to handle management duties. By the time Blue Ticket Consulting came on with Meagan Salisbury taking point along with Alte, her partner and fiancé things had already gotten hairy.

“In an ideal world, every available penny goes to communicating with voters and telling them what the candidate stands for, why they’re running and what they care about,” Alte said. “When Meagan came on board, she was able to flip the ratio completely and put almost every available dollar into paid communications.”

According to Alte, Salisbury signed on to the campaign with coffers that had nearly run dry and little to show for the expenses except for t-shirts and palm cards that had to be thrown out because they didn’t meet standard criteria. She restructured how funds would be spent and ultimately ensured the campaign was able to limit overhead expenses to almost exclusively the consultant’s fees.

The Wheeler-Brown campaign painted an inaccurate picture of how campaigns should work. Because of the saturation of negative media, it looked to those watching closely that the campaign’s role was to respond to and ward off allegations.

Often in stories about the campaign, the names Tom Alte and Meagan Salisbury – and even the opposition’s campaign manager, Steve Lapinski – popped up more often than the candidates themselves.

Alte was brought into the conversation when there was a mingling between the Wheeler-Brown campaign and an outside group run by Alte’s Florida Voter’s Fund that paid for anti-Will Newton media. A resident filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission.

Later, LaGaceta chimed in on the complaint, bringing Alte again into the limelight.

“I don’ think it had any impact on Lisa, but I also don’t think it was intended to have any impact on Lisa,” Alte said. “I think that was really more of a battle of the consultants.”

Alte explained of campaigns in general that the overwhelming majority of a campaign consultant’s duties should include things like coordinating volunteers, helping the candidate raise money and scheduling meetings with community leaders.

Instead of Salisbury shifting the work burden from typical duties into warding off negative attacks, she just spent more time on the campaign. That work came in addition to attending law school full time and having spent part of the campaign in the hospital.

But despite the less-than-ideal direction the campaign took, Wheeler-Brown still managed to crush Newton in the election with 58 percent of the vote – a 16-point victory in a race most expected to be close.

“Lisa stayed focus on what she needed to do,” Alte said. “She didn’t let the personal attacks get her down. She didn’t take a day off or stop raising money. She did what she needed to do to win.”

Political watchers in St. Pete had called the Wheeler-Brown/Newton race one of the bloodiest City Council elections in recent memory with the most personal of attacks coming late in the campaign when a foundation Wheeler-Brown created in her slain son’s name was called into question.

Despite advice from her campaign managers to stay quiet on the issue, Wheeler-Brown blasted the Newton campaign for falsely accusing her of profiting from her son’s death.

The result: St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman offered his endorsement just one day before the election. It may not have made a difference in the grand scheme of things, but likely earned Wheeler-Brown a few extra votes.

Following Wheeler-Brown’s victory Tuesday night, supporters described the negative attacks as having gone too far.

Wheeler-Brown’s campaign highlights a growing trend of negative media being distributed through third parties that can make or break campaigns.

In Wheeler-Brown’s case, the negative attacks may have made her campaign despite the fact that most were against her. At least at a local level that shows voters may be increasingly rejecting claims by outside groups.

In a campaign that focused more heavily on Wheeler-Brown’s campaign finance activity, past criminal infractions and even her activism following her son’s murder than on the issues, Wheeler-Brown still emerged victorious.

“The main victory there was not getting distracted and that’s why she won,” Alte said.

Now that the race is over, Wheeler-Brown, according to Alte, plans to start forging partnerships with community leaders to better follow through on the messages she did manage to convey throughout the campaign.

Expect one of Wheeler-Brown’s top priorities to be working with the Pinellas County School Board and the city to improve schools in St. Pete. She’s also focused on increasing public safety in her poverty-plagued District 7, expanding affordable housing and creating living wage jobs in the community.

Wheeler-Brown takes office replacing Wengay Newton Jan. 2.

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Old Northeast, downtown voters favored Lisa Wheeler-Brown

Lisa Wheeler-Brown, winner of Tuesday night’s City Council contest, rocked Historic Old Northeast in the election. According to data from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, the precincts where Wheeler-Brown earned the most votes over her opponent, Will Newton, were in that general vicinity.

