At-large in Tampa Bay
Does it matter how close you live to the person who represents you? The seemingly obvious question can get complicated at the municipal level because where you live in the city doesn't necessarily mean you get to determine who represents you. If your council members are "at-large," the city as a whole elects them.
In fact, in Tampa Bay's largest cities, it usually means you don't. Most city council seats in the bay area are at-large, meaning they are elected citywide.
At-large city council seats have come under fire for decades for unfairly limiting the power of minority residents, especially in cities with white majorities. Although historically that complaint has often arisen in black neighborhoods, Hispanics are now increasingly challenging at-large representation.
St. Petersburg's eight council seats are all elected citywide. Ditto Clearwater's five seats (counting the mayor, who is effectively a council member in the city manager form of government). Tampa has a mixture of at-large and district representation.
The issue occasionally surfaces in city politics around Tampa Bay. Usually, the answer is that at-large council members think of entire city's interests while they would be more parochial or, perhaps, more easily controlled by a strong mayor if they were elected from a single district.
At-large districts have been contested before. In 2005, the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement sued St. Petersburg over its at-large system, claiming it discriminated against African Americans.
Some cities have eliminated at-large seats. But, at least for now, that hasn't been on the agenda in Tampa Bay. With major demographic changes affecting large parts of Florida will the issue resonate here?