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.