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Community activist Aaron Sharpe to challenge Lisa Wheeler-Brown for St. Pete District 7

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The race to replace St. Pete’s District 7 City Councilman Wengay Newton just got its second candidate. Financial businessman and longtime community activist Aaron Sharpe has jumped into the ring to challenge the popular and well-endorsed Lisa Wheeler-Brown.

Sharpe is the current founder and president of a new nonprofit called Volunteer Society of America and currently runs his own consulting firm, Sharpe Companies. He worked previously in various management positions with Fifth Third Bank.

Sharpe is also the chair of the city’s code enforcement board and has been for three years. He’s served on that board for six years, having originally been appointed by former Mayor Rick Baker.

Sharpe and his wife have also served as co-presidents of the Pasadena Bear Creed Neighborhood Association for eight years.

“We know how to build a strong neighborhood, what that looks like and what it can accomplish and it’s also given us the opportunity to work with different neighborhood leaders all over town,” Sharpe said during an exclusive interview with SaintPetersblog Tuesday.

Sharpe faces an uphill battle in his quest to represent residents in District 7. The district encompasses some of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, including parts of Midtown. The community is also largely African American. Sharpe is white. Wheeler-Brown is black.

But Sharpe doesn’t expect that to be too big of a problem. District 7 candidates face a citywide vote in the General Election. If no one else jumps into the race, Sharpe will have a much whiter demographic in other parts of the city to water down the pool of predominantly minority voters in District 7. If someone else does jump in, Sharpe would have to survive a primary in order to make it to the General Election.

Regardless, Sharpe is hoping voters will look past color and focus on his qualifications.

“I have decades of fervent leadership and financial knowledge. I have almost ten years of successful neighborhood leadership and six years of working very closely with the city,” Sharpe said. “On paper I am at least five if not 10 times more qualified than the other candidate.”

Sharpe hopes to bring a fresh set of eyes to Council and build on the passion current Council member Newton has brought to the District.

“I’m a big fan of Wengay Newton. We are where we are in our neighborhood because of him.”

While Sharpe lauds Newton’s work in advocating for troubled youth in his district, he wants to see more work done on the Southside Community Redevelopment Area plan.

That plan will be discussed during a meeting Thursday and looks poised to receive funding through Tax Incremental Funding. However, Sharpe is concerned the deal is being whittled away during the negotiating process with the county.

“It was originally billed for 40 years, now it’s 30 years and now there’s talk of cutting it down to 20 years,” Sharpe said, referring to the length of time the CRA would be established. “If it goes to 20 years, it can drive funding down from more than $100 million to $35 million.”

Sharpe also wants to see more efforts to provide educational programs for residents in poor neighborhoods.

He likened his idea to one formerly proposed by former Mayor Baker in which each neighborhood would have a park within walking distance.

“It’d be a place where they can get the information they need,” Sharpe said. “The tools are available. We just need to make them available to everybody and especially those folks who are limited or who have fallen behind.”

Sharpe has not officially announced his candidacy yet, but he filed paperwork to run last Friday. On Monday he opened his campaign checking account. Sharpe plans to officially kick off his campaign sometime in the next couple of weeks.

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 [email protected]

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