District 5 race for St. Pete City Council pits fresh perspectives against institutional knowledge

Torrie-Jasuwan figgs-sanders
The Rays stadium deal could play big in the race between incumbent Deborah Figgs-Sanders and challenger Torrie Jasuwan.

“Mompreneur” and community advocate Torrie Jasuwan picked a tough fight for her first run for office: She’s challenging incumbent Deborah Figgs-Sanders for Seat 5 on the St. Petersburg City Council. Both candidates are registered Democrats, though the race is nonpartisan.

Because they are the only two candidates, they will square off in the citywide General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Jasuwan says it’s time for a new generation of leadership for the city and the district, which includes parts of South St. Pete, including the Skyway Marina District, Greater Pinellas Point and the Maximo Moorings area. Jasuwan believes Figgs-Sanders lacks responsiveness as a Council member.

Jasuwan has made a name for herself in real estate and as an advocate for families in need, and she has a camera-ready appeal as a former reality TV show guest.

But Figgs-Sanders, who is running for her second term, may not be easy to topple. She currently chairs the Council and has been heavily involved in the Historic Gas Plant District/Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium deal.

She’s the insider’s insider. She’s described as Mayor Ken Welch’s “right hand,” and considers him a friend. “I applaud all of his accomplishments,” she said.

The résumé for the 58-year-old Figgs-Sanders spans decades. She is President of Power Broker Media Group, and Vice President of Supreme Heating and Cooling, all while juggling her responsibilities as an elected official. She was Executive Director of the St. Petersburg YMCA and served on the Community Redevelopment Area Citizens Advisory Council as a Mayor Rick Kriseman appointee.

“My involvement with the approval of our city’s Community Benefits Agreement is monumental considering the lasting impact the CBA will have on ensuring equitable community opportunities,” Figgs-Sanders said.

Candidate support

Figgs-Sanders’ endorsers are a who’s who of local Democratic and St. Pete politicos, including Kriseman and the current Mayor. Former state CFO Alex Sink and Sen. Darryl Rouson are also supporters.

Other endorsers include Reps. Lindsay Cross and Michele Rayner; Pinellas County Commissioners Rene Flowers and Charlie Justice; City Council members Brandi Gabbard and Copley Gerdes; Hillsborough County Commissioner Gwen Myers; several former elected officials, including former Rep. Ben Diamond and former Clearwater City Council member Kathleen Beckman; a host of local faith leaders and several community advocates and activists. In all, the incumbent boasts nearly 60 endorsements.

Still, the 40-year-old Jasuwan calls Dudley a mentor, and says, “I am honored he believed I was the right choice for St. Pete.”

Former St. Pete Mayor Bob Ulrich has endorsed Jasuwan, as have several former St. Pete City Council members across the political spectrum including Republican Robert Blackmon. By comparison though, Jasuwan lists just 10 total endorsements.

But Jasuwan is raising money competitively. Since announcing her campaign in October, she has raised $60,990, enough to make her competitive with Figgs-Sanders, who has raised $72,370 since her July launch. Both fundraising totals cover activity through March, meaning much could have changed since then.

A real estate perspective with a charitable mindset

Jasuwan’s real estate firm, Luxe Properties, is “a boutique firm specializing in not just high-end luxury but also trailer parks, hotels, motels, warehouses and divorce sales.” She got her start by selling low-end properties to developers.

Jasuwan said she “reimagined and redeveloped a very dilapidated trailer park” in Homosassa. It’s now an affordable housing complex called Camp Citrus.

“I’ll sell a $100,000 house, I’ll sell a million-dollar house,” she said.

Jasuwan’s success also extends to charitable work. Twelve years ago, she founded Babycycle Diaper Bank to provide diapers to families in need.

Last year, Jasuwan’s advocacy for young families achieved a major legislative victory, as well as a major savings for Florida families. Jasuwan, along with Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book and Rep. Anna Eskamani — both Democrats — and a network of diaper banks, succeeded in passing a state law to eliminate the sales tax on diapers. That saves Florida families with kids in diapers about $100 per year. Florida is one of only 15 states with such a tax exemption.

It’s that work, Jasuwan says, that sparked her interest in running for public office.

“I have worked as a community advocate this past decade and many people in politics asked me if I’d be interested in representing our district because there was a lack of leadership there and a lack of responsiveness,” she said.

