The political shuffle in St. Pete looks likely to continue after City Council member Robert Blackmon filed last week to run for Mayor, leaving his District 1 seat open.
Copley Gerdes, son of former City Council member Charlie Gerdes, is expected to announce a bid as early as Monday, according to sources familiar with conversations.
Charlie Gerdes held the seat for two full terms from 2012 to 2020. Copley Gerdes, like his dad, is a Democrat, but he is reportedly eyeing a campaign that would attract voters on both sides of the aisle.
Sources say he has already had conversations with Pinellas County Commissioners, current members of City Council, donors and organizations, all of whom have encouraged him to run to offer an alternative in the race.
Support for a bid also reportedly comes from Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Currently, two candidates have filed for the race, a Special Election to be held alongside the city’s regular elections for Mayor and even-numbered council districts.
Though the race is technically nonpartisan, City Council contests often turn into partisan matchups. Filed candidates so far include John Hornbeck, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the seat against Blackmon two years ago, and Ed Carlson, a Republican who founded the anti-complete streets group Citizens Against Lane Loss.
Sources familiar with Copley Gerdes’ potential run say Democrats they have spoken with aren’t thrilled with Hornbeck and Republicans are looking for an option other than Carlson. Both groups expressed interest in Gerdes’ bid.
Copley Gerdes is a financial planner who works on the foundation of a love of “family,” a word that, to him, encapsulates more than just biological kin, including friends and clients. Anyone who knows the Gerdes family, either through personal relationships or just by proxy on Facebook, knows the family is as close as it gets, and they take pride in lifting others whenever possible.
The younger Gerdes hopes to bring that spirit to elected office, sources say.
Copley Gerdes currently serves on the board for the Police Athletic League, where he frequently works with individuals on both sides of the aisle.
If he enters the race, there could be a clear path to victory. Hornbeck’s 2019 campaign was, by and large, a failure. After running a campaign that failed to get organized, he lost by a wide margin, had financial reporting problems, and saw a previous consultant accuse the candidate of being a “petulant child.”
Carson, meanwhile, is likely to face criticism for his involvement with the Citizens Against Lane Loss group. While it gained some traction during debates about projects along the M.L. King Jr. Street corridor and a bus rapid transit line connecting downtown St. Pete to the beaches, many saw it as a fringe group created with a likeness to No Tax for Tracks, a mostly Tea Party group that organizes to oppose transit tax proposals.
District 1 is one of just two City Council seats with a Republican voter registration advantage. But unlike District 3, which has a more than a 1,000-voter advantage for the GOP, Republicans in District 1 outnumber Democrats by just 300 voters, with 8,498 Republicans to 8,198 Democrats. With another 6,168 no-party-affiliated voters, the district is a true purple.
If Gerdes, who will enjoy high name recognition thanks to his dad’s service, can peel off Republican voters from Carson, and Democrats from Hornbeck, he stands a decent chance at collecting more than half the votes in the Aug. 24 Primary, and if not, a better than good chance of making the top-two and heading to the General Election runoff Nov. 2.