Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Election Day takeaways in Gulfport

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A lot goes on at polling places on Election Day. Candidate supporters gather to hand out literature. The candidates themselves bounce around from polling place to polling place hoping to nab some last minute votes and reach people who may have otherwise been missed throughout campaigning.

But, outside of polling places, there’s another story to be told. Take a stroll through quiet Gulfport on Election Day and you may catch a glimpse of any number of things. I took my bike out for a ride through the close-knit community.

Take a stroll through quiet Gulfport on Election Day and you may catch a glimpse of any number of things. I took my bike out for a ride through the close-knit community.

I spotted Barbara Banno out on her golf cart, signs encouraging a vote for her plastered to the back and sides.

“I don’t know how I’m going to keep this thing charged all day,” Banno said on one of her stops.

The electric golf cart requires charging and it’s the easiest way to get around the small town. It’s also a conversation starter with would be voters taking a walk past as she meanders by.

Her supporters gathered at various polling places and handed out doughnuts.

Then there’s her opponent, Sam Henderson. He’s the incumbent in the race. As such, his stops at polling places had a double meaning.

“We used to have six polling places,” Henderson said. “Now we have four.”

That’s because, with the rise of absentee voting, polling places slowed to a crawl meaning some could be combined. Henderson said he heard the Marina District polling place was pretty slow and planned to check it out.

It’s something he could look into if he earns another term as Mayor come 7 p.m. when the polls close.

Signs also tell a story in the Gulfport election. Unlike other parts of the county, where it’s all about the Presidential Preference Primary, Gulfport voters are engaged in their local election.

One Sam Henderson campaign volunteer said voters were overwhelmingly more interested in their local races than they were in the presidential primary. And the signs echoed that sentiment.

I spotted a couple of Bernie Sanders supporters breakfasting at Stella’s on Beach Boulevard. There was a Marco Rubio poster hand written in a car window. But other than that, lawns across the city were dotted with campaign signs announcing support for Banno and Henderson or City Council candidates Dan Liedtke and April Thanos.

They seemed to be clustered strategically. Thanos and Banno signs appear to dominate the north side of Gulfport Boulevard, while Henderson and Liedtke signs seemed more concentrated near the city’s downtown district. They also seem to be paired up with Henderson supporters often also donning Liedtke signs and Banno supporters having Thanos signs in the yard.

It’s an arbitrary measure of support, especially considering the number of yards with no sign at all. But it still shows some interesting trends.

While it hasn’t been said out loud, there’s an overall feeling in Gulfport’s politically savvy that Henderson and Liedtke are somewhat allied while Banno and Thanos are as well.

And the candidates each acknowledged, except Liedtke (who we haven’t been able to track down yet), that sign-placing is often as simple as where the candidate lives and who they know.

“I actually went to [Henderson’s] yard first,” Banno said. “I was just trying to get some of my signs out there.”

And then there’s turnout. Polling places throughout the county experience surges in voter turnout. The early morning hours before 9 a.m. and then the after-work hours between five and seven tend to be the busiest times at polling places.

That’s not necessarily the case in Gulfport where voters trickle in and out all day long. The city has a large population of retirees.

Tuesday is also the city’s weekly street market along Beach Boulevard meaning the stretch of road between the city’s library and its waterfront casino is already packed. Walking down the sidewalk, there was a buzz of residents chatting about the election.

Polls close at 7 p.m. Candidates will each be celebrating results from various hot spots in Gulfport.

Banno will be at O’Maddy’s and Henderson at Pia’s Trattoria.

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

Latest from The Bay and the 'Burg

Go to Top