St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice became the first top-tier candidate to qualify for the city’s mayoral race Monday.
Qualifying for the Mayor’s race and City Council contests began Thursday and runs through June 18 at 5 p.m.
Only two other candidates have qualified so far — former City Council member Wengay Newton, who filed qualifying documents on Friday, and business owner Pete Boland who filed for the race on Wednesday and qualified the same day as Rice.
Boland is a moderate Republican running in the blue city and will likely face tough competition in the Primary, though the election is not partisan, against fellow moderate Republican Robert Blackmon.
Newton comes to the race with strong name recognition as a past City Council member and former Florida Representative but has struggled to be competitive with his campaign funding.
Political watchers in the city expect the race to be a tight matchup between Rice and former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, with Blackmon possibly capturing a large share of the city’s GOP vote.
If elected, Rice would be the city’s first female Mayor to serve under its strong Mayor form of government. She’s the first openly LGBTQ candidate to qualify for a mayoral race in the city’s history.
“It’s truly an honor to be running for Mayor of St. Petersburg, and I’m thrilled that we’re officially on the ballot as of today,” Rice said. “I’m running for Mayor because we need bold, new ideas and strong leadership to ensure that St. Petersburg is a city that works for everyone. I’m proud of the work that our campaign has done so far, and excited to ramp up our voter contact program as we enter the summer.”
But Rice began her voter contact program earlier than any other candidate in the race, which has burned through some of her cash. As of the most recent reports, Rice has about $374,000 of her funds remaining.
Welch has not yet filed his qualifying documents in the race but is expected to do so.
Rice has so far trailed Welch in local endorsements — none of her colleagues on City Council have yet offered support — but has scooped up other high-profile nods. That includes Equality Florida Action PAC, Ruth’s List Florida, LGBTQ Victory Fund, Roadmap for Progress, LPAC, Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando, and South Florida Sen. Annette Taddeo.