Although you would think that winning a primary election by 17 percentage points would make Jackie Toledo the prohibitive favorite going into the March 24 runoff Tampa City Council District 6 contest, there wasn’t a soul at Montauro’s restaurant in West Tampa Tuesday night who believed that. Certainly not after they heard a series of verbal attacks against the 38-year-old chemical engineer who nearly won the seat outright, getting 46 percent of the vote to second-place finisher Guido Maniscalco’s 29 percent.
The attendance for Maniscalco’s election night party grew substantially as the night wore on, as a number of local Democrats like Mary Mulhern, April Griffin and Dick Greco filled the Italian eatery to hear the third candidate in the race, Tommy Castellano, give his official endorsement to Maniscalco about a half-hour after the final results came in around 9 p.m.
“You’ve been following this race, and there’s a reason why we’re all here and the two camps are joining forces tonight to make sure that Jackie Toledo does not become a City Council person,” declared Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, putting on his partisan West Tampa Democratic hat. He said that while Maniscalco and Castellano ran “above-board races,” he regretfully said he could not say the same thing about the Toledo forces.
Alluding to her responses to the stories about her controversial television commercial that was filmed on a construction site on I-275 but unauthorized by the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as a charge that she had inappropriately used the city seal for a campaign portrait, Henriquez accused Toledo of being “incapable of telling the truth.”
“You went up and filmed a commercial,” Henriquez continued. “‘They told me to go up there and film a commercial.’ No big deal. No, she had to …all these other things that she had to spin it. That’s not what we’re used to in this district. That’s not what we’re used to in Ybor City and the city of Tampa. We’re used to people who are straight shooters. Who tell the truth. That look people in the eye. And when they’re wrong, they say they’re wrong, and when they’re right, they’re right.”
“I can tell you this much,” he continued. “Jackie Toledo’s not right for this district.”
But he was just warming up the crowd for Castellano, the longtime owner of an air conditioning company in Tampa who less than a week ago delivered a blistering statement against Toledo and her campaign.
“We don’t like bad politics. We don’t like lies….and we’re not going to tolerate it,” Castellano told the crowd.
“That woman has never been above Kennedy Blvd. before this campaign,” he spewed. “She doesn’t know us,” as a voice in the crowd piped up saying, “She’s not one of us.”
Referring to her prodigious fundraising, Castellano asked the crowd, “Are we going to allow the city of Tampa to be bought?”
“NO,” came the shout from the crowd. Toledo raised more than $126,000 in the primary, the most by any candidate on the ballot today not named Bob Buckhorn, and three times more than Maniscalco.
Castellano received 25 percent of the vote in his second bid for public office. He previously lost a GOP primary for the Hillsborough County congressional seat held by Kathy Castor in 2010. He said that he was giving Maniscalco 100 percent of his support. “This gentleman ran an honorable campaign,” he said of Maniscalco. But he repeated his claim that Toledo “was an embarrassment to the city of Tampa.”
Maniscalco seemed pleased to be able to live as a candidate for another day himself, after losing a Council race back in 2011.
Privately he admitted that he’s going to have to work much harder than he did in the general election to have a shot at winning. He said he’ll begin knocking on doors in the district immediately, something he said that he parceled out to his volunteers leading up to Election Day. But he said with Castellano’s supporters on board, he believes it could be a replication of the mayor’s race in 2011, when Bob Buckhorn narrowly squeezed into the runoff vs Rose Ferlita, then won easily in the general election three weeks later.
Standing in the back of the room and taking it all in was Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin, who piped up toward the end of Maniscalco’s brief words to the audience, saying that all of Maniscalco’s supporters were going to have to pick it up for the general. “It can be done, but it is a different election. It’s a different day and we cannot run the same campaign that has been run up until today.”
This will not be a citywide race. District 6 encompasses West Tampa, Seminole Heights and part of South Tampa. One Democratic Party activist says they’ll begin calling on all other Democrats tomorrow to get them to support Maniscalco against Toledo, a registered Republican.
The campaign will continue for another three weeks.