Observing from afar — well not really from afar but from the outskirts of Seminole — today’s municipal elections in St. Petersburg have me wondering, did Batman ever get fed up with Gotham? Did Superman ever tire of daily life in Metropolis?
I’m certainly no Batman or Superman, but neither is St. Petersburg a Gotham or Metropolis, but, like the superheroes, I love my hometown (or in the case of Superman, adopted hometown). Yet, as I’ve written before, it’s politics have run me down. That’s the main reason I’ve written very little about the handful of City Council races and referendums on today’s ballot. Fortunately, our Janelle Irwin has carried on whatever legacy this site has when it comes to covering politics in the ‘burg, almost single-handedly out-covering an entire newspaper in terms of covering these elections. That one reporter has provided almost or equal to or more than an entire newsroom is a testament to Irwin’s ambition and can-do attitude.
As for my view of the races, I start with this question:
If the zombies were approaching your home and either Lisa Wheeler-Brown or Will Newton were outside your door with an SUV and a plan to escape the city, would you follow them?
The answer is: Absolutely not. I wouldn’t follow either of them up an escalator.
So why elect them to City Council?
Is either Wheeler-Brown or Newton one of the eight best leaders the City of St. Petersburg has? Absolutely not. Are either of them in the top eighty of the best leader in the city? Probably not. Are both of them somewhere between #81 and eight hundred in terms of leaders in the city. I guess so.
So why elect them to City Council?
Why elect a woman who, despite the second chance given to her after a checkered past, thought it appropriate to use campaign funds to have a gold tooth removed?
Why elect a man who, despite repeated inquiries, will not explain why a lien was placed against him by the Internal Revenue Service?
Is this really the best the city has to offer?
Unfortunately that last question is irrelevant. Because of St. Petersburg tragic history of race relations, the city’s election are still a throwback to the Jim Crow era.
Yes, there are single-member districts so that parts of town that are (near) minority-majority have a better chance to elect one of their own (unless you are District 6 where a white guy who was appointed by other white people and subsequently re-elected by white people is the representative for a seat which traditionally was represented by a minority).
But instead of black folks just picking their own representative on City Council, the two leading vote-getters from District 7 have to run citywide. It’s as if the white founding fathers of St. Pete told the black residents, “We’ll pick the black person most acceptable to us.”
Changing this deplorable system would likely not have changed the outcome of today’s elections (Wheeler-Brown will win) but it may have given the voters entirely different candidates in the first place.
Much will be made, especially by the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board, of today’s results and how they are a call to action to break the stalemate between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays. But no poll I’ve read has ever indicated that St. Pete voters approve of letting the Rays look beyond St. Pete for a new stadium, so how can anyone assume Wheeler-Brown wins because of that issue?
No, Wheeler-Brown will win because Will Newton’s brother, Wengay Newton, is despised by too much of St. Petersburg’s white population. They’ve watched him for eight years lose 7-to-1 vote after 7-to-1 vote. That’s not to say Wengay has been wrong; he’s actually turned out to be one of my (and certain other former mayor’s) favorite members of Council.
But this is a Council which has taken a wrong turn over the last few years, before righting itself with the election of Darden Rice and Amy Foster. Newton and Bill Dudley’s presence on the Council has not been a particularly positive period for the Council even though the city has prospered. Both men are good people but the city has needed more than just a couple of everymen. The time for lawnmen turned Councilmembers (Jamie Bennett) has passed.
Dudley has been replaced with one of the city’s finest citizens, Ed Montanari. That’s a net gain.
As for who succeeds Newton, well, let’s just hope the zombies aren’t approaching.