Darden Rice remains top fundraiser in St. Pete mayoral race

Robert Blackmon and Ken Welch both have more cash on hand.

St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice was the top fundraiser in July in the highly competitive race for Mayor.

Despite that, she burned through a huge chunk of her cash, leaving her trailing in available money.

Rice raised just over $61,000 throughout July between her affiliated political committee, Friends of Darden Rice, and the final week of July for her official campaign.

That haul includes more than $58,000 raised in July to her committee and $3,200 to her campaign account.

Throughout July, Rice spent more than $340,000 from her committee, leaving her with just $38,000 left on hand in that account. During the final week of July, she spent $53,000 from her campaign, leaving just $32,000 on hand there, for a total of $70,000 left between the two accounts.

Rice’s spending spree is significant. Much of the expenditures from her committee went toward advertising that may have actually caused some damage. She dropped about $169,000 with Deliver Strategies in Arlington, Virginia, $69,000 with SP Digital LLC in Chicago, and $37,000 with Snyder Pickerell Media Group in Chicago on advertising. Much of that spending likely paid for a series of campaign mailers portraying one of Rice’s opponents, former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, as a former President Donald Trump acolyte. Welch was a 2020 delegate for now-President Joe Biden.

The mailers all carried required disclaimers, noting they were paid for by Rice’s committee.

After the mailers went out last month, Rice dropped in the polls to No. 3, behind fellow City Council member Robert Blackmon. Welch remained untouched in the No. 1 spot.

The first of the batch dropped in mid-July. By late in the month, Rice walked the content back, apologizing for using stock images of African Americans and saying she “missed the mark,” but standing by their overall content. By early August, the latest poll in the race, commissioned by Florida Politics with St. Pete Polls, showed Rice at just 16% support, down one point from July, trailing Welch (23%) and Blackmon (22%).

While $70,000 is a decent amount to work with in the final three weeks of campaigning before the Aug. 24 Primary Election, Rice will likely have to spend aggressively to get herself into the top two or risk elimination at the ballot box in what is a top-two Primary.

If she manages a spot in the Nov. 2 General Election, future finance reports could show her launching that leg of the race at a deficit when the August poll showed her trailing either Welch or Blackmon in a hypothetical matchup.

Meanwhile, Blackmon entered August on the strongest financial footing, despite entering the race later and raising less overall. He ended July with about $61,000 on hand in his affiliated political committee, Prosperous St. Petersburg, and $62,000 in his official campaign account, for a total of about $123,000 left to spend.

Welch has about $80,000 on hand, including nearly $59,000 in his committee, Pelican PAC, and $21,000 in his campaign account.

But Rice continues to show fundraising prowess, with big buy-ins from donors with deep pockets. In July, donors to her political committee included Coral Springs developer Daniel Kodsi, who cut a check to Friends of Darden Rice for $25,000.

She also landed $10,000 each from Realtor Robert Glaser and Nexteck Systems founder Kamal Majeed. She brought in $5,000 from Feldman Equities, $2,500 from the Equality Florida Action PAC, one of her endorsers, and $1,000 from developer Blue Sky Communities.

Blackmon, however, is matching Rice’s fundraising so far, bringing in $51,000 for his committee in July and $7,715 to his campaign in the last week of the month.

Donations to his committee included $10,000 each from prominent GOP donor Joseph White of the Hydraulic Manufacturing Company and Deveron Gibbons, an executive with Amscot Financial; $8,000 from developer TLM Investment Group; $5,000 each from Knight Global Entertainment, St. Pete lawyer Matt Towery, who also donated to Welch, the Florida Conservatives United PAC and St. Pete lawyer James Holton. He also brought in a $2,500 contribution from Green Savoree Racing Promotion, which runs the St. Petersburg Grand Prix.

Welch’s fundraising efforts weren’t as robust, but he’s not terribly far behind. He brought in more than $24,000 for his committee in July and more than $12,000 for his official campaign in just the final week of the month.

Donations to Welch’s PAC included $5,000 each from Royal Palm Companies, Towery and Innovations Capital Group. He brought in maxed-out $1,000 contributions for his campaign from Florida Sports Consultants, St. Pete retiree Karen Nobles, St. Pete business owner Shane Socash and banker Kenneth Laroe.

While Rice has been hitting Welch in campaign materials tying him to Trump — based on contributions and endorsements from local Republicans — it’s actually Blackmon who’s showing the most ties to the GOP.

Blackmon, a registered Republican, paid $500 to Robinson Gruters & Roberts for accounting services, where Sen. Joe Gruters, who also chairs the Republican Party of Florida, is a partner. And Blackmon’s biggest spend in July, $59,000 from his committee, went to DLT Consulting, a firm run by Jason Holloway, a Republican candidate for House District 67 and former legislative aide to Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Former City Council member Wengay Newton, who also served a single term as a Democrat in the Florida House, continues to post lackluster fundraising, with just $2,000 raised in the final week of July and less than $37,000 overall.

Several other candidates, including restaurateur Pete Boland, business owner Marcile Powers, University of South Florida St. Petersburg student Michael Ingram and community activist Torry Nelson, haven’t shown significant traction among voters in polls.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]


  • Peterh

    August 12, 2021 at 3:04 pm

    We need MORE qualified and competent women like Darden Rice running for office. So far the ‘Florida men’s club’ has been a huge disappointment. Common sense over Party politics is a good start.

    • PinResident4life

      August 12, 2021 at 5:58 pm

      You can’t generalize like that to include all men in the “Florida men’s club”. I have dealt with Darden rice on a couple occasion’s while advocating to do business with the City. She seemed disingenuous and she didn’t seem to have the greatest of demeanor. In my opinion she wouldn’t be good for St. Pete and local vision. She has almost no connection to the residents of the southside and would err on the side of developers when it came to growing the city. I know Ken Welch’s heart is in the right place and he recognizes that no one is perfect.

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