TAMPA — Lisa Montelione captured the District 7 City Council seat Tuesday by strengthening her base in New Tampa and winning over some voters who supported her opponent just three weeks ago.
Montelione won all of the precincts north of Fowler Avenue, as well as those in the university area to earn 61 percent of the vote. Charles Perkins' support remained strong in North Tampa.
While Perkins had been campaigning for more than a year, Montelione was the last candidate to enter the race. She said the support she received, including a host of high-profile endorsements, helped propel her to victory.
"I didn't ever expect the amount of attention that I received from people who really believed in me," she said. "I'm just grateful to the voters for standing with me and recognizing how important District 7 is."
All along, Montelione said she was the most qualified candidate because of her diverse background. She is president of the Terrace Park Civic and Crime Watch Association and works in the sustainable building industry. Montelione is also a former Hillsborough County planner and analyst.
Throughout the campaign, she said the city should cut costs by eliminating programs that don't work and looking for opportunities to make departments more efficient. Making it easier for businesses to expand in Tampa and strengthening code enforcement will be her top priorities.
It was Perkins' third consecutive unsuccessful bid for the City Council. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Perkins tried to color the runoff election as a battle between New Tampa and North Tampa. Campaigning door to door mainly in the southern half of the district, he vowed to funnel resources and attention to aging neighborhoods like Forest Hills, where he grew up.
Montelione rejected such a characterization, saying the district deserved a representative who didn't choose sides. The neighborhoods of District 7 are more alike than they are different, she said, and helping one will ultimately help them all.
"Philosophically, I think that a lot of voters are tired of one side battling the other," she said.
Forest Hills resident Edward Alvarez voted for Montelione, saying he didn't approve of Perkins' background as the former host of a raunchy public access television show.
"I just thought she was better morally than the other candidate," Alvarez said, indicating that Perkins' attempt to move past the "White Chocolate" persona had not succeeded with all voters.
Perkins lives in North Tampa and runs an Internet-based business with his wife. He said he is a more mature and spiritual person than he was when his television show aired in the 1990s.
The race was punctuated in the final weeks by a stream of fliers and mailers of dubious origin that attack both candidates, often with misleading or outright false claims.
Montelione said she was happy that voters looked past the negativity when casting their ballots.
Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.