TAMPA — A funeral home owner and a retired police officer will square off in an April 23 runoff for the City Council District 5 seat.
Jeffrey L. Rhodes, who co-owns Ray Williams Funeral Home, won Tuesday's election with just under a third of the votes cast. He will face former Tampa Police Department officer Orlando Gudes, 51.
Gudes, whose $62,000 in donations was more than twice as much as any of his opponents, narrowly defeated Ella K. Coffee, a longtime neighborhood activist and political consultant. Ralph "The Computer Guy" Smith and Todd "TC" Cole finished further back.
The district, which includes downtown Tampa, Ybor City, Channelside, Seminole Heights and East Tampa, is being vacated by Frank Reddick, who plans to run for a Hillsborough County Commission seat in 2020. It is the city's only majority minority district.
Concerns about gentrification of city neighborhoods and calls for better transportation and more affordable housing dominated campaign discussions on the doorstep and at forums.
Rhodes, 56, said he kept his campaign simple and focused on reaching out to the community through neighborhoods and local churches. Because Tampa has a strong mayor form of government, it doesn't make sense for a council candidate to promise too much, he said.
"I always repeat over and over I will involve neighborhood associations as well as local clergy, which is big factor in a district like this," Rhodes said.
During the campaign, he said he was concerned that the city could lose its only majority minority district and would consider redrawing district boundaries to ensure minorities continue to be represented on council. He would also like to see the city consider a hiring ordinance like one passed by St. Petersburg that sets goals for hiring apprentices and ex felons for companies awarded city contracts.
He is making his first run for office and raised only $24,000 in campaign donations.
"I did go into election night feeling nervous," he said "I was not able to do TV commercials."
A slightly disappointed Gudes said it was key that he made the runoff election. He plans to go back to his supporters to raise more money and to campaign harder.
"We'll go back and reevaluate what we didn't do," Gudes said.
On the campaign trail, he touted his experience on the Charter Review Commission and a city community advisory committee as proof that he is ready to serve.
If elected, he said he would provide more city resources to identifying and cleaning up blighted areas in order to bring more jobs and economic stimulus to low-income neighborhoods in East Tampa, traditionally the poorest part of the city.
He wants the city to work with non-profit groups to rehab and build homes for low-income families. Vacant lots owned by the city could also be used for affordable housing, he said.
His endorsements included Hillsborough County Commission chair Les Miller, state lawmaker Dianne Hart and the Tampa Police Benevolent Association.
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"It's just two people now and voters can decide who has the most experience to lead the city," he said.
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_times.