Promising to make city government more accessible to the people, insurance adjuster John J. "Jay" Lasita won the race Tuesday to replace failed mayoral hopeful Leslie Curran as the new council member from District 8.
Lasita, 45, swamped his opponent, Jimmy Joe Biggerstaff, with 62 percent of the vote.
Lasita (pronounced La-SEE-ta) promised to work with his new colleagues to schedule at least some council meetings for a time when more working people can attend, and to hold town hall meetings in neighborhoods around the city.
Right now, he said, "too many people scream at their TV sets. They ought to have a chance to come here and scream at us instead."
He also called for beefing up the police department's gang intelligence unit and for tailoring more of government to meet the needs of the city's increasingly younger population.
Although this was the first time Lasita has run for office, he is no political novice. He has participated in campaigns for state and national candidates, and until recently served on the board of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee. He also serves on school advisory councils.
Biggerstaff blamed his loss on his lack of endorsements.
"That's something he worked on, and I didn't," Biggerstaff said. "I thought it was more important to get out and try to get the people behind me."
Lasita racked up virtually every endorsement and recommendation possible: Curran; the police and firefighters unions; the union representing the city's blue-collar workers; and the Times.
Although the endorsements helped, Lasita said, "I don't think every endorsement in the world would be enough to account for this margin."
The lack of endorsements did not deter Biggerstaff, 56. The retired steelworker dotted the landscape with homemade signs and campaigned door-to-door. He made the most of his experience as president of the Disston Heights Neighborhood Association, the biggest single neighborhood group in the city.
Biggerstaff promised this race will not be his last. "They've not gotten rid of me yet," he said.
The win makes Lasita the first new council member from District 8 in eight years. Curran was precluded by the city charter from seeking a third term. She ran for mayor but lost in the primary.
Her open seat drew six contenders, but only Lasita and Biggerstaff survived the primary.