ST. PETERSBURG — The cash spigot filling campaign coffers for City Council races, especially the contentious contest in District 7, is ready to shut off.
Will Newton, who hopes to replace his brother Wengay in that council seat, has overtaken a well-funded opponent with a healthy head start: Lisa Wheeler-Brown.
Despite entering the race five months after Wheeler-Brown declared her candidacy, Newton has a sizable advantage.
How did he do it? Union political action committees for firefighters have bankrolled 42 percent of Newton's campaign war chest, campaign finance records show. As of Oct. 25, the latest filings show, at least $30,000 has been contributed to Newton's campaign from fire unions across the state. That's about 42 percent of the $72,150 that Newton has raised.
Newton, who was a St. Petersburg firefighter/emergency medical technician for 23 years and the firefighters' union president from 2002 to 2011, said he won't remove himself from any council vote on the police and fire unions.
In a statement from his campaign Friday, Newton said he was grateful for the support and that rank-and-file police and firefighters' support.
"Their support is merely a reflection of that and has nothing to do with my ability to exercise independent judgment," the statement read.
The local firefighters' union didn't respond to a request for comment.
Wheeler-Brown also has significant union support, but it's the Service Employees International Union, which represents city workers. That union has donated at least $5,000 to her campaign, or 9 percent of the $57,375 raised so far. The SEIU endorsed Wheeler-Brown.
"I'm proud to have the support of the people who work every day to keep our city running," Wheeler-Brown said in a statement.
SEIU officials say endorsing Wheeler-Brown was an easy choice.
"Lisa has been active in the 'Fight for $15' campaign to raise the minimum wage, the right for unions to organize and she has persistently participated in community affairs," said Rick Smith, the union's chief of staff.
The other campaigns have been much quieter on the stump and their war chests reflect it.
In District 1, Charlie Gerdes has raised just over $13,000. He's received donations from the firefighters union and SEIU making $1,250 of his total. His opponent, Monica Abbott, has almost completely self-funded her campaign, according to her latest filing at the City Clerk's office covering up to Oct. 18. She pitched in $12,000 of the $12,425 total.
In District 5, Steve Kornell has raised $51,202. Realtors and hotel and resort businesses are his biggest donors. His opponent, Philip Garrett, hadn't filed his latest report as of mid-Friday afternoon. Through Oct. 18, Garrett had raised $1,582, almost all of it self-funded.