She also crushed the vote in downtown.

The Old Northeast Precinct No. 135, which butts up against Coffee Pot Bayou, cast more than 250 more votes for Wheeler-Brown than Newton. In the downtown Precinct No. 123, which includes USF St. Pete, Wheeler-Brown earned 246 more votes than Newton.

And in Precinct 130, which includes downtown residents North of the Pier, Wheeler-Brown out-performed Newton by nearly 200.

Wheeler-Brown also dominated high-income neighborhoods along the Pinellas Bayway. That area includes top-dollar condos and several senior living facilities.

The race was much closer in the candidates’ own neighborhoods

Newton failed to earn his own Childs Park area. In Precinct 224 Wheeler-Brown tallied in with 82 votes. Newton earned 78.

Wheeler-Brown held onto her Midtown community, but only narrowly in some areas.

The race was also close in South St. Pete with Wheeler-Brown carrying most precincts by just a small margin. She did heavily win Coquina Key by a margin of more than 40 votes and the pricey Bahama Shores Neighborhood by more than 80.

Pink Street voters on the Southside also favored Wheeler-Brown by 29 votes. The total votes cast in that precinct was just 187.

The analysis of voting trends shows Newton’s conservative endorsements may not have helped him with Lisa handily winning over affluent neighborhoods home to some of the city’s more conservative voters.

However, votes in West St. Pete were not as one-sided, showing that Newton may have gained some ground with voters in those districts.

In all, 15,176 votes were cast for Wheeler-Brown with just 11,113 tallied for Newton. Wheeler-Brown won with 58 percent of the vote – 16 points ahead of Newton.

The race had been expected to be close with most polls showing Wheeler-Brown’s lead within the margin of error. However, a poll conducted just two days before the election showed Wheeler-Brown with an 11-point lead.

Supporters speculate her late-campaign surge may have been a blessing from the Newton campaign. It was a painful gift, but Wheeler-Brown may have benefited from a negative attack by Newton supporters accusing her of profiting from her son’s murder. That move, paired with a campaign mailer that appeared to have been edited to portray Wheeler-Brown with darker skin prompted Mayor Rick Kriseman to serve up his endorsement the day before Election Day.

However, even if there was a surge at the polls, it’s also important to keep in mind that 79 percent of all ballots were cast by mail. None of the ballots were returned after Kriseman’s endorsement and only about 3,000 were cast after the foundation allegations involving Wheeler-Brown’s son.

Total voter turnout this election was less than 18 percent.

Wheeler-Brown takes office Jan. 2.

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Mystery ballot questions in St. Pete election cruise to approval

All four ballot questions on the St. Pete ballot Tuesday were soundly approved by voters. None won by less than about 25 points.

Referendum question number one, asking voters whether the city should approve “permanent use restrictions over a portion of city owned submerged lands in Tampa Bay” was approved with 85 percent of the vote.

That referendum refers to submerged lands near North Shore Park. It would give City Council the authority to create permanent restrictions on land use in order to preserve seagrass beds.

The referendum is aimed at water quality improvement and habitat conservation.

The second question asked voters whether “Precinct Lines Need Not be Followed Where it Would Compromise Compact and Contiguous Council Districts.” That was approved by 62 percent of voters.

This city referendum would allow City Council, essentially, to not use precinct boundaries as a basis for drawing City Council district lines — meaning two voters in the same precinct could be in different districts.

The city is charged with redrawing district lines every 10 years. Lines are redrawn after the city receives results from the once-a-decade federal census. Under the current charter, districts must be drawn in a “compact, contiguous territory” with their lines following “the centerlines of streets, railroad lines or other natural boundaries.” But the charter also calls for districts to “follow voting precinct lines whenever possible.”

The change to language merely clarifies that keeping districts “compact and contiguous” trumps precinct lines.

The third ballot question, and perhaps the most straight forward, was approved by 94 percent of the vote.

It requires City Council and mayoral candidates should to live either in their district, or, in the case of a mayoral candidate, in the city before, during and after an election.

