Vincent Nowicki lands police endorsement as his Pinellas County Commission campaign crosses $80K raised

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'Our residents are looking for more political outsiders with business experience to represent them on the County Commission, and not entrenched career politicians or internet celebrities more concerned with Hollywood than Pinellas County.'

Pinellas County government watchdog Vincent Nowicki has landed a key endorsement from the local Fraternal Order of Police as his campaign crosses the $80,000 mark in fundraising.

“Of all the endorsements I have received to date, this one is the most humbling,” Nowicki said. “I am honored to be endorsed by our law enforcement heroes. I will always strive to be their champion on the Commission.”

Nowicki, a Republican, is running for the District 3 seat currently held by Democrat Charlie Justice, who is seeking re-election.

Publicly available records show Nowicki has raised nearly $55,000 as of the end of March, but his campaign says that number has now grown to more than $80,000.

Justice, meanwhile, has raised nearly $33,000 as of the end of March, but has not said how much he’s raised since then. That means it’s unclear whether there’s currently a money gap between the two. As of the most recently filed finance reports, Nowicki had led Justice by a little more than $20,000.

Nowicki called the financial support he has received thus far “humbling.”

“Our residents are looking for more political outsiders with business experience to represent them on the County Commission, and not entrenched career politicians or internet celebrities more concerned with Hollywood than Pinellas County,” Nowicki said.

Even if Nowicki maintains his fundraising lead, he will have to use at least some of his resources waging a Primary campaign, while Justice does not face a challenger in the Democratic Primary.

Nowicki drew a last-minute opponent last week when social media influencer David Scott Leatherwood entered the race. Leatherwood, having just joined the contest, has not yet filed any financial reports. He’ll face an uphill challenge catching either Nowicki or Justice in resources.

Leatherwood, who is gay, is known for his conservative activism, particularly on his Instagram account, where he goes by the name “Brokeback Patriot.”

That’s a nod to the film “Brokeback Mountain” about two closeted gay men living in Montana at a time and in a place where they would not be accepted. Leatherwood is a gay Republican. His Instagram account features several posts criticizing gay activism, including use of the rainbow flag to celebrate gay pride.

Leatherwood’s past has been troubled, with a DUI conviction in Hillsborough County in 2011 for an offense that occurred in late 2010, and a series of domestic troubles between Leatherwood and a past partner which, in one occasion, resulted in being trespassed from all Disney properties in 2016. In that situation — the case was ultimately dropped — Leatherwood’s former partner accused him of striking him in the head with a closed fist at the Magic Kingdom Toll Plaza near Orlando.

Nowicki briefly ran for St. Pete Mayor in 2021, but withdrew from the race. The conservative activist is perhaps best known for his efforts to hold local elected officials accountable. His personal investigation into former St. Pete City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman led to her resignation in September. Nowicki hired a private investigator, who uncovered Wheeler-Bowman was residing outside her district.

Nowicki will have the advantage in the GOP Primary, with several local conservatives already backing him, including Rep. Kim Berfield; Redington Shores Mayor Lisa Hendrickson; St. Pete Beach Mayor Adrian Petrila; Redington Beach Mayor David Will; Belleair Beach Mayor Dave Gattis; Madeira Beach Mayor Jim Rostek; Treasure Island City Commissioner John Doctor; Gulfport City Council member Christine Brown; Gulfport City Council member Ian O’Hara; Redington Beach City Commissioner Rich Cariello; and former Madeira Beach Mayor John Hendricks.

Nowicki has also secured endorsements from former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker; former St. Pete City Council member Robert Blackmon; School Board member Stephanie Meyer; School Board member Dawn Peters; Largo City Commissioner Curtis Holmes; Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters; and the late former St. Pete Council member and School Board Member Bill Dudley.

Republicans now hold a nearly 20,000-voter registration advantage in Pinellas County, with 245,003 voters compared 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.

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.

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].

One comment

  • Deplorable Pinellas

    June 18, 2024 at 11:20 am

    “Leatherwood, who is gay, is known for his conservative activism where he goes by the name Brokeback Patriot”, “Leatherwood is a gay Republican.”

    How many times do you need to talk about the man’s sexuality in one article? Why do you even care that the man is gay? And if it’s that important why aren’t you writing “Vince, a straight Republican” on every line? That is, if you even wrote this article and obtained those quotes yourself.

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