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Three City Council races with nine candidates to go before St. Pete voters

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Qualifying officially ended for St. Pete city offices up for election this year at 5 p.m. Monday. The deadline ushered in one unopposed win and another 11th-hour candidate.

Ed Montanari will replace outgoing council member Bill Dudley in January after no other candidate surfaced to challenge him in his District 3 bid to represent residents in parts of Northeast St. Pete.

The news of Montanari’s easy win doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to those following the race. Montanari raised a record $45,000 before qualifying for the race even began. He also drew support from well over 100 community leaders and residents, including former Mayors Bill Foster and Rick Baker and incumbent City Council members Amy Foster and Dudley.

Steve Kornell nearly made it to an unopposed re-election, but former state House candidate Phillip Garrett completed qualifying documents early Monday morning to challenge Kornell for his District 7 seat representing parts of South St. Pete, including the Skyway Marina District and Greater Pinellas Point.

Garrett is off to a handicapped start. Kornell has already socked away more than $25,000 in campaign cash and has a key endorsement from former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

Kornell’s only weakness in the race is likely to be opposition from the Tampa Bay Times, which wants to see him unseated based on Kornell’s continued rejection of a proposed deal between the city and the Tampa Bay Rays to allow the Major League Baseball team to search for possible new stadium sites outside of St. Petersburg in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes came even closer to unopposed re-election. During the last hour of qualifying neighborhood activist Monica Abbott filed to run against him.

“I’m not mad,” Gerdes said. “I’m fired up.”

Abbott has been a fairly engaged citizen. Her most prevalent project is lobbying council to tear down the Crystal Bay Hotel on Park Street and Central Avenue. Abbott lives behind that property.

Abbott is also suing the city. She argues in that lawsuit the City Council cut her off when her three minutes were up, but did not do so to another speaker, Momma Tee Lassiter.

The most competitive race on this year’s ballot is likely to be the battle for Wengay Newton’s District 7 seat representing some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods in Midtown and Child’s Park.

Newton is term-limited out of office and is instead seeking the House District 70 seat currently held by Darryl Rouson, who is also leaving office due to term limits. The race to replace him is crowded with five candidates.

Newton’s brother, Will, is seeking his brother’s seat. Will Newton is a prominent, award-winning retired fire fighter who will likely benefit from his brother’s name recognition within the community he represents.

The brother Newton will face prominent community activist Lisa-Wheeler Brown, code enforcement board chair Aaron Sharpe, Elvert Lewis Stephens and Sheila Scott Griffin.

Wheeler-Brown was the first candidate to enter the race and has strong community backing. She’s the only one to have posted fundraising numbers so far and has at least $14,000 raised so far.

Griffin is reportedly a transportation manager and consultant, but also formerly worked as an attorney. The Tampa Bay Times reported her law license was suspended twice in 2007 and 2011.

Stephens filed last week.

Sharpe is the only white candidate for the predominantly black district and could face an uphill battle because of it. However, that hurdle could be mitigated by the fact that voters citywide will cast a ballot in that race.

A primary eledction will be held August 25, with a runoff election, if necessary, November 3.

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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