No. 16 on the list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians: Ed Montanari

Montanari is running for a new job. And if he gets it, he'll likely be on the way up this list.

From pilot to City Council member, Ed Montanari has acted with a calm purpose, looking to fortify and beautify.

A native of Falls Church, Virginia, he assembled model planes as a child. By his early teens, he had his sights set on flying. “I went to my dad and said I wanted flying lessons, and he said, ‘How are you going to pay for it?’” Montanari said.

He bussed tables at a pancake house and had his pilot’s license by age 16. The family moved to St. Petersburg, and Montanari graduated from Northeast High and then Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Along the way, he joined the Air Force and soon learned to fly F-16s, logging more than 1,000 hours in seven years.

He spent the next 32 years as an American Airlines pilot, the last five while also serving on the St. Petersburg City Council. He was elected in 2015, representing District 3, re-elected in 2019 and served as Chair in 2020 and 2021. While his civic interests range far and wide — he serves on nearly two dozen boards and committees — those closest to his heart are the Albert Whitted Airport and the St. Pete Pier.

As Chair of a city board to determine the fate of the rundown airport, he led negotiations between two fractious sides on the City Council. Some, like Montanari himself, favored a new control tower and a new terminal. Others wanted to tear down the airport altogether and replace it with a park and retail. The referendum before the city resulted in more than 70% of voters wanting to preserve Albert Whitted.

Montanari spent years doing similar work on the pier, a collective effort that juggled input on the redesign from the current and former Mayors, artists and architects. As Vice Chair of the pier advisory task force in 2010, he played a leading role in weighing bids from seven design groups for the $46 million project.

Clearly a man with a packed schedule, he does not seem to sweat the workload. “I’ve always been able to organize things,” he said, “to figure things out with the right priorities.”

“In St. Petersburg, you don’t have to look far to take note of Ed Montanari’s excellent record of local leadership on the City Council. He is a coalition builder and problem solver whose diligent work helped to accomplish critical projects, from building the new pier to rescuing Albert Whitted Airport,” said GOP strategist Nick Hansen.

“Ed’s vision for our city never strays from focusing on positive impacts for our local families and businesses, and future generations will benefit from his singular passion for our city.”

His term with the City Council expires in January. Now, Montanari is running as a Republican for House District 60 against incumbent Democrat Lindsay Cross. A victory would likely bump Montanari up a few spots, as the district leans slightly left.

Montanari is likely an ideal candidate in the battleground district where Democrats carry a slight voter registration advantage with just under 41,000 voters compared to just over 36,000 Republican voters, according to voter registration data from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.

Montanari is known for his calm demeanor, quiet disposition, thoughtful consideration of policy and moderate approach to governance. His campaign rollout included a statement pointing to things that are hurting Floridians — “housing, crime, inflation and out-of-control insurance rates.”

His message to voters was clear: He would “fight to make our homes and apartments more affordable” and “for our first responders who are on the front lines to protect and serve our families,” a statement that will certainly resonate with GOP voters but is not controversial.

Cross will be a tough incumbent to topple, making a hypothetical victory even more of a possible boon for the local leaders. Cross won her seat in the House by 8 percentage points over GOP candidate Audrey Henson in a year when Republicans were overwhelmingly successful in Florida, leading to supermajorities in both legislative chambers. Like Montanari, Henson was a moderate Republican.

Regardless of the outcome of that race though, Montanari will be remembered for his collegial approach as a City Council member.

“Councilman Ed Montanari’s leadership and dedication to the city of St. Petersburg are truly exemplary,” communications strategist Preston Rudie said.

“A true consensus builder, his proactive and inclusive approach to governance embodies the spirit of public service. Councilman Montanari’s leadership has been on display during such difficult issues as the Pier, improving Albert Whitted Airport, the newest waterfront park, Albert Whitted Park, and property line issues for the Dali Museum, just to name a few. He is truly one of the good guys in Florida politics.”

Helen Levine, a partner with Corcoran Partners who previously worked for the University of South Florida, also praised the Councilman.

“Ed Montanari ends his career as a City Council member with a well-earned reputation for his work ethic and problem-solving skills,” Levine said. “He leaves Council with a bushel of projects that have benefited all the residents of St Petersburg.”



We define the Tampa Bay region as Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco, but can also include Hernando, Polk or Sarasota — if the politicians from those counties impact either Pinellas or Hillsborough.

We define a politician as being in office or running for office.

Being first on a panelist’s list earns the politician 25 points, second earns them 24 points and so on, to where being listed 25th earns a politician 1 point. Points are added and, voilà, we have a list.

Special thanks go to our experienced and knowledgeable panelists, who were essential to developing the 2024 list: Christina Barker of the Vinik Family Office, Ashley Bauman of Mercury, Matthew Blair of Corcoran Partners, Ed Briggs of RSA Consulting, political consultant Maya BrownRicky Butler of the Pinellas Co. Sheriff’s Office, Reggie Cardozo of The Public Square, Ronald Christaldi of Schumaker, Ana Cruz of Ballard Partners, Justin Day of Capital City Consulting, Barry EdwardsJoe Farrell of Pinellas Realtors, pollster Matt Florell of Vicidial Group, Shawn Foster of Sunrise Consulting Group, Adam Giery of Strategos Group, political consultant Max GoodmanMike Griffin of Savills, Natalie King of RSA Consulting, political consultant Benjamin Kirby, TECO Energy Regional Affairs Coordinator Shannon Love, Merritt Martin of Moffitt Cancer Center, Mike Moore of The Southern Group, political consultant Anthony PediciniRon Pierce of RSA Consulting, J.C. Pritchett, pastor of St. Pete’s Faith Church, Darren Richards of Tucker/Hall, Preston Rudie of Catalyst Communications Group, Amanda Stewart of Johnston and Stewart, and Alan Suskey of Shumaker Advisors. With Michelle and Peter Schorsch.

Andrew Meacham

Andrew Meacham is a writer living in St. Petersburg. He worked for the Tampa Bay Times for 14 years, retiring in December 2018 as a performing arts critic. You can contact Andrew at [email protected].


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