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Lisa Wheeler-Brown leads latest City Council poll; undecided voters still a huge factor

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The St. Pete municipal election this November could be all about the undecided voters based on a new poll released Thursday by St. Pete Polls. According to a survey of 654 registered voters, even non-competitive races are polling at a high rate of uncertainty.

In the race between six-year council member Steve Kornell and his challenger, Phillip Garrett, who has raised zero dollars and doesn’t appear to have campaigned at all for the seat, nearly half of those polled weren’t sure who to vote for.

And City Council Chaiman Charlie Gerdes is facing more than 53 percent of voters who still have not decided who to vote for. This despite Gerdes’ standing as a relative shoo-in for re-election. Still, Kornell is out-polling Garrett 34 percent to 18 percent and Gerdes tops Monica Abbott 30 percent to just 17 percent.

In the city’s big race this year, Will Newton is trailing Lisa Wheeler-Brown for the District 7 seat being vacated by Wengay Newton. Wheeler-Brown pulled down 34 percent support in the poll while Newton grabbed just 27 percent of that. Nearly 40 percent of voters polled indicated they hadn’t made a choice yet.

A lot can change between the time this poll was conducted and November 3. The first campaign treasurer reports are due Friday for the general election. In the Newton/Wheeler-Brown match-up those numbers could be telling. As of last month Newton had slightly more cash on hand than Wheeler-Brown, but she had raised more over all.

The undecided voters in the Kornell race are unlikely to lean heavily enough in favor of his opponent to unseat him. Kornell has ignored claims that Garrett is a no-name candidate and aggressively fundraised just to be sure. He’s raked in more than $30,000 and hosted a campaign kick-off party Wednesday night where checks were being signed left and right.

Charlie Gerdes, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be too worried about campaigning. He’s raised just $1,925 compared to Abbott’s $1,050.

In another question in the poll conducted Wednesday by phone, respondents were asked whether they knew there would be four referendums on the ballot. More than 80 percent said they did not.

The first ballot question asks voters whether City Council can approve “permanent use and development restrictions” on a portion of land adjacent to North Shore Park. The goal of that referendum is to protect and restore seagrass.

Another referendum asks voters whether the city should be able to draw district lines contrary to precincts.

The third asks if the city charter should be changed to require City Council and mayoral candidates to be residents in the district they are running — or the city in the case of a mayoral candidate — before and during an election. It would also require those individuals to stay residents in those respective areas once elected and throughout the candidate’s term.

A fourth ballot question asks voters to approve an electronic tally system for City Council votes in lieu of a verbal roll call.

The poll was conducted with a 3.8 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

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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