That referendum prevents City Council members from renting a home in one district and then moving out of that district after an election. It would also ensure a sitting mayor couldn’t leave St. Pete as his or her place of residence during the mayoral term.

The final ballot question approved streamlines the way City Council votes are tallied during meetings. Currently City Council members use an automated system to vote. The results are then visually shown and the City Clerk reads aloud the results.

The referendum, approved by 72 percent of voters, eliminates the mandate that results be verbally tallied.

The referendum questions were relatively unknown by voters going into Election Day. In a poll released in early September more than 80 percent of voters didn’t know about the questions.

During exit polling at Pinellas Community Church Tuesday morning, a handful of voters agreed they didn’t know much about the ballot questions, but did the best they could to answer appropriately.

Tuesday’s election also ushered in a new council member. Lisa Wheeler-Brown overwhelmingly defeated Will Newton being vacated by Wengay Newton who is leaving office due to term limits.

Incumbents Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes also won re-election.

Ed Montanari will be sworn in along with those winners on January 2. He was elected unopposed following the city’s qualifying deadline.

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St. Pete City Council incumbents Charlie Gerdes, Steve Kornell sail to re-election

As expected, both St. Petersburg City Council incumbents facing re-election cruised to easy victories Tuesday night. With early voting counted, Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes was trouncing Monica Abbott with 64 percent of the vote.

Steve Kornell is leading his opponent, Philip Garrett 56 percent to 44 percent.

While Gerdes never really faced a credible threat from Abbott, Kornell did have cause for concern when the Tampa Bay Times endorsed Garrett based on one defining issue: Garrett supported Mayor Rick Kriseman’s brokered deal to let the Tampa Bay Rays search for stadium sites outside of St. Pete while Kornell did not.

Garrett ran against Kornell arguing the six-year incumbent had done little to benefit the residents of his South St. Pete District 5. He also pushed an agenda that included lower taxes and improved city services.

Where Garrett faltered was in his lack of a plan to support that goal. Kornell, meanwhile, fired back against his opponent with details of his track record as a City Council member. Kornell ushered in sweeping improvements to the Skyway Marina District including a Jabil Circuit expansion to the Ceridian building. He also secured a promise from St. Petersburg College to support training for potential workers to boost jobs for residents.

Kornell also fought hard for a land grab surrounding Boyd Hill Nature Preserve that will go a long way in protecting the park from land development. Kornell was also behind the sale of the crime-plagued Mariner’s Point Apartment Complex that has improved conditions there.

Kornell’s campaign also benefited by raising far more money than Garrett. As of the most recent campaign finance documents filed last week, Kornell had raised more than $50,000. Garrett’s most recent campaign finance documents through Oct. 18 show earnings of just $1,481.

It’s unclear how much Garrett really raised, though. Throughout the campaign his treasurer’s reports have been wildly inconsistent.

The funding battle between Gerdes and Abbott was much closer. As of Oct. 25, Gerdes raised a little more than $13,000 for a campaign he vowed to win re-election in with as little funding as possible.

Abbott raised $12,425 as of Oct. 4, the most recent report available on the city’s website. Most of that funding came from a personal loan.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, the St. Petersburg native now a Democratic candidate for Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District, released a statement applauding the winners this evening:

“Congratulations to Councilmembers Charlie Gerdes and Steve Kornell, and welcome to Councilmember-elect Lisa Wheeler-Brown. I’m thankful for their public service. St. Petersburg is a great place, but there’s more work to do for fair wages, a healthy environment, education, and good jobs in the Sunshine City.”

Kornell and Gerdes are to be sworn in for their final terms Jan. 2.

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Rick Kriseman casts ballot for Lisa Wheeler-Brown, not because of Rays

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman cast his vote for Lisa Wheeler-Brown Tuesday afternoon at his polling place at Pilgrim Congregation on Central Avenue in West St. Pete.

It was a special day for Kriseman. It was his 18-year old daughter’s first time casting a ballot as a registered voter.

With his guide-dog-in-training puppy in tow and his family proudly looking on, Kriseman weighed in on his last-minute decision to endorse Wheeler-Brown over her opponent, Will Newton.

