"Momma Tee" Lassiter jumps into St. Petersburg's mayoral race
ST. PETERSBURG — The mayoral race has been touted as a history maker: incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman v. former mayor Rick Baker, the battle of two potent political players in the Sunshine City.
But the potential field of mayoral candidates is growing. Perennial candidates Paul Congemi and Anthony Cates III are back for another try. And Uhuru-associated candidate Jesse Nevel has been active, mostly recently June 6 on the steps of City Hall.
Now two other candidates are in the mix. Ernisa Barnwell, 40, is a first-time candidate. She wasn’t available for comment Wednesday. It’s her first run for office.
The other political newcomer is a familiar face at City Hall: Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter, 61, who has frequently assailed council members at meetings for what she sees as their inattention to the problems in the city's black community.
At times, Lassiter has used bombastic, and occasionally homophobic, language when making that critique.
Lassiter has been a Midtown activist for more than two decades. While cleaning out her library recently, she was throwing away a 1996 city budget book when she had an epiphany.
“I asked myself: Has anything changed?”
She decided the answer was no. That’s why she’s running, Lassiter said.
“I think I could make a difference,” she said.
Conventional political wisdom has placed great importance on the black vote, especially for the Aug. 29 primary. For Baker, especially, a healthy margin of victory in Midtown is seen as crucial.
If neither Baker nor Kriseman gets 50 percent of the primary vote, they’ll fight on until the Nov. 7 general election.
With Lassiter and Barnwell’s entry into the race, there are now four candidates who are either black or associated with a black nationalist movement running for mayor. Will their presence on the ballot increase the chances of the mayoral election lasting until November?
Lassiter said she hasn’t given any thought to whether her presence on the ballot will help or hurt either Baker or Kriseman,who are both white. She’s focused on her own efforts to qualify for the ballot.
“I know I probably won’t have as much money as Baker or Kriseman, but I know I have the heart,” Lassiter said.
The qualifying period for the mayoral and City Council races ends June 23 at 5 p.m.