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If Lewis Stephens’ City Council hopes die, he’ll keep other options open

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

With sweat dripping down his temples and rolling down to his red and white polkadot bowtie, St. Pete City Council candidate Lewis Stephens was the picture of hope and optimism Tuesday morning waiting to greet voters at the Thomas “Jet” Jackson Recreation Center, formerly Wildwood.

Nevermind the heat, Stephens donned a dapper cream colored suit with the bowtie serving as the cherry on top making him look friendly and approachable.

Neighborhood residents showed up periodically, basketballs in hand, and each knew Stephens. But none came to vote.

During the two and a half hours polls were first open, a Will Newton supporter handing out campaign materials said only 7 or eight had cast a ballot. And one of those was Lisa Wheeler-Brown, one of the five candidates.

Stephens has been all but ruled out as a contender in the five-way District 7 race to replace City Council member Wengay Newton. Stephens, a behavioral specialist at Campbell Park Elementary School – a chronically failing school and one of the worst in the state – has been heralded as a candidate with loads of potential, but has failed to gain traction during campaigning.

He also has struggled to raise funds. Of all five candidates he is the only one not to have broken $1,000 in campaign cash. Compare that to the more than $30,000 raked in by Wheeler-Brown and more than $26,000 raised by Newton and it’s clear Stephens is fighting an uphill battle.

Regardless, Stephens said he woke up Tuesday morning with “the greatest feeling you could ever feel.”

“You’re waking up to text messages from friends and family,” Stephens said. “One of my kids came up to me today and was like, ‘I already know you’re going to have an office downtown.’”

Stephens said students were asking him all about City Council. He enjoyed talking to them about what council did and how decisions made can impact their lives.

“There’s so many people in District 7 that have really stopped dreaming, that have given up on life,” Stephens said. “To be able to have an impact in those peoples’ lives has been a blessing.”

Stephens isn’t ruling out the chance that voters could come through for him, but he does acknowledge the uphill battle he faces. He said he wouldn’t rule out coming back in four years and doing it again.

Stephens also said he’s been approached about possibly running for Pinellas County School Board. His work at one of the five “Failure Factories” identified by the Tampa Bay Times and the resulting disgust with current leadership puts him in a good position to compete for a spot on that board.

“I’m going to be in somebody’s office fighting for our community,” Stephens said.

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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