“I think overall people are just tired of the negative [campaigning] they’re just looking for people who are going to tell them what they stand for, what they’re going to accomplish and that’s it,” Kriseman said.

Wheeler-Brown has been blasted in the past month or so for a flurry of campaign finance errors and a questionable expense for dental expenses, but recent claims that she profited from her son’s murder paired with a mailer that appears to have been Photoshopped to make her skin look darker went too far for some voters, including Kriseman.

What he said his endorsement wasn’t about was the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I know no one is going to believe me when I say it didn’t,” Kriseman joked. “Because if it did I would have endorsed her a long time ago.”

And when asked whether incumbent Steve Kornell, up for re-election this year, deserves another term despite his opposition to a Rays stadium deal, Kriseman said, “That’s up to the voters.”

“I think they’ll consider everything not only on the rays but on all other issues,” he said. “I’ve never been a person who’s advocated for single-issue voting.”

Kriseman said he hopes that with at least one fresh face at City Council the board and his office will continue working on collaboration and communication.

“Relationships are two-sided,” Kriseman said.

Though it’s unclear whether Kriseman voted for Kornell’s opponent, Philip Garrett, his relationship with the six-year incumbent has been strained.

Kornell has been a consistent push-back against Kriseman’s deal brokered with the Rays to let them look for stadium sites outside of St. Pete in the region. And more recently Kornell has also been a booming voice against Kriseman’s approach to dealing with the city’s aging stormwater system.

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It’s not the party, it’s the after party: here’s where to find your favorite City Council candidates on Election Night

It’s been a long road for some St. Pete City Council candidates. Win or lose both Will Newton and Lisa Wheeler-Brown will celebrate a hard-fought campaign Tuesday night.

Newton will be gathering with supporters “hopefully celebrating a big win” Tuesday night at Ferg’s. The party starts there at 7 p.m. in the upstairs room.

The campaign is providing some food. A cash bar is available for those wishing to imbibe.

If the polls are any indication, the victory party will be at the Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum beginning at 6 p.m. Wheeler-Brown will be hanging with supporters along with her friends and family as election results roll in.

The polls close at 7 p.m. for what has emerged in one of the dirtiest City Council races ever. Both campaigns have exchanged unpleasant accusations and much of the media coverage of the race has centered on those quarrels and not many key issues.

Both campaigns and their supporters are likely looking forward to celebrating the end of an ugly feud and a fierce battle.

Also celebrating a likely win Tuesday night is District 1 City Council chair Charlie Gerdes. He’ll be partying with supporters at Jungle Prada Tavern at 1700 Park Street North from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Gerdes faces Monica Abbott in his re-election bid. He’s enjoying a more than 20-point lead in the polls in that race.

Abbott did not respond with information about her whereabouts on election night.

District 5 front-runner and incumbent Steve Kornell will be watching the results come in privately. The campaign has not scheduled an election night celebration.

Kornell’s opponent, Philip Garrett, responded to an inquiry about his plans for the night with a thumbs-up in a Facebook message. If anyone knows where that is, let us know.

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Plea to St. Pete residents: End voter apathy

Earlier Tuesday, and a bunch of times over the past several weeks, I shamed the Tampa Bay Times editorial board for taking a narrow stance on City Council races based solely on the Tampa Bay Rays stadium stalemate.

Now, though, it’s time to praise Times’ columnist John Romano who is not on the editorial board. Looking down the barrel at lackluster voter turnout in what is actually a pretty damn important local election, Romano not so subtly heckled the tens of thousands of St. Pete voters who won’t bother to vote in this election.

On the ballot are two incumbents, Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes, and two newcomers, Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton. Two of those races could end the long-standing stadium stalemate.

See, Kornell has been a consistent “no” vote in the battle for Mayor Rick Kriseman to build consensus for a deal he brokered with the Rays to let them look outside the city for other stadium sites in the region. Incumbent Wengay Newton who will be replaced by either Wheeler-Brown or his brother, the other Newton, has been just as opposed.

Wheeler-Brown agrees with the Mayor; Newton 2.0 does not.

That means a Kornell upset or a Wheeler-Brown victory could move the ball and get a deal finally approved.

