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Tampa Bay Times endorses Lisa Wheeler-Brown

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Lisa Wheeler-Brown has now officially nabbed endorsements from both of the area’s major newspapers. The Tampa Bay Times announced Friday its editorial board was backing the District 7 candidate in the race to replace term-limited Wengay Newton.

The district encompasses much of South St. Pete including Midtown, Child’s Park and several other of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The Times staked its endorsement on a number of factors including Wheeler-Brown’s work on creating safer neighborhoods and her ability to act as “office conciliator during interpersonal disputes” at her day job as a medical billing specialist.

“Wheeler-Brown stands ou,t as a person who understands the community at the ground level and has worked directly to improve it,” the Times wrote.

But it’s one issue the Times likely focused most on in choosing a preferred candidate and that is the Tampa Bay Rays stadium debacle.

“She also is the clearest supporter of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s effort to allow the Rays to look at stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, which would unlock Tropicana Field’s enormous potential for redevelopment,” the endorsement explained.

The decision is not surprising. Of the five candidates for District 7, two are considered front-runners. That includes Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton. Newton has said the current deal brokered between Kriseman and the Rays isn’t quite good enough, but that he does envision eventually coming up with a deal that works.

That’s not the hard yes the Times has made clear it wants.

For example, even though the Times has often been supportive of Steve Kornell in his various endeavors from the dais, they came out with guns blazing against the City Council member when he continued to voice his concern over the mayor’s Memorandum of Understanding. The editorial board called for Kornell’s head in the upcoming election because he wouldn’t vote in favor of the MOU.

It’s of little wonder the editorial board chose to back a candidate who would ensure one of its biggest priorities in St. Pete government right now is fulfilled. If elected, Wheeler-Brown would replace Wengay Newton’s “no” vote with a “yes” and likely be the fifth vote needed to move the measure forward.

Of course, there are other reasons listed in the Times endorsement for not choosing Newton. They point to Newton’s position as the district vice president for the Florida Professional Firefighters union and that he was “not helpful in resolving the city’s dispute with Pinellas County over emergency medical services.” They also wonder whether Newton would be able to “represent broader interests than the union’s as a council member.”

The Times was quickly dismissive of the other three candidates. They point to Lewis Stephens as having “leadership potential” but suggest he may be a better candidate in the future.

The board dismisses retired bank executive Aaron Sharpe because he lives in a neighborhood only recently added to the district and “does not have the same long connections to the district’s neighborhoods as the other candidates.”

The Times lauds Sheila Scott-Griffin for speaking with “eloquence about improving the community,” but slashes her from the list of viable candidates due to complaints filed against the former attorney that led to two suspensions by the Florida Bar Association. The Times calls that a “troubling shortcoming.”

The five candidates will appear as the sole race on the August 25 primary ballot. The top two finishers will face off in the November general election. The primary is closed to only voters in District 7. The general election is citywide.

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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