Most of St. Pete City Council back ‘only qualified candidate’ Charlie Justice for re-election to Pinellas Commission
Image via Charlie Justice

Charlie Justice 2023
'Charlie Justice is the epitome of people over politics.'

Five members of St. Petersburg City Council are backing Charlie Justice for re-election to the Pinellas County Commission.

Justice, a Democrat, is facing a credible challenge from Republican Vince Nowicki for his District 3 seat. All five of the endorsements come from registered Democrats.

Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Council members Brandi Gabbard, Gina Driscoll, Copely Gerdes and Lisset Hanewicz are all offering their support.

Gabbard called Justice a “fantastic public servant and the only qualified candidate in this race.”

“Charlie works hard, is accessible and is always quick to partner on behalf of the residents we both serve,” she said.

Hanewicz agreed, saying Justice is “a great partner for the city of St. Pete and a great friend to our residents.”

Only three members of St. Pete City Council have not yet backed Justice — progressives John Muhammad and Richie Floyd, and Republican Ed Montanari.

It’s not surprising that most of the board is backing Justice. Not only do they all share the same party affiliation, they also have reason to oppose Nowicki.

Nowicki is a government watchdog who has made a name for himself in St. Petersburg where he worked to uncover a residency issue with a City Council member, Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, who, as a result, resigned from her position.

The City Council chose Muhammad to replace her, but he is not seeking election to the seat when his term expires. He also filed an unsuccessful ethics complaint against Mayor Ken Welch over his appointment of James Corbett as City Development Administrator.

“I am proud to have these hard-working Councilmembers’ support. The City and County have a lot going on right now, it’s only possible to have success by having leaders who put politics aside do the work to move our community forward,” Justice said of the endorsements.

And Gerdes, in his endorsement, pointed at exactly that sentiment. “Charlie Justice is the epitome of people over politics,” he said.

“Being a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg, I am so happy that Charlie Justice represents us so well on the County Commission. I’ve always known Charlie’s dedication to our county but now, as a City Councilman for the city of St. Petersburg, working side-by-side with him on numerous issues, it has only strengthened what I already thought, that Charlie Justice is exactly the kind of person we need representing this county.”

Justice is facing a tough re-election. Nowicki has strong backing from the local GOP establishment, and he’s so far outraising the incumbent, with nearly $55,000 raised to Justice’s nearly $33,000. While it’s worth noting that Justice entered the race later than Nowicki, Nowicki outraised him in the first quarter of 2023 while both were actively running for the entire period, which spans January through March.

Republicans also now hold a nearly 20,000 voter registration advantage in Pinellas County, with 245,003 voters to just 226,063 Democrats. That’s a sizable lead, especially considering that Republicans historically turn out in greater numbers than Democrats. While Justice’s seat includes parts of west St. Pete and Lealman, it is elected countywide.

The GOP voter registration advantage also means no-party or third-party voters will play a big role in election outcomes next year. There are nearly 193,000 voters not affiliated with a major party.

That makes the endorsers reference to Justice’s “people over politics” approach all the more important in the race, particularly as Republican candidates now face a potential backlash at the ballot box over recent abortion rulings that could drive Democratic turnout, and the inclusion of two amendments — one enshrining abortion protections into the state constitution and the other legalizing recreational marijuana — on the ballot.

While this latest batch of nods for Justice include all Democrats, he previously rolled out a bipartisan list of endorsements that included former colleagues on the County Commission Susan Latvala and Karen Seel, both Republicans.

Democrats lost ground on the County Commission in the 2022 cycle, with Gerard losing her seat and Republicans claiming a 4-3 advantage. They are now looking to expand that advantage, with Republicans running against Justice and in the open race for countywide District 1, which Democrat Janet Long is vacating.

It’s widely believed that if the GOP picks up either seat, it will be next to impossible for Democrats to win back their advantage in less than 10 years. If they manage to keep both seats blue, party operatives are hopeful the pendulum will swing back in Democrats’ favor within the next two or three election cycles.

Justice narrowly held onto his seat the last time he was up for re-election, with barely more than 50% of the vote against GOP challenger Tammy Sue Vasquez.

Justice’s campaign touts his work protecting beaches and local estuaries, as well as preserving green space, investing in infrastructure, and making public safety a priority. He said there has been a 59% decline in serious crime countywide.

Justice has also secured an endorsement earlier this month from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. He also has support from St. Pete Mayor Welch, a former colleague on the Commission and a close friend, and former St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman.

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].


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