“I will continue to bring that tenacity and passion to fighting for our citizens to reduce taxes and improve our city one step at a time.”

Jasuwan said she’ll use her small business budgeting experience to “cut the fat out of the city budget to prevent future millage rate hikes.”

Meet Jasuwan

Part of Jasuwan’s platform is to keep waterways clean. She has unique experience on the water as a guest on reality television show “Below Deck” in 2018. The Bravo TV show’s premise? A group travels on a yacht and the cameras catch the crew’s drama and antics.

Jasuwan and her husband were the first to bring their kids on board, who, she says, they bring everywhere.

“We are huge boaters, so we jumped at the chance to get a discounted luxury vacation with our friends,” she said.

They sailed to Tahiti and to Thailand, where they visited her husband’s parents and “learned more about the culture where their grandpa grew up,” she said. “Albert and I grew up with parents owning restaurants and working in them from a very young age, so we quickly became friends with the boat staff, several of whom have become big supporters of and volunteers for Babycycle.”

Jasuwan’s parents owned Addie’s and Julie’s restaurants, and her husband’s family-owned Viet Thai, all in the St. Pete area.

In her early 20’s, Jasuwan worked as a casting agent for reality television shows. That’s where she made contacts who approached her to participate in “Below Deck.”

She was on board to venture into another reality show featuring “mompreneurs” like herself with Real Housewives star and Skinnygirl business mogul Bethenny Frankel.

“There was a synergy between us. Bethenny also has a nonprofit. But that show was sidelined by COVID and never developed,” Jasuwan explained.

Jasuwan’s 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter attend school out of the district at St. Paul Catholic school, where Jasuwan is active on the School Auction Committee, among other volunteer activities.

Jasuwan attends St. Paul and recently converted to Catholicism.

It wasn’t that big a jump, she said.

“My mom was Methodist, and my dad was Catholic. My husband’s family were Catholic and Buddhist (from Thailand). My kids have been in Catholic school their whole lives and they are Catholic, and we respect and practice some forms of Buddhism but it was important to me to practice the same religion as my kids and my husband,” she said.

However, she’s not in the same political party as her husband, Albert, who owns JAS Engineering and Construction and has been a registered Republican since 1998.

Abortion as a local issue?

Jasuwan’s faith hasn’t impacted at least one major issue.

“I am pro-choice,” she said. “It’s not my place to get involved. I don’t want to infringe on anyone’s rights.”

She also pointed out that abortion is an issue that she won’t have to address as a Council member.

But last year the Council did address abortion, on April 6. After more than three hours of debate, board members voted against allocating $50,000 to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund to pay for travel-related expenses for patients seeking the procedure. Gabbard explained that officials in Tallahassee had recently threatened backlash against cities supporting abortion resolutions.

But Figgs-Sanders, a Baptist, was one of two Council members to support the measure. The other, Richie Floyd, said he would not “be blackmailed” and voted his conscience.

The St. Petersburg City Council approved a separate resolution that day, which supports the rights of residents to make health care decisions for themselves, including abortion, and requests that the administration not criminalize people who decide to have the procedure.

Amy Weintraub of Progress Florida says abortion is a local issue.

“Voters understand that protecting reproductive freedom, including access to abortion, is not just a state and federal issue,” she said. “When state politicians pass laws that interfere with personal medical decisions like abortion care, as they have done in our state by passing a near-total abortion ban, there are steps local officials can take to help mitigate these attacks on freedom.”

Cincinnati, Phoenix, Atlanta, New Orleans and other localities are taking action, including de-prioritizing criminal prosecution, expanding medical privacy protections, and banning deceptive advertising by anti-abortion “pregnancy centers.”

“It is both prudent and relevant for voters to ask local candidates where they stand on the issue of abortion; don’t let them get away with telling you otherwise,” Weintraub added.

St. Pete backgrounds

Both candidates attended Gibbs High School in the district and were educated at public schools. Jasuwan studied at The University of North Florida and the University of South Florida. Figgs-Sanders graduated magna cum laude from Florida A&M and earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

Figgs-Sanders is married to Daniel and the two work side by side at Supreme Heating and Cooling. They have three grown sons and three grandchildren. She sent her three boys to public schools and served as President and Secretary of the PTA at Lakeview Fundamental Elementary School when they attended.

