Turnout sparse in St. Petersburg, Seminole elections
Voters were in short supply across St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning as the polls opened for three City Council races that could determine the future of the Tampa Bay Rays.
In St. Petersburg and Seminole, which also has city elections, turnout was sparse. The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections estimated turnout to be 1.86% at 10 a.m.
Added to mailed ballots, the overall estimated voter turnout was about 13 percent. That is similar to the turnout in 2011, the last time the city elected council members without a mayor's race on the ballot.
In the most heated City Council race in District 7, Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton have taken different positions on the team's desire to amend its contract to look in other parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for a new stadium site. Newton is opposed to a deal agreed to by the team and Mayor Rick Kriseman. Wheeler-Brown supports it. That deal is probably dead, but with a deadlocked council, the election is seen by many as determining whether another agreement has a chance.
District 5 incumbent Steve Kornell, who opposed the Kriseman deal, also faces a pro-deal challenger, Philip Garrett.
At the Lake Vista Recreation Center in the Greater Pinellas Point neighborhood, only Newton and Garrett signs greeted voters Tuesday morning.
Tamika Morris, 42, was one of the early ones. The second grade teacher at Skyview Elementary was rushing to class.
"I'm here to do my civic duty and vote and I want to show my class that responsible citizens vote and to make sure we get responsible city council members," she said.
A stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays was not on her mind, she said.
"Just getting what the neighborhood needs. The schools were a big thing," said Morris, who voted for Kornell and Newton.
Why Newton over Wheeler-Brown? "I looked at both candidates. I mainly picked him because of his background in the Childs Park neighborhood, where I grew up," she said.
Newton was getting a little help at Lake Vista Tuesday. St. Petersburg firefighter Frederick Stewart stood outside the polling place holding a stack of Newton campaign literature.
"We're just trying to show our support. We know he's trying to better the community. That's what we do on the job and he's just carrying it over to another format," said Stewart, who was wearing a yellow Local 747 union t-shirt.
Stewart said he had been at the polling location since 7 and had seen about 20 to 30 voters before 7:30. Lake Vista has 3,590 eligible voters.
Retired barber Al Smith, 73, who said he had cut hair in St. Petersburg for 50 years, was only concerned about the council races, not in the stadium issue.
"We need qualified people in our districts to talk and fight for the citizens," he said.
Render Copeland, 59, expressed similar sentiments.
"I don't think that taxpayers should pay for a billionaires' stadium, " the salesman said. "I don't care if they move or not."
But it was important for him to vote, the African-American man said. "You have to vote. I'm from Birmingham, Ala. I saw some people get hurt so we can vote," he said.
Tuesday he cast his vote for Newton "because I think he's the better person for the job," he said.
About five miles away at the Thomas "Jet" Jackson Recreation Center in the Wildwood neighborhood, few people had shown up to vote by 8:20 a.m. A poll worker said there had been about eight voters by then.
Louise Boose, 64, a retired Department of Children and Families interview clerk, was one of those who voted at the center.
"I am just interested in what is happening in the council and that the right people are in the right places doing it, she said.
Boose said she used to live in the stadium neighborhood and that lots of people were displaced for the facility. She agrees with Kornell's position concerning finanical compensation to the city and voted for him, Boose said. Still, she also voted for Wheeler-Brown, who supports Mayor Rick Kriseman's smaller financial agreement with the Rays.
Boose said she admires Wheeler-Brown for her effort to find her son's murderer.
"She's very interested in things happening in our community and getting them done," Boose said.
Also voting at the Jackson Recreation Center Tuesday was former Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast executive director Carl Lavender Jr.
"I want to see good leadership, effective leadership," he said. "I want to see good, progressive leadership all throughout the city. It's a right, a privilege and a responsibility to vote."
Asked about the heated Wheeler-Brown and Newton race, he said he isn't affected by the backbiting between candidates.
"I look at the platform of the candidates and does that platform reflect my personal and my political values," he said. As for the stadium issue and who sits on the City Council, Lavender said it is important to have "people who are current on the ongoing negotiations."
That's important "because the economy of the stadium does impact the broader community, but particularly South St. Petersburg," he said.
In West St. Pete, only two of 370 eligible voters had cast ballots at the Portuguese American Suncoast Association on 7808 46th Ave. N by 8:30 a.m.
Turnout wasn't much better at St. Stefano's Greek Orthodox Church at 3600 76th St. N. Election officials at that polling location said only 11 of 1, 592 eligible voters had turned up by 9 a.m.
At the Walter Fuller Recreation Center, 7891 26th Ave. N, about two dozen of 1,898 eligible voters had shown up by 9:30 a.m..
One of those voters, Roger Plata, said he came out because of the Tampa Bay Rays.
"The council needs to move forward and needs to let the Rays find a place for themselves," said Plata, 65. He said he's a Rays fan, who wants them to stay in the Tampa Bay region.
Plata didn't want to say who he voted for, but did say: "My motivation was for the Rays and I think that says everything."
In the third race, District 1 incumbent Charlie Gerdes, the council chairman, is opposed by Monica Abbott. Neither candidate has raised much money or planted many signs in West St. Pete, where both live and hope to represent. In fact, only a handful of Newton signs dotted the three West St. Pete polling spots.
On the northside, turnout was also low. At Woodlawn Presbyterian Church, only 28 voters had shown up by 10:30 a.m. No one was there when a Times reporter arrived.
A volunteer door greeter was killing time pulling weeds in the church's flowerbeds.