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Crowded field lines up to replace Wengay Newton on St. Pete City Council

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The race for St. Pete City Council District 7 is officially a crowded one. With qualifying now over, there are five candidates who qualified for the election.

Candidates Lisa Wheeler-Brown, Aaron Sharpe, Will Newton, Sheila Scott Griffin and Elvert Lewis Stephens are all facing off to replace current council member Wengay Newton, who is leaving office due to term limits.

Brown, the first candidate to announce her bid for the seat, is a longtime community activist with strong backing among constituents in the District. She rose as a community leader and advocate following the murder of her son in 2008.

Cabretti Wheeler was murdered, but police had a difficult time finding his killer because witnesses were reluctant to come forward with information. Brown immediately began fighting against the community’s “no snitching code” and her son’s killer was later identified and brought to justice.

She has been active in the community ever since, having most recently served as the head of the Council of Neighborhood Associations in St. Pete.

Brown was initially considered a frontrunner for the seat, but now faces potential formidable opposition from incumbent Wengay Newton’s brother, Will.

Will Newton is a decorated retired firefighter. With his brother’s name recognition he could get a boost at the polls.

Aaron Sharpe is the only white candidate in the race to represent a predominantly black community. That could pose a challenge to the neighborhood civic association president. Though the District 7 race will be voted on by residents citywide, which could water down the black vote.

Sharpe currently serves as the chair of St. Pete’s code enforcement board and is co-president with his wife of the Pasadena Bear Creek neighborhood association. He’s also the founder of a nonprofit called Volunteer Society of America and runs his own consulting firm, Sharpe Companies.

Griffin and Stephens are lesser-known candidates.

Griffin has had her license to practice law suspended twice in 2007 and 2011.

With a five-way race it’s hard to predict what will happen. So far, though, Brown is the only candidate to post fundraising numbers. She’s raised about $14,000 to date, according to the City Clerk’s office.

Candidates will square off in a primary August 25, with a runoff, if necessary, in 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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