Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas Democratic chairman tells pastor he's 'persona non grata' if he runs for Congress

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County's Democratic chairman left a bluntly worded voicemail telling well-known St. Petersburg pastor Manuel Sykes he would be "persona non grata" if he followed through with plans to run for Congress.

Sykes was the only announced Democratic candidate in Pinellas County's 13th Congressional District, but he said Wednesday he has now decided not to run after all.

In the voicemail, Mark Hanisee said party officials had spoken to the offices of two key Democrats, former congressional candidate Alex Sink and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

"Neither one of them are endorsing you, nor is the (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee). They have another candidate," Hanisee said. He added, "You better hold off, or, like I told you Sunday night, you are going to be persona non grata. Take that to the bank. That's telling you the gospel truth. You're going to be getting a call from Rick Kriseman, if you haven't already, telling you to back off. Have a nice weekend."

Sykes said the comments disappointed him, and "the party needs to be purged of these kinds of hindrances to its progress and progressiveness." He said all candidates should be allowed and encouraged to run.

Angela Owens, an attorney who was working with Sykes' campaign, said she listened to the recording and found it "appalling."

"It was shocking to me … because it's against the rules," Owens said. "Aren't they supposed to support Democratic candidates?"

Sykes, 57, of Bethel Community Baptist Church, said comments from Hanisee and some other party officials were a factor in his decision not to run.

As a first-time candidate likely to be outspent by Republicans, Sykes said one of his main strategies was to work within the party organization, getting to know people in Democratic clubs who could spread the word of his campaign.

But "when I have my own party leaders blocking me, I knew that was sort of being cut off at the knees," he said.

He said he had had a conversation with Hanisee before getting the voicemail and had also spoken to another Democratic Party official who disliked his chances because he said the district is overwhelmingly white, and he said white voters are less likely to forgive past transgressions than African-American voters are. Sykes was the subject of a 2007 news article about a child he had out of wedlock, a subject that might well have come up during the campaign.

Hanisee said in an interview that someone was spreading rumors that Kriseman and Sink had endorsed Sykes, which he said wasn't true. Sink said in an interview that she admires Sykes and encouraged him to explore a possible run. But she also told Hanisee that rumors about her endorsing Sykes were not true because she was waiting to see who else might join the race.

Hanisee said that was part of the reason for his call to Sykes. He added, "I was only advising him that this was going to be an uphill battle.

"Listen," Hanisee said in an unprompted comment, "to me it has nothing to do with whether he is white or back; he is just not a credible candidate in this particular district."

Why not?

"Because he lives in another district, he's never run for office before, (and) he has no prior political experience. If you check the demographics, it's like a 2 percent, 3 percent African-American district."

Sykes had previously acknowledged that he lives outside the 13th district; he used to live inside it, but then its boundaries changed. He had said he would move into the district to run in it.

Regarding Hanisee's comments about Kriseman and Sink, Sykes said he talked to both of them, and both were helpful. He said Kriseman "told me to do what's in my heart to do. He's a friend." Sink told him she believed he would run a good race, he said. Both also warned him it would be a daunting task.

Kriseman could not be reached Wednesday night.

Hanisee said he did not know which candidate the DCCC was backing. Late Wednesday, no Democrats had filed to run for the seat against newly elected Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.

The Rev. Manuel Sykes

The Rev. Manuel Sykes

Pinellas Democratic chairman tells pastor he's 'persona non grata' if he runs for Congress 04/30/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 1, 2014 12:04am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Today: Scientology to film mock FBI raid on downtown building

    Special Topics

    CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology will be filming a mock FBI raid on its downtown campus Monday at 3 p.m., according to the Clearwater Police Department.

    According to Clearwater Police, the Church of Scientology plans to hold a mock FBI raid at 3 p.m. Monday at this vacant building at 305 N Fort Harrison Ave. Police announced the raid in advance to alert the public. They said they did not know the reason for the event. [Google Earch image]
  2. Ranking Malik Zaire among 2017's top transfer quarterbacks


    The Florida Gators' Malik Zaire is among many transfers who could become starters at their new school. Here's how he stacks up in our rankings of top transfer quarterbacks:

  3. Video shows giant humpback whale breaching right off side of boat


    A man filmed a whale breaching really close to his boat in a video that has gone viral.

    A giant whale breached right next to a boat in the waters off New Jersey last week. It was captured on video.
  4. Lightning re-sign Yanni Gourde to two-year, one-way deal


    Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fightning to stay in pro hockey.

    Yanni Gourde seized his moment with six goals in 20 games as a callup last season.
  5. Next up in Bucs renovations? A $20 million indoor practice facility


    Renderings of the Bucs' new indoor practice facility (Courtesy of the Bucs)