TAMPA — Passing up experienced politicians and those proud they weren't, the Tampa City Council picked a former leader of the NAACP and a retired small-business owner Monday to fill two vacancies.
The appointments of Curtis Stokes of New Tampa and Yvonne Yolie Capin of South Tampa came after an exhaustive series of presentations and votes to winnow more than 60 applicants for the interim positions and their $750-a-week paychecks.
The City Council now has all seven positions filled as it prepares to vote this fall on its property tax rate and an operating budget exceeding $700 million. The council has had only five members since two quit last month to run for the Hillsborough County Commission.
Stokes, 41, a community affairs director at Fifth Third Bank who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2003, beat more than 30 applicants to be chosen for the citywide seat previously held by Linda Saul-Sena.
His selection means the council will have three African-American members for the first time, in addition to Chairman Tom Scott and member Gwen Miller.
He also adds a second voice from north Tampa, besides member Joseph Caetano. Candidates from South and central Tampa typically have been elected to citywide seats, prompting criticism from north Tampa residents that their neighborhoods are too often ignored.
A longtime Republican who recently turned independent, Stokes has served as president of the Hillsborough County chapter of the NAACP and unit chairman of the American Cancer Society.
"I think it's the hardest thing I've ever done," he said of the selection. With his record closely scrutinized, "it's almost like being in a fish bowl," he said.
Saul-Sena, in a phone interview, said she was pleased with the appointment to her old seat.
"He is young, bright and he's a professional," she said, noting that the council should be as diverse as possible when it comes to age, gender and ethnicity.
"If you look at the demographics of Tampa, we have a pretty young community. It's good to have a younger person. That's an important perspective that will benefit the discussion."
On the third ballot, a majority of the council named Stokes, passing over former County Commissioner Joe Chillura, former City Council member Mary Alvarez and civic activist Mimi Osiason. Voting for Stokes' appointment were Scott, Caetano and Mary Mulhern.
Capin's appointment to John Dingfelder's seat representing a South Tampa district came only after 17 rounds of voting to narrow a list of 27 applicants.
At one point, council member Charlie Miranda suggested swearing in Stokes, who had been appointed earlier in the day, to break the impasse. But the motion was discarded as Stokes had not had a chance to review candidates' applications or hear their two-minute presentations.
Capin, 60, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the state House in 2008, said she is uniquely qualified to face the most pressing economic concerns before the council, including the budget.
"I've lived with budgets," said Capin, who formerly owned a jewelry business. She said she hopes to solicit her predecessor's advice during her time in office
Like Saul-Sena, Dingfelder lauded his replacement, saying Capin would continue working on the budget, environmental and zoning issues he was committed to.
"Nobody's exactly the same and Yolie has her own mind, but I think that generally speaking, she does care about those issues."
Both appointees have important financial expertise and will be quick learners, Miranda said.
Mulhern, who had previously said she hoped to choose candidates similar in philosophy to those they were replacing, said she did not think there would be a "dramatic shift in perspective."
Scott, Mulhern and Miller voted to name Capin to the post. The council passed over former Assistant City Attorney Julie Brown, lawyer Harry Cohen, former City Council member Joe Greco and neighborhood leader Sue Lyon.
While Capin said she does not plan to run for a permanent council seat in the March elections, Stokes said he is undecided. Both are set to be sworn in on Thursday.
Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.