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St. Petersburg City Council District 7 race turns even nastier

ST. PETERSBURG — It's been a brutal City Council race for District 7.

The seat being vacated by Wengay Newton is being contested by his younger brother, Will Newton, and Lisa Wheeler-Brown in a bare-knuckles fight rife with charges and counter-charges.

The latest round involves a foundation formed by Wheeler-Brown in honor of her son, Cabretti, who was murdered in 2008. Newton supporters say the fact that Wheeler-Brown's foundation didn't file tax returns with the IRS nor provide records raises questions about how the money was spent.

Council member Amy Foster, who has endorsed Newton, said she was concerned about Wheeler-Brown's judgment.

"It does give me pause about her attention to detail and her ability to follow regulations," said Foster, who is the executive director of the Guardian Ad Litem Foundation of Tampa Bay.

A report in a local blog said the foundation had raised $81,000, according to a nonprofit website, Manta.com. Yet, Wheeler-Brown's campaign said she raised only about $300 at a fish fry for family and friends.

What about that $81,000? In an email to the Wheeler-Brown campaign, a Manta.com representative indicated anyone could have added the $81,000 on the website.

The $300 was intended to pay for a lawyer or someone familiar with setting up a nonprofit. But when the fundraising didn't go well, Wheeler-Brown said she decided to donate the sum to a street cleaning effort for at-risk youth in her neighborhood. She never registered for 501(c)3 status, said Tom Alte, a campaign consultant.

The accusations against Wheeler-Brown are baseless, said council member Karl Nurse, who has endorsed her.

"My take is that the Will Newton campaign has engaged in gutter politics for two months," Nurse said. "This is the dirtiest campaign I've ever seen."

Wheeler-Brown can't provide any documentation about the money raised or how it was distributed. Alte said the records have been lost.

Wheeler-Brown didn't respond to a request for comment. But her campaign blamed the Newton camp for spreading a "malicious" lie and demanded an apology.

Newton declined to comment, as well.

"I'm sorry for her loss, but I don't have any comment on that," he said.

The citywide election for the seat representing Midtown, Childs Park and other southern neighborhoods is Tuesday.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

St. Petersburg City Council District 7 race turns even nastier 10/29/15 [Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2015 10:54am]
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