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St. Pete Council District 2: Gabbard defeats Harless

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St. Petersburg City Council District 2 candidate Brandi Gabbard (left) campaigns at the Coliseum during Election Day on Tuesday. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — Realtor Brandi Gabbard will replace term-limited Jim Kennedy on the City Council, after defeating Barclay Harless by a substantial margin Tuesday.

Gabbard beat Harless with 61 percent of the vote, wining by 12,519 votes. That was the preliminary result of all 92 precincts, early voting and partial mail ballots.

The two first time candidates are both Democrats with ties in the community. Gabbard has been active in the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the local realtor trade organization while Harless was state policy chair for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Pinellas Charter Review.

ELECTION DAY 2017: Get the latest news and results from the Times Bay Times.

While they overlapped on many of the issues, but Gabbard, 41, saw a distinction in what topics they’d prioritize. She said she’s most committed to public safety, affordable housing and economic development.

"I think (voters) understood from day one that I was in this race to really represent their voice and with fair intentions," Gabbard said Tuesday night. "And I think they were ready for a fresh voice on city council."

Gabbard said she was looking forward to serving along four other women on the City Council, including Darden Rice and Gina Driscoll who also won by large margins Tuesday.

"I think we’ve been underrepresented for a long time," she said. "I’m very, very excited to lead with very strong women and men who care a lot about our community."

Gabbard qualified as a City Council candidate not by paying a fee, but by acquiring 500 signatures while knocking on doors within the district. When it comes to fundraising, she has accepted the backing of the Realtor political action committees in Pinellas and Tallahassee. She also voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

Harless, who voted for Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary, said Kennedy personally encouraged him to run for his seat. Kennedy later endorsed Harless, a Bank of the Ozarks manager.

"I’m very proud of the campaign we ran," Harless said Tuesday night. "We focused on the core city financial issues and challenges that are going to happen over the next decade. We focused on the things voters care about."

Harless spent much of the later months of the campaign honing in on contributions Gabbard received from PACs which paid for numerous mailers for his opponent.

Harless made a pledge early on not to accept contributions of more than $1,000 and challenged Gabbard to do the same. Gabbard declined, saying she hasn’t taken more than the legal contribution from any outside group. As for the mailers, she said she’s thankful for any support from realtors, police, firefighters or others want to provide to her and her campaign.

Harless, in the last hours of his campaign, said he wished he would’ve brought the financial differences to light earlier in the campaign.

"A lot of people came up to me and said that’s something that was very important to them," Harless said outside of Sunken Gardens Tuesday evening. "People are legitimately concerned about the influence of tens of thousands of dollars of outside money coming in."

But that didn’t translate to votes, as Gabbard beat Harless by more than 20 percent Tuesday. Ultimately, she said she was proud of her campaign and thankful to all of her supporters.

"It was my commitment from the beginning to stay very positive in this race, to stay with the issues and to keep my integrity intact," Gabbard said Tuesday while handing out fliers to voters at the Coliseum. "And I think I did that very well."

Though Harless won’t be serving on the City Council, he said Tuesday night that he plans on redoubling his community involvement and volunteering efforts.

"I met so many good people in this city," Harless said. "We have a city we should all be very proud of."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.