House District 70 candidate Christopher "CJ" Czaia touts erroneous endorsement
Mud is flying in House District 70 as Democrats Wengay Newton, Dan Fiorini and Christopher “CJ” Czaia battle for endorsements.
As the late entrant in the race, attorney Czaia is trying to catch up since many elected leaders and political groups endorsed Newton and Fiorini before the field was finalized. All candidates love to tout support from community members, activists and elected leaders.
The Czaia campaign called the Tampa Bay Times this week to tout that St. Petersburg businessman Toriano Parker stopped backing Fiorni and switched to Czaia. Kofi Hunt, Czaia’s campaign manager, encouraged a reporter to call Parker to confirm the swap. Hunt described the switch as significant since Parker appeared in a video supporting Fiorni.
The problem: Parker says it’s not true.
“No, I am not doing that,” Parker said Thursday morning. “I would not do that to Dan. I gave them both an opportunity. I let Czaia put a sign in my window next to Dan’s. That’s all I did.”
The tactic shows Czaia is desperate, Fiorini said, calling the move a “sleaze campaign."
“I think Czaia is going to be in for a surprise,” Fiorini said. “I am not even worried about him. It’s a race between Wengay and I.”
Fiorini, a St. Petersburg businessman, said he has heard from other supporters that Czaia’s team is working to undo support from other backers.
“If he can’t run his own campaign, he can’t win,” Fiorni added. “They’re trying to run my campaign. I’m very proud of the campaign we’re running.”
When asked Thursday about the gaffe, Hunt said: “Things are very dynamic in the community. People have come to us. We’re not trying to undo anything. I guess it was a misunderstanding.”
Newton, the former St. Petersburg council member, said he hasn’t heard that Czaia’s team is trying to undo support from others. But the small businessman said he continues to rack up endorsements. He pointed to support from Darden Rice, the vice chair of St. Petersburg City Council and the chair of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The Florida Nurses Association also endorsed him on Thursday, Newton said.
“It’s nice to be liked and loved,” Newton said. “There’s 19 days to go, and I’m working my tail off.”
The legislative district that stretches across parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
House District 70 is now occupied by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who is seeking a state Senate seat. The Democratic winner will face Republican Cori Fournier in November.