I’ve long chastised the Times for making these races all about that one issue and I stand by my assertion that it is ill-advised and short-sighted. But it’s a divisive issue and one that a bunch of St. Pete residents are passionate about, one way or the other.

Yet a lot of those people will neglect their civic duty and, as Romano puts it, let one neighbor at the end of the block make the decision for everyone else.

It doesn’t matter what voters think about the Rays. What matters is, City Council elections, especially when there’s not a bigger race on the ballot, go relatively unnoticed. And people think that’s because it doesn’t really matter.

To set the record straight, it does matter and Romano does a fantastic job of pointing out why … with a touch of entertaining sarcasm.

Remember red light cameras? Loads of people hated them. Particularly ones who had to shell out $180 bucks for rolling just a little too quickly through a right-on-red or who fell victim to rigged yellow lights.

That issue sat stagnant until two new council members came on board. But most of you didn’t vote. Great point, John!

He chides apathetic voters for not wanting to “venture into Florida’s harsh November weather” to cast a vote.

And he hints that, hey guys, you’ve had several months to request and return a ballot from the comfort of your own home.

But nah, things like The Pier, which churned out a cantankerous bunch in 2013 to squash the Lens and more than doubled usual turnout, apparently don’t matter.

Nor does it seem the 31 million gallons of partially treated and raw sewage that flowed into our waterways this summer matter very much to residents.

City Council members vote on utility rate increases, complex budgets that very much affect every resident of the city, fire fees, historic preservation ordinances, curbside recycling … etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And another great point by Romano about why voters should hop up off their keisters and vote: Bill Dudley beat then-opponent and now City Council member-elect Ed Montanari in 2007 by just 257 votes. Wengay Newton, who the Times loathes for his obstinate Rays stance, won by just 600 votes.

So of course it doesn’t matter whether you vote today. Donald Trump isn’t on the ticket. There’s no local equivalent to a Benghazi scandal – though, don’t tell that to the Pier critics.

By not voting, residents are putting important city decisions into the hands of just a few of their neighbors. Is that really such a good idea?

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Voter turnout in St. Pete on pace to be low

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, voter turnout in St. Pete was at 13.24 percent, most coming from mail-in ballots returned early. In the first three hours of Election Day, just 1.86 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot.

The numbers are indicative of what has been a trickle at polling places. Even during the peak voting times between 7 and 9 a.m. only a handful of voters showed up at Pinellas Community Church in South St. Pete. That’s one of the city’s busiest polling locations with voters from three precincts all casting a ballot there.

According to City Council candidate Will Newton, another busy polling place, the Coliseum, was also slow.

That’s why his campaign isn’t wasting any manpower on sign-waving efforts at busy intersections. Newton’s campaign manager, Steve Lapinski, said the campaign will instead focus its resources on volunteers staffing precincts at peak times and calling voters who’ve yet to cast their ballot.

According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, more than 60,000 mail ballots were sent to voters who requested them. Of those, a little  more than 20,000 were returned, about 33 percent.

Whether those extra 40,000 voters will instead vote at a precinct isn’t clear.

During the Aug. 25 Primary that was closed to just 19,000 District 7 voters, 35 percent of the 6,235 requested mail ballots were returned. That accounted for

80 percent of all ballots. Total voter turnout was 14.8 percent.

If absentee voters represent 80 percent of total turnout as it did in the Primary, Election Day in Tuesday’s General Election would only see little more than 5,000 voters. However, more than 3,000 have already cast a ballot.

Peak voting times also occur around lunch time and again as voters head home from work. Even if the 10 a.m. figure triples throughout the rest of the day though, voter turnout would still be only about 18 percent.

During the last City Council General Election in 2013 voter turnout was 34.2 percent, but that election included the mayoral race between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Bill Foster.

Even the 2013 Primary saw high voter turnout rates with 31.5 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot. Again, that election was unique because it included the contentious vote asking whether or not the city should cancel its contract with architects to build the Pier design known as the Lens.

This election contains only one high-profile race and that is between District 7 candidates Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton.

