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Everything you need to know for Election Day in St. Pete

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In case you’ve been missing StPetersBlog’s extensive coverage of the St. Petersburg City Council races to be decided Tuesday, here’s a rundown of everything you need to know before casting a ballot.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown vs. Will Newton for District 7: the dirtiest of the dirty

The good: Lisa Wheeler-Brown

  • Is a well-liked and well-known community activist in the Midtown neighborhood she seeks to represent. Wheeler-Brown began work breaking down the community’s no-snitching code of silence after her son’s slaying. Since then she has continued to work on relationships between residents in the city’s poorest neighborhood and police.
  • Was the immediate past president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.
  • Was on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s transition team.
  • Won an award from the U.S. Department of Justice for her community activism in Midtown.
  • Has endorsements from Kriseman, City Council members Darden Rice and Karl Nurse, the SEIU, Pinellas Stonewall Democrats and an impressive array of local progressives.
  • Endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times.
  • Most contributions have come from local donors.
  • Supports Kriseman’s plan for the Tampa Bay Rays stadium deal.
  • Wants to focus city resources on improving affordable housing, jobs, education and youth initiatives in her District.
  • Leading in the most recent St. Pete Polls survey.

The good: Will Newton

  • Endorsed by half of the current City Council including Steve Kornell, Amy Foster, Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley, and City Council member-elect Ed Montanari.
  • Endorsed by police and fire unions.
  • Bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats including former Mayor Rick Baker and State Rep. Kathleen Peters as well as Democratic State Rep. Darryl Rouson.
  • Supported by local Realtor group.
  • Endorsed by The Tampa Tribune.
  • Was on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s transition task force.
  • Firefighter union leader.
  • Retired firefighter and EMT of 23 years.
  • Has experience negotiating in Tallahassee and locally.
  • Is seen as the more-prepared candidate.
  • Wants a better deal for the city on the Tampa Bay Rays stadium proposal, but is willing to work it out to come to consensus.
  • Has out-raised his opponent.

The bad: Lisa Wheeler-Brown

  • Supports Mayor Rick Kriseman’s deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
  • Questionable campaign finance record.
  • A partisan candidate (though to many, this is a good thing).
  • Inexperienced in politics.
  • Has a dated criminal past with misdemeanor convictions for retail theft and writing bad checks.
  • Lost endorsement from The Tampa Tribune because of possible campaign finance violations.
  • Endorsed by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The bad: Will Newton

  • Reached two bargaining impasses with the city as firefighter union head.
  • Seen as the establishment candidate.
  • Accused of negative campaigning.
  • Doesn’t support Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Ray’s stadium deal.
  • Much of his campaign cash has come from outside groups.
  • Not endorsed by Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The ugly: Lisa Wheeler-Brown

  • Spent $500 of campaign cash on a personal dental procedure – elections complaint filed with the state elections commission.
  • Failed to report in-kind contributions on campaign finance reports.
  • Misreported several contributions and expenditures on campaign finance reports.
  • May have accepted in-kind contributions from a nonprofit: a campaign finance violation.

The ugly: Will Newton

  • Had $32,000 tax lien paid off in 2012 that has not been explained with verifying documents.
  • Compared to his brother, incumbent Wengay Newton, as an obstructionist candidate.
  • Criticized for negative campaigning including an accusation that his opponent created a foundation in her slain son’s name for personal profit. The $81,000 cited as income for that foundation was found to be an arbitrary number.

The ugly: both candidates

  • This election is seen as the nastiest in recent memory with negative attacks coming from outside groups on both sides.

Incumbents Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes are also facing re-election. Here’s what you need to know about those races.

Charlie Gerdes vs. Monica Abbott – District 1

  • Gerdes is leading in the most recent polls by a comfortable 27 points.
  • Gerdes is the current City Council chairman.
  • Gerdes is known for his middle-of-the-road approach to tough issues and isn’t afraid to compromise.
  • Gerdes has endorsements from police and fire unions, the SEIU, both local newspapers and numerous other groups and individuals.
  • Abbott lacks any key endorsements.
  • Abbott self-funded her campaign.
  • Abbott has an active lawsuit filed against the city for unevenly enforcing time limits on public comment – a lawsuit she says she would lift if elected.
  • Abbott wants to focus on District 1 more than she says Gerdes does now.
  • Abbott says she would be a full-time council member as opposed to Gerdes who also works as a lawyer in St. Pete.
  • Gerdes supports the Mayor’s MOU with the Rays, but is willing to negotiate a more lucrative deal to bring in additional “yes” votes from a deadlocked council.
  • Abbott does not support the mayor’s deal with the Rays.

Steve Kornell Vs. Philip Garrett – District 5

  • Kornell is leading Garrett in the most recent poll by 21 points.
  • Kornell has been on council for six years.
  • Kornell has a long track record of accomplishments in his district including new ownership leading to the clean-up of crime plagued Mariner Bay apartments, sweeping improvements to the Skyway Marina District, the purchase of protective lands surrounding Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and the addition of Jabil Circuit to the Ceridian building in conjunction with a promised partnership with St. Petersburg College.
  • Both Kornell and Garrett are Eckerd College grads.
  • Garrett has a troubling campaign finance records with local documents not adding up in terms of contributions and expenditures, late-filed documents and a laundry list of state election commission warnings for previous filing errors when Garrett ran for State House.
  • Garrett claims Kornell has been a do-nothing council member and has not adequately made improvements for residents in District 5.
  • Garrett’s focus is on early childhood education.
  • Garrett has done a good job of rallying voters during campaign voters but has failed to gain traction outside of those events.
  • Garrett may appeal to more conservative candidates by frequently pointing out that he’s “a god-fearing man” who wants lower taxes and better services.
  • Garrett is endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times based on his support for the Mayor’s proposed deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
  • Kornell does not support the Mayor’s stadium deal – wants more compensation for the city.
  • Kornell is endorsed by The Tampa Tribune.

There are also four ballot questions placed before voters.

  • One referendum question asks whether City Council candidates and mayoral candidates should have to live either in their district, or, in the case of a mayoral candidate, in the city before, during and after an election. Yes on that referendum would prevent City Council members from renting a home in one district and then moving out of that district after an election. It would also ensure a sitting mayor couldn’t leave St. Pete as his or her place of residence during the mayoral term.
  • Another referendum asks whether an electronic tally system now available to the City Clerk should be a valid replacement for an audible roll call during certain City Council votes. Currently the City Clerk uses the electronic tally system that displays a “y” or an “n” next to each councilmember’s name to indicate how they voted. However, the clerk is still required to read each councilmember’s name and vote in an audible roll call. The referendum would make that process less ambiguous.
  • One involves environmental protection of an area located adjacent to North Shore Park. It would give City Council the authority to create permanent restrictions on land use in order to preserve sea grass beds. The referendum is aimed at water quality improvement and habitat conservation.
  • Another referendum asks whether “Precinct Lines Need Not be Followed Where it Would Compromise Compact and Contiguous Council Districts.” This referendum would allow City Council, essentially, to not use precinct boundaries as a basis for drawing City Council district lines — meaning two voters in the same precinct could be in different districts. Under the current charter, districts must be drawn in a “compact, contiguous territory” with their lines following “the centerlines of streets, railroad lines or other natural boundaries.” But the charter also calls for districts to “follow voting precinct lines whenever possible.” The change to language merely clarifies that keeping districts “compact and contiguous” trumps precinct lines.

District 3, currently represented by Bill Dudley, was also up for election this year. Ed Montanari won the seat after the qualifying deadline passed without a challenger filing to run against him. Dudley is leaving office because of term limits.

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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