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Blackmon and Figgs-Sanders win; Incumbents re-elected in St. Pete City Council race

Megan Holmes

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Incumbents Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and Ed Montanari defended their St. Petersburg City Council seats, while newcomers Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Robert Blackmon won open seats in Districts 5 and 1, respectively.

As a result, the St. Petersburg City Council dais already dominated by women will add one more, to a total of six, including two African American members for the first time in more than a decade.

District 1

Robert Blackmon will replace outgoing Council Chair Charlie Gerdes after soundly defeating John Hornbeck in City Council District 1. Blackmon won nearly 64 percent of the vote to Horneck’s 36 percent. The race was steeped in controversy early on, when the supposed front runner Scott Orsini dropped out due to offensive tweets. His departure gave space for newcomer Robert Blackmon to rack up bipartisan endorsements ranging from former mayor Rick Baker to the AFL-CIO and council members Ed Montanari, Gina Driscoll, Darden Rice and Brandi Gabbard. Blackmon also out-raised his opponent, racking up $80,000 in campaign contributions, nearly $60,000 more than his mostly self-funded opponent.

District 3

Ed Montanari held off challenger Orlando Acosta to keep his seat in City Council District 3, winning 53.5 percent of the vote to Acosta’s 46.5 percent. Montanari, known as the conservative voice on Council, won the endorsement from former mayors Rick Baker and Bill Foster, Senators Jeff Brandes and Darryl Rouson, and Reps. Wengay Newton and Nick DeCiglie. He also won support of most of his colleagues on Council except for Darden Rice, who chose not to endorse either candidate. The District 3 race had its own fair share of controversy, turning highly partisan after a mailer from the Florida Democratic Party featured a photoshopped Montanari sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat and comparing the council’s lone republican to President Donald Trump. Acosta also ran the ads on Facebook. Acosta managed to narrow the wide gap from the August primary to 7 percentage points.

District 5

Deborah Figgs-Sanders will replace outgoing Council Member Steve Kornell after narrowly defeating Trenia L. Cox for the District 5 seat. Figgs-Sanders came away with 51 percent of the vote to Cox’s 49 percent. The two candidates did not leave significant room between them, touting largely similar platforms and visions for the city, focused on affordable housing, environment, youth programs and small business. Both candidates are also known as Democrats, which made the partisanship surrounding their nonpartisan race surprising. Cox was supported by former Mayor Rick Baker and Reps. Chris Latvala and Kathleen Peters. She also won support from council member Darden Rice and former Council member Karl Nurse. Figgs-Sanders was strongly supported by Mayor Rick Kriseman, who painted the race as a fight between “old school” St. Pete values of Rick Baker and Goliath Davis with progressive values under the Kriseman administration.

District 7

Lisa Wheeler-Bowman won reelection in a landslide, fending off challenger Eritha “Akile” Cainion in District 7. Wheeler-Bowman secured 82 percent of the vote, while Cainion garnered just 18 percent. Wheeler-Bowman was endorsed by Mayor Rick Kriseman and most of her colleagues on the council. Cainion, who identifies with the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, ran on a platform of reparations for the black community under the slogan “Make the South Side Black Again.” She called for the black community to control the police force and the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.

The new city council members will begin their term in January 2020. The full council will include: Robert Blackmon, District 1; Brandi Gabbard, District 2; Ed Montanari, District 3;  Darden Rice, District 4; Deborah Figgs-Sanders, District 5; Gina Driscoll, District 6; Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, District 7 and Amy Foster, District 8.

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