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Foes Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton quite chummy on Election Day

City Council candidates were out in full force Tuesday morning in a final push to earn votes before polls close at 7 p.m. City Council member Steve Kornell, who faces re-election, and District 7 candidates Will Newton and Lisa Wheeler-Brown all lingered jovially at Pinellas Community Church where voters in three South St. Pete precincts cast their ballots.

All eyes are on Wheeler-Brown and Newton as voters wait for results to roll in Tuesday night. The District 7 race is the closest and has been dubbed by many engaged voters this cycle as the bloodiest City Council contest in recent memory.

But the candidates were focusing on the positive as they greeted voters and handed out campaign literature.

“I feel good. I feel great,” Wheeler-Brown said with a smile on her face and a coffee in her hand. “I’m looking forward to tonight.”

Then she took to grabbing votes one at a time posing for pictures, asking questions and shaking hands.

Newton showed up just moments later and was immediately greeted by his opponent. The two hugged and even shared a couple of inside jokes this reporter promised not to quote.

Voters would never know that the past several weeks have been an onslaught of negative mailers from third parties.

One anti-Newton mailer showed a picture of Newton edited into a Hawaiian shirt with a crown of flowers and squeezed into a life preserver. The mailer plays on allegations that Newton abused the St. Pete Fire Department’s “shift swap” program while he was a firefighter there to take personal time off.

While then Fire Chief Jim Large speculated he thought that may the case, the claims were never substantiated.

Another anti-Newton mailer depicts Newton and his brother, incumbent Wengay Newton as bobblehead dolls and accuses the two of being obstructionists.

But the most recent mailer voters are crying foul over is one showing an unflattering photo of Wheeler-Brown playing on her past criminal record including retail theft and writing bad checks. The photo appears to have been edited to make Wheeler-Brown’s skin look darker. That mailer led to Mayor Rick Kriseman offering his last minute endorsement fueled by sheer outrage.

Asked about the mailers Newton said he condemned all of the third-party negative mailings.

“Is it OK to send out [mailers showing me and my brother as] bobblehead dolls with complete fallacies,” Newton asked.

That particular mailer tied Newton to issues that had nothing to do with him, but were instead his brother’s doing.

Newton was criticized in the Tampa Bay Times, whose editorial board endorsed Wheeler-Brown, for not condemning the darkening of his opponent’s skin on the third-party mailer.

“It was the day before the election,” Newton said. “We didn’t have time to respond. We’re very busy.”

Instead he called on campaign finance reform to add more transparency for voters to know who is paying for those mailers.

“We won’t know who donated to those committees until after the election is over,” Newton said.

Newton goes into Election Day trailing Wheeler-Brown by 11 points in the most recent poll taken Sunday night, but he’s not worried.

“The polls are a reflection of the people you’re polling,” he said.

But there’s speculation among some of the city’s most active voters that the negative campaigning may actually be hurting Newton. Aside from the third-party mailer that allegedly darkened Wheeler-Brown’s skin, there were also anonymous accusations that Wheeler-Brown had profited from her murdered son’s death.

An anonymous tipster pointed out that there was no paperwork tied to a foundation created in her son’s name following his 2008 murder. Initial reports found a website listing the foundation’s estimated revenue at more than $80,000. But that estimate was proven to be completely arbitrary. Wheeler-Brown claims the foundation never gained traction and only brought in about $300 – money that was donated. That’s why paperwork was never filed.

Newton claims the campaign had nothing to do with the third-party mailers and called reports of the fliers being tied to the campaign “juicy reporting.”

Though voter turnout at Pinellas Community Church was just a trickle, the few voters who answered questions after casting their ballots seemed nonplussed or unaware of the controversy.

Ernie Coney, who voted for Newton, called the negativity “typical political posturing.” And Brad Hines, who didn’t want to say who he voted for, admitted it was “the most aggressive campaign,” but said only that it lead to “a lot of publicity.”

He said his number one priority in voting this year was the Tampa Bay Rays stadium saga – the single most divisive issue separating Wheeler-Brown and Newton. Wheeler-Brown is in favor of reaching a deal similar to the one brokered by Mayor Kriseman. Newton has said he wants a better deal for the city.

