With St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari, the only Republican member of the technically nonpartisan board, departing when his term ends after this year, conservative voters in the district will be looking for an alternative to represent them for the next four or eight years.
Now voters have two choices — restaurateur Pete Boland, who filed for the race Tuesday, and Treasure Island and Madeira Beach (TIMB) Chamber of Commerce CEO Barry Rubin, who filed for the race Saturday.
While Boland’s entrance into the race has long been anticipated, Rubin’s may be a bit more of a surprise to voters.
Like Boland, Rubin is running in the conservative lane, though party affiliations won’t appear on ballots and candidates can’t campaign on political affiliation. And, Rubin is actually registered as a Democrat, despite running on a conservative platform. Still, the nonpartisan nature of municipal elections has become an in-name-only sort of affair, with candidates often breaking into political silos.
The left is filled out, with two choices — progressive housing and economic equality activist Nicholas Carey and more mainstream Democrat, Juan Lopez Estevez, who has nods from former St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Now conservative-minded voters also have a choice, though both offer similar campaign platforms.
Boland is running on a platform of improving access to affordable housing, protect Albert Whitted Airport, “trimming the fat,” and investing and improving infrastructure. Rubin similarly is running to combat “out-of-control insurance rates,” increase access to affordable housing, and improve infrastructure, particularly in flood-prone neighborhoods.
Both men also offer a small business background. In addition to serving as TIMB Chamber CEO, Rubin is also the CEO of St. Pete-based HR services firm, HR Inc. Boland owns and operates The Galley and Mary Margaret’s Old Irish Tavern.
Boland may have an edge in name recognition, having run unsuccessfully in 2021 for Mayor. While he failed to make the runoff, finishing behind now-Mayor Ken Welch and then-City Council member Robert Blackmon, Boland ran a solid campaign with more than $50,000 brought in during just his first few weeks on the trail.
But Rubin is already touting support, and it spans both sides of the political aisle. For example, he has support from Pinellas County Commissioner and former state Rep. Chris Latvala, a power broker in Pinellas GOP politics, but also from Pinellas County School Board member Dawn Peters, a Moms for Liberty-backed education official who faced criticism during her initial campaign over perceived allegiances to the controversial Q-Anon, an affiliation Peters later denied.
But he also has support from former state Reps. Jennifer Webb and Wengay Newton, both Democrats. Newton also previously served on City Council and is running again in District 7.
Boland is running under the slogan “St. Pete First,” which to many voters may evoke memories of former President and now GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s America First platform.
While being a conservative in St. Pete in recent history hasn’t proven advantageous — the City has had a Democratic Mayor since 2014 when former Mayor Kriseman took office after defeating Republican incumbent Bill Foster — it’s likely an advantage in this district.
It’s one of only two districts — District 1 is the other — that has a slight voter registration advantage for the GOP, with 8,850 Republican voters to 7,239 Democrats. Only voters in the district may cast a vote in the Primary Election, but the race opens citywide in the General Election.
Both Boland and Rubin will likely be helped also by Montanari’s track record. While it’s no secret he’s a registered Republican — especially now that he’s running for state House in a partisan race — Montanari has governed from the middle, often receiving praise from colleagues and constituents for his collegial demeanor. That means voters who disagree with conservative ideologies may not be particularly motivated now to flip the script.
In any case, the District 3 race — which covers parts of northeast St. Pete including Shore Acres, Old Northeast and Meadowlawn — will likely be one of the most competitive municipal races this cycle.