St. Pete NAACP president Manuel Sykes hints at run for Bill Young’s seat

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The rumor mill has been working overtime trying to second-guess who will be running for the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young’s U.S. House seat. Now entering the fray as a credible Democratic candidate is Rev. Dr. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP.

Working the room at a recent Pinellas County Democratic fundraiser, writes Patrick Manteiga in the weekly La Gaceta, were two people floated as possibilities for the newly available Florida’s 13th congressional district — former state CFO Alex Sink and attorney Jessica Ehrlich.

Sink’s appearance at the event was further evidence that she is considering vying for Young’s seat. If Sink does run, she would be joining Ehrlich, who has been campaigning unopposed for the 2014 race.  

It was Sykes, however, that made some waves.

Sykes was overheard saying he would add his name to the race for Young’s seat, but only if Ehrlich draws another opponent — which many believe will be Sink, who was narrowly defeated for governor by Rick Scott in 2010.

Sink recently quashed speculations of a second bid for Florida governor, by announcing she would not run. Her announcement successfully opened the field for former Gov. Charlie Crist to enter the contest to regain his old job. Although Crist has not announced his candidacy yet, with every passing minute, the talk of his running for governor as a Democrat gets stronger.  

Why would Sykes enter a three-way race, as opposed to going after Ehrlich on his own? For some observers, the logic is impeccable.

They think that two “white women” in the race, Manteiga writes, would effectively split the vote. In that case, chances are reasonable that Sykes — as a black man — could have a chance of winning the Democratic primary for the seat.

That means now could be the perfect time for the outspoken Jacksonville native to enter politics.

Although Sykes is an ardent Democrat and a strong supporter of public schools, he also defends a recent federal tax-credit scholarship plan — often referred to as “vouchers” — introduced by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

 As Sykes wrote in a March 2013 letter to the Tampa Bay Times:

In Florida, more than 50,000 students are on a similar plan, and the results are encouraging to those of us who work with struggling children. The students who use the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship are truly poor – incomes barely above poverty and averaging less than $25,000 for a household of four – and more than two thirds of them are black or Hispanic. State research tells us they were among the lowest academic performers in the public schools they left behind, and testing results show they are making the same academic gains as students of all income levels nationally. Just as encouraging, the traditional public schools that are most impacted by students who choose the scholarships are themselves experiencing higher learning gains.

Sykes graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Luther Rice Seminary. He received his Master’s Degrees in Divinity and Philosophy from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, where he focused on Religion and Society.

After completing a Clinical Pastoral Education internship at the University Hospital in Jacksonville, he moved to the Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg in 1993. In addition to pastoring at Bethel, Sykes has also served as Chaplain at the VA Medical Center, St. Anthony’s and Bayfront Hospitals.

Sykes has been president of the NAACP St. Petersburg since November 2010.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.