Wengay Newton tops fundraising lead in House District 70
With one month to go before primary votes are counted, Wengay Newton has raised twice as much as the other two candidates seeking to represent Florida's House District 70.
Newton, the former 8-year member of St. Petersburg City Council, has collected $37,000 versus businessman Dan Fiorini's $19,862. Attorney Christopher "CJ" Czaia has collected $17,939, but $10,000 of that came from a personal loan to his campaign.
The donations, Newton said, show that voters have confidence in him to represent their interests in Tallahassee.
"I've been working hard," Newton said. "I'm running like I'm down 50 points in the polls."
He pointed to a list of endorsements from public officials across the legislative district that stretches across parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Those include current and former council members, a school board member, vice mayors and Sarasota Mayor Willie Charles Shaw.
Newton's biggest contributions come from political committees, including organized labor.
"It's a lot of people who support my eight years in government," Newton said.
Fiorini laughed about Newton's campaign donation and noted that Newton started his campaign 20 months ago.
"I started in January and raised almost $20,000," Fiorini said. "Donations don't translate into votes. I'm not concerned at all."
Supporters in Fiorini's corner include St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and city council members Karl Nurse and Lisa Wheeler Brown, who replaced Newton on the council.
Czaia entered the contest in June, saying he planned to focus on the minority voters in the district. He has won the support of Kelly Kirschner, Sarasota's former mayor and former elected leaders in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"My intent is to spend $50,000 by the end of this campaign," Czaia said. "At the end of the day, I don't want to owe anybody."
He questioned why labor unions and political groups would endorse and donate to candidates before the ballots were officially set. For example, firefighter unions support Newton, but his brother is a high-ranking union official.
Czaia also criticized Kriseman for endorsing Fiorini without interviewing him, Czaia said, adding: "He's doing a big disservice to the citizens of St. Petersburg."
The Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County have also endorsed Czaia, although Fiorini was a founding member of the group.
"He struck me as extremely serious on equality issues," said Jane Morris, a vice president of the group's political committee.
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.
When the Democrats aren't campaigning, Newton runs a photography business. Fiorini owns a St. Petersburg custom frame business and once served as legislative aide for former state Rep. Helen Spivey.
Czaia, a former Manatee County Democratic official, has lived or worked in all four of the district's counties. He operates law offices in Tampa and Minnesota, focusing on immigration, personal injury and criminal cases.
The Democratic winner will face Republican Cori Fournier in November.