TAMPA — Retired police officer Orlando Gudes eked out a narrow victory Tuesday night in the runoff election for the city’s only majority minority district.
Gudes, 51, beat funeral home director Jeffrey L. Rhodes, 56, by a little more than 150 votes in the race for District 5. It followed a similarly tight primary election won by Rhodes by just 217 votes.
The two candidates fought for a seat that includes parts of both East and West Tampa,
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In a campaign notable for an absence of attacks and negative campaigning, Gudes’ gritty campaign style and frequent promises to work on council for more investment in the city’s poorest neighborhoods may have resonated more with East Tampa voters than Rhodes’ business-suit attire.
An East Tampa resident, Gudes may also have benefited from the geography of the seat, which covers a large part of the city north of Ybor City and east of the Hillsborough River. He also had more political donations to get his message out, having raised more than $83,000, almost double the $43,000 raised by his opponent.
Gudes said his experience on the city’s charter review board was the perfect apprenticeship to serve on City Council. On doorsteps and in debates, he touted his volunteer work running youth football and cheerleading leagues, and his service as a Tampa police officer. That experience gave him the know-how to solve people’s problems, he said.
“I just think the voters believed I had the most experience,” Gudes said while celebrating at his election watch party at Zydeco Brew Werks in Ybor City. “I think East Tampa got me through.”
During his campaign, Gudes promised to fight for a city ordinance to help former felons get employment. He also wants more investment in District 5 and more employment opportunities to be opened up at Port Tampa Bay, which lies within the district.
Speaking from his election watch party at the Columbia Centennial Museum, Rhodes said it was tough to lose by such a narrow margin
“When a race is this close, you beat yourself up if there was something I could have done a little bit different,” he said. “I felt all along it was going to be close. That’s what happens when you have two viable candidates.”
The co-owner of Ray Williams Funeral Home, Rhodes serves on the West Tampa Community Redevelopment Area board and is a member of the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
In his campaign he called for the city to use tax incentives and grants to spur the growth of small businesses. He would like Tampa to pass a hiring ordinance similar to one adopted by St. Petersburg that requires companies awarded city contracts to hire felons and create apprentice positions.
Cleaning up communities and making them more walkable will help make them more attractive to small businesses, he said.
He said his opponent’s advantage in fundraising may have been decisive in such a close race.
“I didn’t start doing campaign advertisements until late when my funds became available,” he said.
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_times.