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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg City Council candidates bow up, then stand down



The narrative of the last candidate forum before Election Day could largely by interpreted by the body language of the District 7 candidates..

Barely glancing at one another when the forum began at the Enoch Davis Recreation Center, Lisa Wheeler-Brown drew first blood, accusing Will Newton of "dirty politics," by questioning the finances of a foundation she had tried to form for her murdered son.

Newton countered, by suggesting that Wheeler-Brown should run for school board since she spent so much time talking about troubled elementary schools in south St. Petersburg.

After that strategy drew groans and rebukes from a big crowd at the forum sponsored by the local NAACP branch, Newton backpedaled, acknowledging the importance of fixing a broken education system.

The two candidates, hoping to replace term-limited Wengay Newton, Will's older brother, traded blows over the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, but ended the night high-fiving and laughing and thanking each other for running.

It was a surprising twist in a race that many observers have dubbed the ugliest in recent history. 

But the rapproachment didn't occur until after Philip Garrett, who is challening incumbent Steve Kornell for the District 5 seat, waded into the fight by comparing Newton's treatment of Wheeler-Brown to black men's subjugation of a civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer. 

Newton quickly countered, pointing to defeated primary candidate Sheila Scott Griffin, sitting in the audience, as an example of a "queen" abused by the Wheeler-Brown campaign.

All the while, Garrett pounded Kornell as an out-of-touch incumbent who didn't care about the black community.

Kornell fought back, casting Garrett as a political opportunist willing to sell the city short in any deal to allow the Rays to look outside the city for a new stadium. 

And he pointed to his six years as a council member and long stint as a Parks and Recreation employee as proof that he was a reliable advocate of south St. Petersburg.

"If you don't know me, ask around," Kornell said. 

Residents asked repeatedly about how to repair the broken school system, create more affordable housing, support independent child-care businesses, end housing discrimination and reinvigorate southside neighborhoods.

The candidates largely echoed on another's positions on most issues. They said the city's poorest neighborhoods deserved more attention-- and cash---from City Hall.

And the early sparring between Wheeler-Brown and Newton eventually dissipated. They ended high-fiving each other repeatedly and wishing each other well, although Wheeler-Brown reminded her opponent that she took any suggestion that she sought to profit on her son Cabretti's death as wrong.

Election Day is Nov. 3. 

[Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2015 10:32am]


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