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Lisa Wheeler-Brown, Sheila Scott-Griffin gave thumbs up for Rays leaving St. Pete

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The latest mailer hitting District 7 voters in St. Pete touts candidate Will Newton while directly hitting Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Sheila Scott-Griffin on the controversial Tampa Bay Rays Issue.

The mailer cites a question posed during a candidate forum on July 21 at the Childs Park Recreation Center where candidates were asked, according to the mailer, “are you in favor of the Rays leaving St. Petersburg?

The flier shows a photo of Wheeler-Brown and Scott-Griffin giving a thumbs up and offers a link to a YouTube video showing the question and responses. It does not appear to be edited, but also does not include the candidate’s previous responses.

Wheeler-Brown had said she wants to ensure baseball stays in the region and the city in a position to benefit from development rights at Tropicana Field.

“Think of the positive impact the Tampa Bay Rays have had, and continue to have on our community. Now imagine the hundreds, if not thousands of service jobs, many held by people you know in District 7, that will be lost if the Rays leave our community,” the flier reads.

Newton, along with two other candidates including Aaron Sharpe and Lewis Stephens, gave a thumbs down to the question.

Though the flier is a direct dig on the two female candidates in the race, the flier only mentions them by name once.

The Rays issue has become a key in the race to replace sitting council member Wengay Newton. Newton remains a staunch holdout of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s brokered deal with the Rays to look at stadium sites outside of St. Petersburg.

The Tampa Bay Times endorsed Wheeler-Brown almost solely on her support of the Mayor’s deal. Newton has said he doesn’t think the deal is there yet and, in the most recent mailer, said he “wants negotiating with the Rays to continue in order to secure a better deal for the people of St. Petersburg.”

What makes the issue so much more substantial is that if Wheeler-Brown or Scott-Griffin were elected to council and voted in favor of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Rays, the team would get the green light to begin exploring alternative stadium sites.

If Newton is elected the vote would remain a 4-4 stalemate.

Wheeler-Brown said she thought the question asked about support for the team “looking” not “leaving.”

“I’m all for creating jobs, but giving us also the best chance of keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the region,” Wheeler-Brown said echoing what the four council members supporting the MOU have said.

That is, that if St. Pete doesn’t approve a deal soon the Rays likely would leave for another city far outside the area. Their argument is that if we want the Rays to play ball in St. Pete until 2027 the city should stick by the Tropicana Field Use Agreement, but if we want baseball in the region after 2027, a deal needs to be reached soon.

On the other side of the flier Newton heads the piece with “what matters most,” saying the election should not be a one-issue campaign.

“I know you are concerned about public safety, affordable housing, better paying jobs, more public transportation options, and access to better medical care,” Newton wrote in the flier. “Those are my priorities too, as well as to have a positive impact on public education so that our children will be better prepared for 21st Century jobs.”

And Newton also verified what he has implied during recent weeks regarding the MOU.

“Generations of families and family-owned businesses were forced to close or relocate from the Tropicana Field site. We must honor their sacrifice,” he wrote. “That is why I want to see the 85-acre site added to the Southside TIF district as part of the implementation of any redevelopment plan.”

Including Tropicana Field in the Tax Incremental Financing district within the Southside Community Redevelopment Area could potentially pump huge amounts of tax revenue into the poor communities District 7 is home to.

Like his brother has been for nearly eight years on council, Newton promised in his flier to be “no one’s rubber stamp.” He said many in the city “cynically await election results, hoping for a new council member to rubber stamp the current plan.”

Newton and Wheeler-Brown are considered frontrunners in the District 7 race with Scott-Griffin fighting to squeak into the number two slot. The top two vote-getters in the closed Primary August 25 will face off in a Citywide General Election this November.

The District 7 race is the only that will appear on the Primary ballot.

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

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