Tuesday’s slate of elections in St. Petersburg certainly provided a list of winners and losers, and we’re not just talking about candidates.
Here’s a list of the real winners and losers emerging from the City Council elections. Please let us know if we missed anyone.
Diversity — Six of the eight members of the City Council will be women when new members are sworn in Jan. 2. Two will be African American, the first time ever two female African American council members will serve at the same time. Two existing members are part of the LGBTQ community. It all adds up to the ‘burg being a progressive’s dream.
Brett Doster — Wait, what’s he doing in here? No, the Republican consultant wasn’t working any St. Pete races, but he did help guide Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters to re-election, so he deserves a shout-out.
Bill Dudley — Dudley was once Ed Montanari’s foe, beating him 12 years ago for the District 3 seat Montanari now holds. Now Dudley supports him as a worthy successor. He didn’t have to weigh in on the race, but he endorsed him in the final week and that proved to be a good choice.
Barry Edwards — Edwards, a Democratic political consultant known for occasionally working across the aisle, took a chance on repping Robert Blackmon even before the presumptive frontrunner, Scott Orsini, dropped out of the race. Edwards’ work with the campaign paid off. The team managed to run a clean race, stuck to positive messaging and overcame a potential political backlash as Blackmon ran as a Republican in a heavily Democratic city.
Rene Flowers — Flowers served as a mostly behind-the-scenes consultant for Deborah Figgs-Sanders in the city’s only truly competitive race on the ballot. Flowers brought to the race her own political prowess as an elected Pinellas County School Board member and long-time community activist with strong roots. Figgs-Sanders faced a tough challenge in Trenia Cox, but pulled out a razor-thin win Tuesday night.
Nick Carper, Blue Shift Strategies — Harper managed Blackmon’s campaign and saw it through to a resounding victory. The campaign raised an impressive nearly $80,000, more than any other non-incumbent running. And Harper and team spent the money wisely, running a targeted mail campaign that sent appropriate messaging to both conservative and liberal voters and a final push television ad campaign that flooded airwaves in the days leading up to the election.
Zach Monahan, Jim Rimes — The Tallahassee political consultants at Enwright Rimes took nothing for granted with Montanari’s reelection campaign. And considering how much closer the race was than expected, it’s fortunate for Montanari they did not.
Pinellas GOP — Todd Jennings and Co. were all in for Blackmon and Montanari and despite Democrat turnout reaching record levels, the two center-right candidates won.
Election Day voting — As vote-by-mail becomes increasingly popular, elections have been trending with much higher absentee turnout than actual Election Day voting. Four years ago, in the most recent similar city election, election day voter turnout was just 3.5%. In this election, that number was more than 5%, according to preliminary turnout totals.
Jason Andrew Holloway — Fresh off completing perhaps the first in Florida Master’s Degree in Block Chain Technology, the former legislative aide deftly managed the digital and social media for Blackmon. This was a major contributor to Blackmon winning every precinct city wide, the first time a candidate has done that in 14 years.
St. Pete Polls — Went four-for-four in its forecast of the Council races, although its projected margins were off from the final numbers. The survey taken more than two weeks before the election showed a 37-point lead for Lisa Wheeler-Bowman. Her margin wound up being much higher — 64 points. Montanari showed a projected 17-point lead but finished just 6 points ahead of his challenger.
Team Montanari — Montanari’s team might have been unstoppable. He had Gretchen Picotte managing Montanari’s prodigious fundraising efforts, ending the campaign with more than $150,000 raised. There was also Clay Barker running the team’s robust direct mail campaign and, of course, Robbie Heere pulling it all together as Montanari’s campaign manager. Add in Brody Enwright on the ground and Montanari had his aces in places.
Affordable housing — This one is easy. All four winning candidates listed affordable housing as a top priority for the city.
Pro-growth — New development, particularly in and around downtown, has become contentious over the past several years as the city’s urban core continues to grow. But push back from some residents has questioned the wisdom of new large-scale development. Figgs-Sanders demonstrated a willingness to work on smart growth, protecting development while also working on preservation, and Blackmon comes from a real estate background.
