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St. Pete redistricting map moves forward despite resignation

Mark Parker



City councilmembers will prioritize affordable housing, transportation and infrastructure funding. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

A St. Petersburg City Council member’s resignation – and allegations of collusion – did not alter the decennial redistricting process as the commission unanimously approved a new map Monday.

The City Charter requires redistricting every 10 years in conjunction with U.S. Decennial Census, a task overseen by the Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). The CRC consists of nine citizens, appointed by the eight council members and Mayor Ken Welch.

Former Councilmember Lisa Wheeler-Bowman abruptly resigned after accusations that she moved outside South St. Petersburg’s District 7 surfaced during the Sept. 15 council meeting. Former mayoral candidate Vince Nowicki emailed public documents to city officials that showed Wheeler-Bowman purchased a house in District 6 in July, and suggested there was collusion between Wheeler-Bowman and her appointee to the CRC, Rev. J.C. Pritchett II.

The St. Petersburg Republican Club posted a template letter to its Facebook page Sunday, along with the email addresses of city officials and a call for its followers to demand Pritchett’s resignation or removal. Despite those efforts, the CRC unanimously approved a map Monday that pushes the District 7 boundary east, which includes Wheeler-Bowman’s new home.

Following the meeting, Pritchett told the Catalyst his only goal was to move the district one block east to include new developments along the historic 22nd Street corridor. He noted the area, affectionately known as the Deuces, is undergoing a renaissance after the interstate divided the community.

“It would just be great to be under one district, especially because that is a historically African-American area,” said Pritchett. “And so, going one block east to Union Street, in my mind, was the simplest thing to do.”

Another commissioner, added Pritchett, suggested moving the boundary farther to the east, and the city’s redistricting consultant and staff concurred.

As a St. Petersburg native and “history buff,” Pritchett said his intention was to prevent another divided Black community. He explained that Council Chair Gina Driscoll currently represents the area’s easternmost portions in District 6, and Wheeler-Bowman formerly represented the west.

“The fact is, this is a way to have a unique representation in our community that was divided by the interstate,” said Pritchett. “And that’s what it does – it just makes sense.”

The redistricting map the CRC will send to city council for approval. Screengrab.

Nowicki said he does not “have a dog in the fight” regarding the new city council boundaries, as he does not live in the area. However, he believes Wheeler-Bowman betrayed the public trust, and Pritchett stepping down from the CRC would have helped make amends.

Pritchett is the president of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, of which Nowicki is a member. Nowicki said he believes Pritchett is a good person, and that his only intent is to hold public officials accountable.

“I think what happened would have happened regardless of whether he was there,” said Nowicki.

The most recent allegations of improprieties were not the first. During a Sept. 12 informational meeting regarding redistricting, Community Activist Corey Givens Jr. suggested that Pritchett “is drawing the lines for the district he intends to run in.”

Pritchett has adamantly refuted those claims.

The CRC ignored the recent allegations, Pritchett said, because everyone realized uniting the Deuces corridor under one council member was best for the surrounding neighborhoods and city. He noted the “beautiful synergy” existing in many other St. Petersburg communities and said the redistricting process allowed the commission to right a wrong.

He also called drawing the new maps a relatively easy endeavor until someone injects a political agenda.

“The numbers speak for themselves from the census,” said Pritchett. “In this instance, we could justify something that happened previously – the dividing of the Deuces neighborhood in that corridor.”

Citizens volunteering two to three hours every Monday for nearly three months to protect the sanctity of elections – especially among minorities – is the definition of democracy, said Pritchett.

He believes most commissioners were happy with the updated boundaries, as evidenced by their unanimous approval. Pritchett said the new map “highlights the distinct excellence” of each district, and misunderstandings and debate among members are just part of the decennial process.

The CRC will now submit the approved map and a detailed report to the city council, which has 60 days to accept the proposed districts through a majority vote. The deadline to adopt the recommendations or reject the map is Dec. 13.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Shirley Hayes

    September 22, 2022at8:57 pm

    I approve the new district recommendations.

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