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City Council candidate Aaron Sharpe would vote ‘yes’ on Rays deal

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

If elected to City Council, District 7 candidate Aaron Sharpe would vote in favor of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s brokered deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to allow them to look outside the city for possible stadium locations.

This is important information in the race to replace term-limited council member Wengay Newton because council is currently deadlocked on the deal and Newton is one of the no-votes. Sharpe’s vote would give Kriseman the fifth vote needed to seal the deal with the Rays.

“They’re leaving Tropicana Field one way or another,” Sharpe said. “We should have been and need to now start spending considerable effort in finding the right spot.”

At stake is 88-acres of valuable land lining the outskirts of downtown St. Pete. The property is neighbor to growing centers of economic activity like the Edge District and the Warehouse Arts District and is rife for its own development.

Without a deal the city’s hands are tied with moving forward with development of Tropicana Field land not currently being fully utilized. If they were to develop now, half of the revenue would have to go to the Rays.

Sharpe is running against popular community activist Lisa Wheeler-Brown, fire fighter union leader Will Newton, former attorney Sheila Scott-Griffin and public school employee Elvert Lewis Stephens.

Wheeler-Brown has said she would also vote in favor of the Mayor’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Rays. Newton said he expects a deal to be approved, but isn’t quite happy with where it’s at now. He hinted language including the Trop site in the newly created Southside Community Redevelopment Area may be the push he needs to officially consider himself a yes-vote.

Sharpe faces an uphill battle in the race to represent District 7. He’s the only white candidate in a district that is mostly black. Wheeler-Brown is well-liked throughout the district and Newton could benefit from name recognition – he’s the brother of the incumbent and shares the same last name.

Will Newton also has vast experience lobbying lawmakers in Tallahassee through his work as the district Vice President of fire fighters in Pinellas and Pasco counties. However, Sharpe has his own experiences to lay on the table.

Sharpe has years of experience in the banking industry and currently serves as the city’s Code Enforcement board chair.

Sharpe also weighed in on the city’s current situation involving the St. Pete Pier. After months of meetings and community outreach, the city was finally poised to topple the inverted pyramid, but was yet again delayed by a permitting glitch.

Now the Pier sits fenced off awaiting its fate. Sharpe hopes the city can continue moving forward with the process to build a new Pier.

“Communication is key to every relationship,” Sharpe said in reference to those backing a petition that would stop the city from demolishing the Pier. “Communication comes down to leadership.”

Sharpe noted one of City Council’s rolls is to hold leadership, including the Mayor, accountable by asking questions and having conversations. He said that’s something he’d do on Council. He also said continued public forums are important to make sure architects know what the city needs in a new Pier and can make changes to the proposed design as necessary.

“At some point though,” Sharpe said. “You have to let the designers do their work.”

He also weighed in on the city’s new recycling program calling on leaders to be flexible with the program. Sharpe said he’s not sure exactly how the city can accommodate the 40 percent of homes where trash is picked up from the alley and not the curb, but something needs to be worked out.

Currently homes where trash is dumped in large, shared dumpters in alleyways have to take the 95-gallon blue recycling bins to the curb for pickup. That’s a problem for homes not designed to wheel bins through side yards and often through landscaping.

“I do have questions about how and why the process was rolled out the way it was,” Sharpe said.

He postured that it could have been more successful had the city taken steps to test the system before fully implementing it and before footing the bill for all of the trucks and bins.

Sharpe’s priorities on council would include various ways to provide opportunities for residents in his district. That, he said, includes not just residents, but businesses as well.

“We need to keep as much of our own money in District 7 as possible,” Sharpe said.

He wants to see the city attract businesses to his district that can provide living wage jobs.

Sharpe also noted there is somewhat of a disconnect between residents in his district and the kinds of jobs they are qualified for. That’s why he said education and training is also a part of his emphasis on opportunity. He’d like to see stronger partnerships with places like the Pinellas Technical Institute where students can learn trades without necessarily having to go through the entire college experience.

He also wants to see the city focus more on internship programs for troubled youth in his district.

“It’s not just about summer jobs,” Sharpe said. “It’s about building a skill set.”

St. Pete City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes has endorsed Sharpe.

“I have had the privilege and pleasure of working side by side with Aaron to make the Pasadena Bear Creek neighborhood and the entire City a wonderful place to live, work and play,” Gerdes said in a statement posted to Sharpe’s website. “Aaron is passionate about service to the community. He will be a strong advocate for all residents on the City Council.”

He’s also nabbed support from former Mayor Bill Foster.

“I have worked with Aaron over the years on numerous civic issues, and always found him to be most thoughtful and attentive to his neighborhoods needs,” Foster also said in a statement on Sharpe’s website. “The city would be blessed to have Aaron on the City Council.”

Sharpe will face his four challengers in the Primary Election August 25. Mail ballots will be sent to voters beginning tomorrow. They can still be requested at the Supervisor of Elections website. The final day to register to vote for this election is July 27.

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 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

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