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Aaron Sharpe responds to Tampa Bay Times article comparing all District 7 City Council candidates

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council candidate Aaron Sharpe wants voters to know there are plenty of differences between the five candidates running to succeed Wengay Newton in District 7.

Sharpe responded to an article in the Tampa Bay Times in which the candidates were all painted with the same brush. Issues facing the city’s most needy district have created similar talking points between candidates.

They all want to bring jobs to the area. Each wants affordable housing, better schools and safer streets.

“My understanding of District 7 and the hurdles we need to overcome might be similar to that of my opponents. Our passion for our community and our neighbors might be similar. The calling to put ourselves out there and desire to make a difference might be similar but when it comes to actual solutions there is no comparison,” Sharpe wrote.

Sharpe, who is fundraising fourth out of all the candidates, is pushing his experience as a former banking executive as a stand-out qualification on his resume.

“The St Petersburg Chamber of Commerce just spent the better part of a year creating the Grow Smarter campaign (recently approved by Council),” Sharpe continued. “District 7 needs someone on council who will build and expand relationships with folks like Chris Steinocher, Chamber president, and the business community. I have spent 20 years building relationships with literally 1,000s of business owners and will spend the next four years selling District 7 to each and every one of them.”

Sharpe also responded to the Tampa Bay Times’ “Failure Factories” uncovering gross failings in five South St. Pete Schools including some in his district. Those five predominantly black schools are representative of the neighborhoods Sharpe would represent on council if elected.

He said it’s shortsighted to offer a “sit back and look” approach waiting for the Pinellas County School Board to solve problems and instead offered three options to improve failing schools in poor neighborhoods.

First, Sharpe suggests creating learning centers in each neighborhood for kids under 4. Those centers could serve as both early education and day and night care for children.

He also recommends a “Learn to Earn” program for middle school-aged kids that would reward learning outside of school.

For high school students, Sharpe said the city should partner with businesses and business groups to offer more high school internship programs.

Sharpe is trying to highlight himself as the candidate with not only ideas, but real solutions. However, he remains a relative long-shot in the race. Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton are considered the leaders with Sheila Scott-Griffin emerging as a fierce third place candidate.

The race among front-runners does have at least one key difference — one that has made this race a regional talking point. That is the fate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

A mailer sent out by Newton’s campaign showed an image of Wheeler-Brown and Scott-Griffin giving a thumbs up to a question regarding whether or not they supported they Rays leaving St. Pete.

Newton has said he wouldn’t sign off on the Mayor’s Memorandum of Understanding allowing the Rays to look for stadium sites outside of St. Pete. Wheeler-Brown supports the MOU and Scott-Griffin ambiguously said there was no deal on the table.

Sharpe is attempting to distance himself on this topic as well, writing that there are hordes of other issues needing to be addressed and that he would fight to keep the Rays here. Sharpe has also offered his support for the Mayor’s MOU, arguing that, one way or another, the Rays are leaving St. Pete.

Sharpe is also the only candidate with no-party affiliation. Despite the fact that City Council races are supposed to be nonpartisan, the Florida Democratic Party sent out a mailer this week lambasting Scott-Griffin for two law suspensions and pointing out several times that she is a Republican.

“I’m not beholden to party politics or special interest. How much longer are we, the residents and voters, going to allow this behavior,” Sharpe asked.

Wheeler-Brown, Newton and Lewis Stephens are all Democrats.

The primary election is next Tuesday. The top two vote-getters will move on to the November 3 general election.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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