That issue has been a thorn in the side of District 5 incumbent Steve Kornell. His “no” vote on the deal landed him in hot water with the Tampa Bay Times when they offered their coveted endorsement to Kornell’s longs shot opponent, Philip Garrett.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. We’re working hard right up until 6:59,” Kornell said of his feelings this Election Day. “I think that’s the only way to run a campaign.”

Kornell leads Garrett in the most recent poll by 21 points.

City Council chair Charlie Gerdes also faces re-election against homeless advocate Monica Abbott. Four ballot questions are also included in this year’s municipal election.

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Everything you need to know for Election Day in St. Pete

In case you’ve been missing StPetersBlog’s extensive coverage of the St. Petersburg City Council races to be decided Tuesday, here’s a rundown of everything you need to know before casting a ballot.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown vs. Will Newton for District 7: the dirtiest of the dirty

The good: Lisa Wheeler-Brown

  • Is a well-liked and well-known community activist in the Midtown neighborhood she seeks to represent. Wheeler-Brown began work breaking down the community’s no-snitching code of silence after her son’s slaying. Since then she has continued to work on relationships between residents in the city’s poorest neighborhood and police.
  • Was the immediate past president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.
  • Was on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s transition team.
  • Won an award from the U.S. Department of Justice for her community activism in Midtown.
  • Has endorsements from Kriseman, City Council members Darden Rice and Karl Nurse, the SEIU, Pinellas Stonewall Democrats and an impressive array of local progressives.
  • Endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times.
  • Most contributions have come from local donors.
  • Supports Kriseman’s plan for the Tampa Bay Rays stadium deal.
  • Wants to focus city resources on improving affordable housing, jobs, education and youth initiatives in her District.
  • Leading in the most recent St. Pete Polls survey.

The good: Will Newton

  • Endorsed by half of the current City Council including Steve Kornell, Amy Foster, Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley, and City Council member-elect Ed Montanari.
  • Endorsed by police and fire unions.
  • Bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats including former Mayor Rick Baker and State Rep. Kathleen Peters as well as Democratic State Rep. Darryl Rouson.
  • Supported by local Realtor group.
  • Endorsed by The Tampa Tribune.
  • Was on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s transition task force.
  • Firefighter union leader.
  • Retired firefighter and EMT of 23 years.
  • Has experience negotiating in Tallahassee and locally.
  • Is seen as the more-prepared candidate.
  • Wants a better deal for the city on the Tampa Bay Rays stadium proposal, but is willing to work it out to come to consensus.
  • Has out-raised his opponent.

The bad: Lisa Wheeler-Brown

  • Supports Mayor Rick Kriseman’s deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
  • Questionable campaign finance record.
  • A partisan candidate (though to many, this is a good thing).
  • Inexperienced in politics.
  • Has a dated criminal past with misdemeanor convictions for retail theft and writing bad checks.
  • Lost endorsement from The Tampa Tribune because of possible campaign finance violations.
  • Endorsed by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The bad: Will Newton

  • Reached two bargaining impasses with the city as firefighter union head.
  • Seen as the establishment candidate.
  • Accused of negative campaigning.
  • Doesn’t support Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Ray’s stadium deal.
  • Much of his campaign cash has come from outside groups.
  • Not endorsed by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The ugly: Lisa Wheeler-Brown

  • Spent $500 of campaign cash on a personal dental procedure – elections complaint filed with the state elections commission.
  • Failed to report in-kind contributions on campaign finance reports.
  • Misreported several contributions and expenditures on campaign finance reports.
  • May have accepted in-kind contributions from a nonprofit: a campaign finance violation.

The ugly: Will Newton

  • Had $32,000 tax lien paid off in 2012 that has not been explained with verifying documents.
  • Compared to his brother, incumbent Wengay Newton, as an obstructionist candidate.
  • Criticized for negative campaigning including an accusation that his opponent created a foundation in her slain son’s name for personal profit. The $81,000 cited as income for that foundation was found to be an arbitrary number.

The ugly: both candidates

  • This election is seen as the nastiest in recent memory with negative attacks coming from outside groups on both sides.

