Tuesday night’s election finale between Jackie Toledo and Guido Maniscalco took a stunning turn at about 7:20 p.m.
After the first results from early and absentee balloting showed Toledo holding on to an 8 percentage point lead over Maniscalco, the ballots cast on Election Day itself showed Maniscalco making a major turnaround. By 8 p.m. it was all over, and the 30-year-old small businessman from West Tampa had taken in 151 more votes than Toledo, winning by a 51-49 percent margin.
After she graciously made the rounds thanking each supporter individually at the Fodder & Shine restaurant in Seminole Heights, Toledo considered what happened. She acknowledged that the three weeks from the primary election — where she took 46 percent of the vote to Maniscalco’s 29 percent — to the runoff didn’t go well for her, and undoubtedly changed the trajectory of the race.
Asked whether the treatment she received in the media played a part in her loss, Toledo immediately responded, “It made a big difference.”
“The newspapers were constantly attacking me,” she said. When asked later if the press was unfair to her, she responded, “Yes, absolutely. You blame me for everything. But you know what? That’s what your job is.”
She said, though, that the Democratic Party’s attacks on her hurt more.
“I think that made the biggest difference, when it became a partisan thing. It’s unfortunate because I had a lot to offer this city. … I really had a lot to offer this city.”
The most media coverage in the District 6 race skipped issues to focus on those mysterious third-party mailers from a group called Moving Tampa Forward. Reporting by the major dailies indicated a possible connection between Toledo campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini and Moving Tampa Forward, though both he and Toledo denied any association with it.
Tuesday night, Toledo said she still didn’t know who was behind Moving Tampa Forward, and said she looked forward as much as anybody in learning more about the group. “It certainly didn’t help me,” she said. “It hurt me, so whoever it behind it …,” her voice trailed off. “We’ll find out.”
At that point in the conversation, Toledo’s husband Jose, said with disgust, “What does that have to do with the other opponent’s accomplishments? So what? You lost a traffic engineer on city council.”
Toledo then said, “That’s the truth of the matter. It’s an unfortunate thing for the city to have lost such a great candidate. Such a qualified person. To a person who, you know, hasn’t experienced as much as I have.”
Maniscalco agreed that the negative mailers made the difference in his narrow victory. He also credited the endorsement of third-place finisher in the primary, air-conditioning contractor Tommy Castellano.
“I think the negativity backfired,” Maniscalco said at an exuberant victory party at Garcia Y Vega Cigar Factory on Armenia Avenue in West Tampa. “And that’s what we were looking at. If we win this race it’s because of the mailers. People got turned off.”
The mailers were the difference. They became a factor in the final few weeks leading up to the primary, but became the only story of the race during the 21 days between the primary and runoff election. Many voters told both candidates when they would knock on doors that they had no idea there was another election, though 14 percent did turn out overall for the runoff, a slightly higher margin than the 12.7 percent who came out on March 3.
Toledo said it’s possible she’ll run again. In the meantime, the crowd at the Garcia Y Vega Cigar Factory was loaded with Tampa Democrats, thrilled to maintain an all Democratic Party City Council. Current Council members Yolie Capin, Mike Suarez and the soon to be departing Mary Mulhern were on hand. As were Dick Greco, Ed Turanchik, David Straz and many other party activists.
It’s only a city council seat to be sure, but Democrats in Florida don’t have many victories to celebrate. Not in November, when Charlie Crist narrowly lost to Rick Scott. Not March 2014 when Alex Sink lost to David Jolly. You’d have to go back to Barack Obama‘s re-election in November 2012 for the last victory state Democrats had to celebrate. And they did.