Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Steve Kornell, Will Newton still plagued by Rays issue in City Council race

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Once again the Tampa Bay Times is beating the same drum about the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Pete City Council’s votes on how to proceed with a deal that would let the team look outside of St. Pete into Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for an alternative stadium location.

The team has been trying for nearly a decade to step outside of its lease to take a gander across the Bay and in other parts of Pinellas.

Thursday, City Council voted in favor of a plan that would levy about $33 million in fees if the team were to leave Tropicana Field in 2020. That same timeline would have cost the Rays just $16 million under the previous plan approved by the Rays, but rejected in a stalemate by City Council.

The Times called the latest vote “the wrong signal” to the Rays and wrote that it “further jeopardized the future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.”

The long-standing stance over at the Times is that not letting the team look may mean baseball stays in St. Pete through the duration of their contract, which ends in 2027, but would likely spell the end of baseball in the entire region after that.

Say what you will about the motives of council. Those who voted against the original MOU did so to “protect taxpayers.” The resolution supporting Council member Jim Kennedy’s $4 million a year plan appeased those reluctant to reach a deal by adding further compensation to the city.

But if the Rays reject it, which the Times and Mayor Rick Kriseman suspect will be the case, what does that mean for future economic impact? Without the Rays the city would lose millions and they’d have to wait more than a decade to develop extremely valuable land.

The Times estimates it’s a $500 million mistake.

And they have a point. Typical bargaining wisdom holds that negotiations lose value the more time goes by. The closer the end of the Use Agreement comes, the more likely the Rays are to scratch any deal at all. And the Rays have said they would not accept a deal that was more than the original proposal anyway.

That said, the Tampa Bay Times is using the issue as a deal breaker for candidates who are running for City Council. They’ve called for six-year incumbent Steve Kornell’s head by endorsing his opponent, Philip Garrett. Even prior to Garrett’s announcement, the board called on someone, anyone, to run against him.

Garrett has a long history of campaign finance negligence that includes fines and formal complaints and his personal finances, with an ongoing foreclosure and one that was previously settled, are also troubling.

The Times Editorial Board even admitted in its endorsement the Rays were the sole defining issue.

It’s also worth noting that Kornell is crushing Garrett in the polls.

They’ve also endorsed Lisa Wheeler-Brown over Will Newton for the District 7 seat to replace Will Newton. Both candidates see eye-to-eye on most issues except the Rays.

The difference is, Wheeler-Brown suffered a series of damning blunders that call her ability to make choices about taxpayer dollars into question. Now, voters should decide whether or not those mistakes were malicious or simply “rookie mistakes” and whether a “learning curve” is what the city needs in a council member overseeing the city’s poorest District.

Considering the race is still very competitive, there are plenty of people who aren’t putting too much weight behind Wheeler-Brown’s campaign errors. In fact, popular City Council members Darden Rice and Karl Nurse continue to back her. That continued trust can help Wheeler-Brown survive the controversy.

In all fairness to Wheeler-Brown, there are also questions about Newton’s financial dealings. He had a more than $30,000 tax lien for several years before paying it off in 2012. The campaign has not released any documents showing how that happened. They have explained rather vaguely that the issue arose from work as an independent contractor for the city’s firefighter union.

What makes the Times’ endorsement somewhat questionable is that the Tampa Tribune rescinded its endorsement of Wheeler-Brown after her campaign finance woes were widely reported.

The Times makes many valid points in the discussion involving just the Rays. Those points should not be ignored by anyone on either side of that debate.

But readers should take with a grain of salt endorsements that are based, over and over again, on one issue while ignoring many others.

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

Latest from The Bay and the 'Burg

Go to Top