While satisfied with Pinellas County public schools, Jasuwan says learning about religion and having a faith-based education wasn’t something that was available to her and that she feels fortunate to be able to provide that to her children.

The Tampa Bay Ray in the room

District 5 is not a majority Black district, but its Black voting bloc is prevalent, with 12,000 White voters in the district compared to 7,672 who are Black.

And Democrats enjoy a huge advantage over Republicans in the district, with 13,128 Democrats to 5,067 Republicans. Another 5,500 district voters have no party affiliation.

Due to the district’s demographics, at least in part, the vote on the redevelopment plan for the Historic Gas Plant District, also known as the Trop site, looms large.

The deal calls for a $1.3 billion baseball stadium, with the remaining 67 acres of the site dedicated to affordable housing, a new African American history museum, restaurants, entertainment, hotels, retail and office space. But it also calls for significant public investment.

Jasuwan said she supports “the best possible deal for our city,” without elaborating on what that looks like.

Figgs-Sanders, meanwhile, has been an avid supporter of the current proposal, which City Council is expected to take up this month.

“I worked with our city administration in scheduling meetings. The Chair facilitates the Council meetings, the Committee of the Whole and sets the agenda,” Figgs-Sanders said, adding that as Chair she also “sets the tone of the meeting.”

“For me (that) means professionalism, and respectful communication utilizing efficient time management according to our City Council charter. I also served as the City Council representative on the Historic Gas Plant project,” she added.

The most recent proposal, Figgs-Sanders said, seeks to make good on several unfulfilled commitments at the site, which displaced an entire Black community when the stadium was originally built.

“This project will address employment opportunities, economic and workforce training and development, historic honorariums, and housing for families and seniors to name a few,” she said.

The stadium’s original development directly impacted Figgs-Sanders.

“One of the housing projects known as Laurel Park was once home. Now it’s Lot 1. My childhood church (on the corner of 16th Street and 5th Avenue) where I was baptized, where I served as the Sunday school secretary, sung my first solo in the children’s choir, is where the Tropicana Field sign and circle driveway are now located.

“I don’t consider this rebirth of the Gas Plant area as a ‘fix’ or a ‘restoration.’ I consider another opportunity to get it right,” Figgs-Sanders said.

But at least one district resident, Bradlee McCoy, said Figgs-Sanders is pushing the Historic Gas Plant deal for the wrong reasons.

“My Council woman said she was for the deal for three reasons. One: The African American Museum. Two: Her grandchildren. Three: To get it done before the next Mayor comes along,” he said during public comment at the May 16 City Council meeting. Affordable housing needs and other vital community improvements are lacking, critics like McCoy say.

Figgs-Sanders admits she’d prefer more units for affordable housing in the deal.

“There are still negotiations for the best possible version happening right now. I’m excited to see the final version presented to the Council. The project terms are continuously improving,” she argued.

Jasuwan wants service coordination

While vague on the Historic Gas Plant deal, Jasuwan gets specific in calling for a centralized nonprofit resource search system database.

Jasuwan said St. Pete needs to create public-private partnerships to bridge the gaps between city services and nonprofits and ensure that all citizens have the greatest chance to reach their potential.

“The Mayor of Jacksonville (Democrat Donna Deegan) was passionate with her nonprofit experience about bridging the gap between city and nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. I think there’s something to be said for this for the betterment of our city,” Jasuwan said.

Jasuwan believes it’s time for new leadership. She says her success in running a small business and her involvement in passing the diaper sales tax exemption law position her well to lead the district.

“It’s time for the lifetime politicians to hand over the reins,” Jasuwan said. “We need quick-acting solutions to pressing problems.”


This story was authored by Amy Snider for Florida Politics.

Guest Author


  • rbruce

    June 10, 2024 at 12:13 pm

    Mrs. Jasuwan is a true Democrat that cares for “cutting the fat” while approving of a grossly horrible Rays stadium deal. She also know how the less fortunate live while spending about $66k for her family of four cruising Tahiti for about six days.

    Her stance on abortion does impose on one’s rights. The right of the baby to be born.

    • Turtle

      June 10, 2024 at 1:06 pm

      I essentially make about $9,000-$13,000 every month on the web. It’s sufficient to serenely supplant my old employments pay, particularly considering I just work around 10-13 hours every week from home. I was stunned how simple it was after I attempted it duplicate underneath web…..
      Begin here>>>>>>>>> Payathome9.Com

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704