Somewhere between winning and a mixed bag
Ed Montanari — A win is a win is a win. BUT, this win was a little closer than the incumbent would have liked (see above.) Of course, he should chalk it all up to St. Pete’s changing demographics more than anything else.
Rick Baker — The former Mayor and his allies, including County Commissioner Kathleen Peters, went all in for Cox and came up just short. He did mentor Blackmon along the way, but we can’t give Baker the credit for the win there since Blackmon’s opponent turned out to be a tomato can. Baker was also a big booster of Montanari.
Rick Kriseman — Him backing Figgs-Sanders versus Cox was another proxy war he won over his longtime nemesis, Baker. But it’s hard to overlook that odd non-endorsement endorsement of John Hornbeck.
Darden Rice — That she backed Blackmon but lost with Cox is not that big of a deal. But the 2021 race for St. Pete Mayor began Wednesday morning. That’s two years of having to be “on.” And she may now have to answer to her historic progressive base for what appeared to be an alignment with Baker.
Partisanship — Party politics came into play in three of the four non-partisan races on the ballot. It seemed to work with Figgs-Sanders, but it failed miserably for Orlando Acosta and John Hornbeck who both were overwhelmingly defeated Tuesday night.
Donald Trump — Trump loses here because Montanari’s race was another example of how Democrats are seeking to weaponize Trump in down-ballot contests. But in Montanari’s case, it didn’t work. And that’s good news for the President.
Voter turnout — At 20% it was higher than in 2015, which was just 17%. It was also high for a single municipal election. But let’s face it, 20% still sucks.
The Tampa Bay Rays — With Figgs-Sanders’ victory, Kriseman has another ally on the Council to potentially aid him in Rays-related decisions. That’s a loss for the Rays if they’re only looking for support to explore a split season with St. Pete and Montreal. But it’s a potential win if they eventually decide to re-up negotiations with Hillsborough County for a Tampa stadium. Kriseman got an MOU done once to let that happen. So far there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t do it again if it means keeping the team in the region full time.
Blue Ticket Consulting — Tom Alte and Meaghan Salisbury ran up the score in Lisa Wheeler-Bowman’s win, but they were also the brains behind Orlando Acosta‘s over-the-top attacks on Montanari. They also had been consulting for Orsini, and we all know how that ended.
Charlie Gerdes — First Gerdes endorsed Orsini, whose campaign crashed and burned amid a Twitter scandal. Gerdes stuck by him even as other endorsees dropped. Then he backed Hornbeck with a glowing recommendation. Hornbeck suffered a whopping 28-point defeat.
Florida Democratic Party — The party willfully chose to endorse two candidates, Acosta and Hornbeck, based solely on the ‘D’ behind their names. Acosta ran a campaign based only on tying his opponent to Trump while Hornbeck didn’t run much of a campaign at all and showed little readiness for political office. For local Dems, it showed the lengths to which they will go to “vote blue no matter who.”
John Hornbeck — He could have been a contender. With Orsini’s drop out it paved the way to establish a race for an open seat between a Democrat and a Republican in a seat that has been historically held by Democrats. With that in mind, he could have won, had he waged an actual campaign. Instead, Hornbeck failed to hire reputable campaign staff, refused to raise funds and ran embarrassingly long and unnecessary Facebook video ads in which in one of them he actually called attention to how little effort he put into the race by highlighting his “one and only” campaign mailer.
Chris Latvala — His consulting for Cox was another losing effort by the Latvala clan to re-inject itself into local politics. The state Rep. should stick to the good work he’s doing in the Legislature.
Susan McGrath — She supported Acosta, Cox and Hornbeck. That’s 0 for 3.
Reparations — In the night’s most crushing defeat, Uhuru candidate Eritha “Akile” Cainion lost by an abysmal 64 points. Cainion was a single-issue candidate running only on providing reparations to the African American community.
Vote Blue No Matter Who — Like the Florida Democratic Party’s L this election, the “vote blue no matter who” push for 2020 might be in peril if the St. Pete election is any indicator. Hornbeck and Acosta’s losses showed that an uninspiring candidate cannot necessarily be hoisted to victory solely because they are a Democrat running against a Republican. Even in a liberal town.