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Toast to the Bay/Dump into the Bay: Gulfport incumbents and Uhuru

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Toast to the Bay: Gulfport incumbents 

Candidates for the Gulfport municipal election March 15 got one chance to debate in front of voters ahead of the election next month. As such, performance was key.

Two incumbents are facing challengers, Mayor Sam Henderson and Council member Dan Liedtke. Barbara Banno and April Thanos are running to unseat them. As challengers, the two have a heavier burden in wooing voters. Both failed to do that last night.

As we wrote following the debate, neither Thanos nor Banno seized an opportunity to overshadow their opponents. Thanos said things like “I don’t know enough about that” and made references to not having been in office – all things challenging candidates should avoid. Statements like those give voters the perception that a candidate lacks confidence and ability to get the job done.

And Thanos should have had an easy time stomping on Liedtke. She failed to seize an opportunity to bring up his opposition to the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas campaign that would have substantially increased public transit in the county. Liedtke made an early remark about PSTA, the transit agency, and the topic would have been relevant during a discussion about bike paths.

Even though Gulfport races are nonpartisan, Liedtke is a conservative in a liberal town. His rejection of PSTA could have cast him as an outlier.

As for Banno, she performed well, but not good enough. Banno is a strong candidate with good business sense and a strong presence in the community as the owner of a popular downtown Gulfport restaurant, Stella’s.

But while Banno didn’t lose her debate in the conventional sense, she lost it as a challenger by failing to outperform. Banno found herself on the receiving end of accusatory statements by Henderson.

Perhaps her biggest stumbles were the statements she made in which Henderson was able to contradict her. Banno called for city town hall meetings and implementing workshops. Both, Henderson countered, are already being done. When asked about fixing up dilapidated alleyways, Banno called for an annual maintenance schedule. Again, Henderson countered that arguing the city already had one.

Both instances served as a reminder to voters that one candidate has four years experience as mayor while the other doesn’t.

Dump into the Bay: Uhuru

Activists from the Uhuru group based in South St. Pete’s Midtown neighborhood stormed a city council meeting Thursday in protest of the city’s handling of a mural that was torn down at City Hall 50 years ago this year.

The group is led by Omali Yeshitela, the man who, on Dec. 29, 1966, tore down a racist mural hanging on the walls of City Hall. Yeshitela went by the name Joe Waller at the time. The painting depicted black performers entertaining white onlookers on Pass-a-grille beach. They were painted in black face, a form of depiction that showed African-Americans with darkened skin with lighter mouths and eyes.

The group accomplished absolutely nothing by interrupting the council meetings. Their chants were hard to understand and what they were asking for was entirely unclear.

To make matters worse, someone in the group left a bag in City Hall Chambers during the two to three minutes they interrupted council. It was dubbed “suspicious” and City Hall was evacuated.

So, instead of sending a message about some issue and drawing attention to it, the group wound up looking like troublemakers. And what’s particularly silly — the city recently sent out a call to local artists to replace the long-gone mural with something culturally significant to the history of the space.

It was, by any stretch of the definition, the worst example of civil disobedience. Not because of what they did, but because it seemed random, without cause and void of any particular goal.

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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