Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson won another term Tuesday. He bested challenger Barbara Banno 59 to 41 percent.
The two candidates have spent the past several months in a fierce battle to head the dais at Gulfport City Hall.
Banno entered the race with a challenge to what emerged as a status quo attitude. She drew on residents’ frustrations with the August sewage dump into Clam Bayou and called for immediate action from the city of St. Petersburg to offer its assurance that it wouldn’t happen again.
She called for increased environmental studies to determine the effect the dump had or continues to have on Clam Bayou and Boca Ciega Bay. She cited frequent beach closings because of contaminated water.
She also criticized Henderson as lacking transparency in his administration. She promised to hold regular town hall meetings and other gatherings at times convenient for constituents to make government more accessible to people.
Banno also contended she has better leadership abilities than Henderson. In several blog posts on her campaign website, Banno referenced reasons why she thinks Henderson lacks those skills. Much of it centered on his handling of the Clam Bayou situation and of LGBT rights issues in the community. Banno wrote that he merely followed on LGBT issues and didn’t take a stance of his own. The LGBT blog post was in reaction to Henderson’s endorsement by the Stonewall Democrats, a pro-LGBT group.
Banno is openly gay.
However, Henderson consistently met her challenges. When Banno questioned whether the Stonewall Democrats endorsement was deserved by pointing out Henderson had not released his questionnaire from the group, Henderson promptly released the information. His answers showed little substantive differences between Banno’s.
Henderson also came under fire after a City Council meeting where he and Vice Mayor Yolanda Roman had a shouting match over Clam Bayou. Someone in the audience yelled out to accuse Henderson of being a bully.
Henderson wasted no time in combating the messaging, saying he was defending himself against bullying and that Roman’s comments were inflammatory and misleading. Roman was presenting a resolution that would have required meetings with St. Petersburg officials to discuss the sewage dump. Henderson called her a bald-faced liar when he thought she said he had never met with St. Pete officials. Instead, Roman was referring to the entire council.
Nevertheless, the news gave Henderson the opportunity to show he could be transparent by releasing the dates and locations of all of his meetings with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and other St. Petersburg staff.
Henderson was also happy to announce he received the fourth draft of an agreement between the two cities about the sewage dump. Henderson said the latest draft included all of his city’s requests. It will be presented to City Council at Gulfport’s next meeting in April – the same meeting where Henderson will be sworn in for another term.
Henderson was first elected as mayor in 2013. Before that, he was on City Council.