Incumbents Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes are also facing re-election. Here’s what you need to know about those races.

Charlie Gerdes vs. Monica Abbott – District 1

  • Gerdes is leading in the most recent polls by a comfortable 27 points.
  • Gerdes is the current City Council chairman.
  • Gerdes is known for his middle-of-the-road approach to tough issues and isn’t afraid to compromise.
  • Gerdes has endorsements from police and fire unions, the SEIU, both local newspapers and numerous other groups and individuals.
  • Abbott lacks any key endorsements.
  • Abbott self-funded her campaign.
  • Abbott has an active lawsuit filed against the city for unevenly enforcing time limits on public comment – a lawsuit she says she would lift if elected.
  • Abbott wants to focus on District 1 more than she says Gerdes does now.
  • Abbott says she would be a full-time council member as opposed to Gerdes who also works as a lawyer in St. Pete.
  • Gerdes supports the Mayor’s MOU with the Rays, but is willing to negotiate a more lucrative deal to bring in additional “yes” votes from a deadlocked council.
  • Abbott does not support the mayor’s deal with the Rays.

Steve Kornell Vs. Philip Garrett – District 5

  • Kornell is leading Garrett in the most recent poll by 21 points.
  • Kornell has been on council for six years.
  • Kornell has a long track record of accomplishments in his district including new ownership leading to the clean-up of crime plagued Mariner Bay apartments, sweeping improvements to the Skyway Marina District, the purchase of protective lands surrounding Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and the addition of Jabil Circuit to the Ceridian building in conjunction with a promised partnership with St. Petersburg College.
  • Both Kornell and Garrett are Eckerd College grads.
  • Garrett has a troubling campaign finance records with local documents not adding up in terms of contributions and expenditures, late-filed documents and a laundry list of state election commission warnings for previous filing errors when Garrett ran for State House.
  • Garrett claims Kornell has been a do-nothing council member and has not adequately made improvements for residents in District 5.
  • Garrett’s focus is on early childhood education.
  • Garrett has done a good job of rallying voters during campaign voters but has failed to gain traction outside of those events.
  • Garrett may appeal to more conservative candidates by frequently pointing out that he’s “a god-fearing man” who wants lower taxes and better services.
  • Garrett is endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times based on his support for the Mayor’s proposed deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
  • Kornell does not support the Mayor’s stadium deal – wants more compensation for the city.
  • Kornell is endorsed by The Tampa Tribune.

There are also four ballot questions placed before voters.

  • One referendum question asks whether City Council candidates and mayoral candidates should have to live either in their district, or, in the case of a mayoral candidate, in the city before, during and after an election. Yes on that referendum would prevent City Council members from renting a home in one district and then moving out of that district after an election. It would also ensure a sitting mayor couldn’t leave St. Pete as his or her place of residence during the mayoral term.
  • Another referendum asks whether an electronic tally system now available to the City Clerk should be a valid replacement for an audible roll call during certain City Council votes. Currently the City Clerk uses the electronic tally system that displays a “y” or an “n” next to each councilmember’s name to indicate how they voted. However, the clerk is still required to read each councilmember’s name and vote in an audible roll call. The referendum would make that process less ambiguous.
  • One involves environmental protection of an area located adjacent to North Shore Park. It would give City Council the authority to create permanent restrictions on land use in order to preserve sea grass beds. The referendum is aimed at water quality improvement and habitat conservation.
  • Another referendum asks whether “Precinct Lines Need Not be Followed Where it Would Compromise Compact and Contiguous Council Districts.” This referendum would allow City Council, essentially, to not use precinct boundaries as a basis for drawing City Council district lines — meaning two voters in the same precinct could be in different districts. Under the current charter, districts must be drawn in a “compact, contiguous territory” with their lines following “the centerlines of streets, railroad lines or other natural boundaries.” But the charter also calls for districts to “follow voting precinct lines whenever possible.” The change to language merely clarifies that keeping districts “compact and contiguous” trumps precinct lines.

District 3, currently represented by Bill Dudley, was also up for election this year. Ed Montanari won the seat after the qualifying deadline passed without a challenger filing to run against him. Dudley is leaving office because of term limits.

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