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Voters pass St. Pete initiatives; red wave reaches Pinellas

Mark Parker



According to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office’s unofficial tallies, 424,302 eligible county voters, or 60.98%, exercised their civic duty. Photos by Mark Parker.

St. Petersburg voters overwhelmingly approved two city charter amendments and ballot referendums Tuesday, while Republicans secured several local seats in the first election since state redistricting.

According to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office’s unofficial tallies, 424,302 eligible county voters, or 60.98%, exercised their civic duty. While ballots vary according to a person’s address, St. Petersburg residents faced a lengthy selection process this election year, with the VOTE411 informational guide listing 33 selections.

Lengthy ballots are here to stay, as 70% of voters approved Charter Amendment 1. The city will now align its election cycle with county, state and national races during even-numbered years. During an October ballot discussion, City Councilmember Brandi Gabbard explained that while the change from even-numbered years would create an early voting mechanism, increase turnout and save money, it would also make the cost of running for office much higher.

“You’ve got to think – you’re going to have a lot more people on the ballot,” said Gabbard. “You are going to have very big names that are going to be on the ballot.”

Mayor Ken Welch and all eight council members will now receive an extra year in office due to the realignment.

The 2022 election ballot consisted of two full pages, front and back. Municipal elections will now align with larger races, and residents can expect lengthy ballots moving forward.

Charter Amendment 2, which changes city council residency requirements to accommodate redistricting, passed with 60% of the vote. Councilmembers residing in redrawn districts can now remain in office.

The Dali Museum’s potential expansion has been a hot topic this year. While many city and business leaders supported amending its 99-year lease with the city to build on a narrow strip of land known zoned as waterfront property, the Mahaffey Theater’s leadership staunchly opposes the initiative.

Known as Lot 6, the area serves as one access point for the Mahaffey Theater’s parking garage. However, voters overwhelmingly supported the first step of The Dali’s expansion. Referendum Question 2, which allows the museum to build on a previously unapproved site, passed with over 78% of the vote.

“Our vision of creating a revolutionary space for interactive art experiences and increased education spaces will nurture the arts evolution in our community,” read a museum social media post before the election.

A rendering of the Dali Museum with the new dome for immersive experiences (left) as part of its expansion. Screengrab.

While an attempt to reinstate ad valorem tax exemptions failed by 87 votes last November, the outcome was never in doubt this year.

Referendum Question 2 passed by over 10,000 votes. City officials again have the authority to provide property tax exemptions to new and expanding businesses that meet strict criteria over a 10-year term.

Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce previously told the Catalyst that the initiative is also a symbolic gesture to show the city is business-friendly and dedicated to job growth.

“This message will send out to the rest of the Tampa Bay development community and others that St. Pete is in it for the jobs, too,” he said. “And I think that’s as much of this whole thing as anything.”

Local county and state races

Republicans won several local races following congressional redistricting earlier this year. Republican Anna Paulina Luna beat Democrat Eric Lynn in Pinellas County’s 13th District, receiving 53% of the vote. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D), who lost the gubernatorial race to Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday night, formerly held the seat.

Redrawn congressional maps shifted the district west of mostly Democratic St. Petersburg to areas of the city and county more likely to vote Republican. Luna, a U.S. Air Force Veteran and conservative commentator, lost to Crist two years ago before redistricting. The former president endorsed her through both races.

“I’m honored by the people of Pinellas County’s overwhelming support,” said Luna in a Tuesday night tweet. “It’s time to clean up Washington and take our country back!”

Rep. Kathy Castor won the 14th District – which, after the new maps – now crosses the bay to include downtown and midtown St. Petersburg. She beat Republican James Judge with 63% of the local vote.

However, only 77,434 St. Petersburg voters had a voice in the race. That total was less than a single-district school board contest. For comparison, 341,691 county residents weighed in on the District 13 contest.

“Thank you, Tampa and St. Petersburg neighbors,” said Castor in a tweet. “Together, we will work to lift families and veterans, protect our freedoms and build safer communities.”

State Sen. Darryl Rouson cruised to an easy victory over Republican challenger Christina B. Paylan in District 16, which stretches from the east side of St. Petersburg to western Hillsborough County and downtown Tampa. The incumbent received nearly 75% of the vote.

Newcomers Nick DiCeglie and Eunic Ortiz faced off in Pinellas County’s redrawn District 18. Republican DiCeglie will assume term-limited Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes’ seat after winning nearly 57% of the vote in what was formerly District 24.

Before the election, DiCeglie tweeted that he was “counting on your vote to help us keep Pinellas safe and affordable for every family.”

Democrat Lindsey Cross bested Republican Audrey Henson to represent District 60 in the State House. She received 54% of the vote in an area that now includes eastern portions of St. Pete and Pinellas County.

Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard speaks at an event. The incumbent Democrat lost the seat she has held since 2014 to Republican challenger Nick DiCeglie. File photo.

Republican Rep. Linda Chaney will continue to represent St. Pete Beach and western Pinellas in the State Legislature, winning 56% of the vote in District 61. Fellow incumbent Rep. Michelle Rayner, a Democrat, rolled to the night’s largest victory, receiving 79.4% of the vote in District 62.

The Pinellas County Commission will flip to a 4-3 Republican majority after challenger Brian Scott upset incumbent Pat Gerard. Scott took 54% of the vote in District 2. Gerard served as the City of Largo’s mayor before assuming her commission seat in 2014.

“I am honored to receive the trust of Pinellas County taxpayers to represent their interest on the county commission,” said Scott in a statement. “I’m excited to use my experience as a business owner and community advocate to keep our neighborhoods affordable, beautiful, safe and prosperous.”

The Elections Office continues to process provisional and mail ballots. It will release the first set of unofficial results Friday. Deputy Supervisor of Elections Dustin Chase said official tallies could come as soon as Nov. 18. For more information, visit the website here.



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