Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Tight Tampa Bay area primary races will divide Democrats this summer

It's looking to be a long, hot summer for a number of mostly Democratic Tampa Bay politicians battling it out in the Aug. 30 primary.

House District 68, which covers much of St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park, Lealman and Feather Sound, pits two well-funded, well-connected 30-something candidates, Eric Lynn and Ben Diamond, against one another in a race that has local Democrats divided.

All by himself, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman shows just how split Democrats are. He endorsed Lynn when he was in the Democratic 13th Congressional District primary against Charlie Crist. Kriseman then endorsed Diamond for the House seat before Lynn jumped into the race in early May.

In House District 70, a crowded field of three candidates will battle it out for the Democratic nomination in a sprawling district that takes in parts of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

St. Petersburg business owner Dan Fiorini is also endorsed by Kriseman. Former St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton has raised the most money so far. CJ Czaia, a lawyer and former Manatee County Democratic official who has lived or worked in all four counties, rounds out the Democratic field.

The most contentious race in Hillsborough County is a primary battle between two Democrats for the usually staid office of clerk of the Circuit Court: incumbent Clerk Pat Frank vs. Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner.

Frank, 86, is a legendary and longtime Democratic politician versus Beckner, 45, one of the party's young stars and the first openly gay member of the county commission.

Beckner has reached the term limit of his commission seat. He and Frank have told different accounts about how they ended up facing each other. Beckner has questioned how much time Frank spends in office, while she has defended her record and said her age is no obstacle.

Four Democrats are vying for the nomination to replace Beckner — John Dicks, Pat Kemp, Tom Scott and Brian Willis — and all have a wide range of opinions about one of the hottest issues around, transportation.

A few of the most closely watched races this election season are three seats up for grabs on the Pinellas County School Board.

The August primary comes one year after the Tampa Bay Times published Failure Factories, an investigative series that documented how the School Board let five once-average elementary schools in predominantly poor and black neighborhoods descend into the lowest performing schools in the state.

The most competitive race is District 1's at-large seat, which has no incumbent.

Board member Janet R. Clark announced last month that she will not seek a fourth term on the School Board, leaving the countywide seat open. Four candidates are on that ballot including former St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Dudley, retired Gulfport Elementary first-grade teacher Joanne Lentino, deputy director for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and St. Petersburg College adjunct ethics professor Matt Stewart, and the race's newest candidate, Robert J. Beal, a 45-year-old St. Petersburg College student and Marine.

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