The Reverend Manuel Sykes, who had intended to be a candidate in the House District 70 race this year but was disqualified when he failed to sign his disclosure form, said Sunday he’s backing Palmetto personal injury attorney C.J. Czaia in the race.
“I want to work with him,” Sykes said shortly after finishing his Sunday service at Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. “I believe that in my dialogue with him that he’s a good candidate who’s going to make things happen.”
“It’s huge,” Czaia said after attending the service with Sykes. “He’s iconic here in St. Petersburg,” he said of Sykes. “He’s a real leader. He’s an inspiration.”
Czaia is of Latino descent, and said his candidacy is all about about bringing “brown and black together.”
“That’s a big deal,” he said. “We have real concerns in St. Petersburg, particularly in the South side, and nothing has changed. The only way things will change is with new leadership. We need to empower people to stand up for themselves, and we need to bring money for minorities to come forward.”
Sykes acknowledged the seat has historically been held by an African-American, but said he’s “fearful” that former St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton, the only black candidate in the race, won’t be able to win.
“I always wanted it to remain that way in order for us to be able to have representation,” Sykes said. “Right now, I’m fearful that Wengay is not going to get enough support to keep the seat, and so what I’m hoping to do is have somebody who is a minority that’s willing to keep black and brown together to preserve our seat at the table. Otherwise, I think it will be a total loss.”
Newton, the twice-elected councilman in the St. Pete City’s Council District 7 seat, said he didn’t have a clue as to why Sykes didn’t think he was viable.
“The voters are going to decide that,” he said when contacted Sunday afternoon. “He might not vote for me, but I think a lot of other people will.”
And Newton decided to throw in a jab at Sykes while he was at it:
“Wasn’t he the guy trying to get in the race and didn’t fill out the forms correctly? Oh, that’s right.”
Newton, Czaia and Dan Fiorini are battling it out in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary election, with the winner expected to take the seat against Republican Cori Fournier in the fall. Fiorini, who is white, leads all the candidates in fundraising numbers.
“Obviously a minority will best serve a minority’s interest, “ Sykes said. “Historically that’s been the case, and at this point, that’s what I want to preserve. I want to make sure that our needs and our agenda is represented in Tallahassee. The demographics have changed. It’s a lot closer race now, and I’m hoping that the person that will take that seat will continue to build on what we’ve tried to do, which is to have our voices heard in Tallahassee.”