TAMPA — Incumbency can be a tough nut to crack in any election, and particularly in a low-profile race such as Tampa City Council.
But in three council districts with strong incumbents, a handful of challengers are taking a shot in the March 5 city elections. They have raised less money than their office-holding competition and have significantly less name recognition.
But all think Tampa's needs — particularly in transportation and affordable housing — are too great to simply maintain the status quo.
Here are overviews of the races in City Council districts 2, 6 and 7:
John Godwin and Joe Robinson vie for Charlie Miranda's city-wide District 2 seat
National security and technical innovation consultant John Godwin, 31, says Tampa needs to vastly expand its streetcar system, more than triple its number of buses to 600 and work a deal with CSX to use its tracks for Tampa commuters in the daytime.
He wants the council to revamp the city's housing codes to protect historic sites, increase housing supply and provide incentives for developers to include affordable housing in their projects.
He thinks Tampa can do a better job of inclusivity "with persons of color, with persons with disabilities, with LGBT persons,'' he wrote in answer to a Tampa Bay Times questionnaire. He says the Tampa Police Department's greatest weakness is its relationship with "communities of color.'' Its greatest strength is the men and women serving on the force. "Too often they receive the blame for misguided policies.''
"It really comes down to two things, having the heart and having the knowledge,'' Godwin said, adding that he would bring both qualities to the council.
Another challenger is Joe Robinson, 64, president and CEO at RHC and Associates, Inc., an engineering consulting firm.
"I think a licensed professional engineer would be a great asset on City Council,'' Robinson says.
He says the city needs to find a way to increase affordable housing, an issue he feels qualified to handle given his experience on government advisory and regulatory boards such as the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the West Tampa Community Redevelopment Corporation.
One of his proposals: take some of the money from code violation citations and put it into an affordable housing trust fund.
Robinson is in favor of expanding street car lines and using CSX rails for commuter trains. He said he also wants to make sure there is equity in city spending in Tampa neighborhoods.
"Certain neighborhoods are not getting their fair share,'' he said.
Charlie Miranda, 78, is the incumbent in District 2. He has served a total of 26 years on City Council and said his priorities include replacing 2,300 miles each of underground water and wastewater treatment lines because the city is paying $10 million a year on repairs.
He said the city could be more proactive in code enforcement. "We should spend more effort looking for problems like trash and debris, illegal commercial vehicles, overgrowth and unpermitted construction,'' he said in an answer to the Times questionnaire.
Miranda wants to expand the streetcar line and have a light rail network, and favors directing some funds from permitting fees to affordable housing.
"Providing sufficient affordable housing is a multi-faceted issue. Federal, state, county, and city governments all have a role to play and there is not a single answer to this challenge,'' he said.
As of mid-February, Miranda had raised $35,250 to Godwin's $13,257 and Robinson's $11,400.
Incumbent Guido Maniscalco faces challenger Wendy Pepe for the District 6 seat
Wendy Pepe, 54, president of Springboard PC, a distributor of promotional products, lists her priorities as creating a safe and friendly environment for walking and biking, plus smart development — "ensuring our rapid development does not outpace our capacity as a city,'' she answered on the Times' questionnaire.
Pepe said she brings a business mind to city issues, such as how money from the transportation sales tax will be allocated. "When people of all socio-economic classes can make it anywhere in the city for work and play, then all the neighborhoods will generally rise in attraction,'' she said.
Pepe said the city needs to concentrate on infrastructure, schools and continue to address street flooding. She said she will be responsive to constituents. "I want to be accessible, a good voice for all.''
A longtime Tampa resident, Pepe said she know the city and issues it faces. "I think my knowledge of 36 years (makes) me a wiser person.''
Guido Maniscalco, 34, who is running for a second term in District 6, said he wants the city to make a greater investment in improving infrastructure. He notes that he worked with Mayor Bob Buckhorn to get a $251 million storm water system improvement plan.
He said the recently passed transportation sales tax will allow the city to prioritize projects to build new sidewalks, pave roads, improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and more, and he wants to see a "drastic improvement'' along those lines in his district, which covers a large swath of west Tampa.
Maniscalco had raised $40,928 in campaign contributions by mid-February. Pepe had raised $18,525.
Quinton F. Robinson challenges District 7 incumbent Luis Viera
Former consultant Quinton F. Robinson, 42, wants to establish a Community Redevelopment Agency to improve north Tampa communities that include Sulphur Springs, Terrace Park and areas east of I-275 and west of 52nd Street, excluding the Busch Gardens and University of South Florida area. He said the city has neglected those areas for 15 years.
He favors increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour and coming up with a 10-year affordable housing funding plan for the city.
He also wants the city to implement a Human Trafficking Advisory Board, invest in body cameras for police and technology that records and transmits to nearby officers when police draw their weapons. He wants new rapid response emergency vehicles for District 7.
His resume states he was a partner and principal manager of State-Road Trucking LLC till 2016. He also worked in an investor recruiting and procurement firm and, before that, was with a firm that lobbied for the end of felon disenfranchisement in employment, housing and education.
In answer to the Times questionnaire, Robinson listed arrests for cocaine possession in 1997 and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine in 2004, to which he pleaded no contest. Each time, the judge withheld adjudication of guilt. He has had no arrests since 2004.
He said he changed his life, telling a judge that he understood "the consequences of the decisions that I made in my past and I no longer wanted to be labeled or seen as a menace to the community, but more as a pillar.''
Luis Viera, 41, running for a second term in District 7, said he would continue advocating for "our ignored neighborhoods'' in his district and throughout our city.'' That means completing the New Tampa Forest Hills Recreation Center expansion and investments, making all of the parks autism, sensory and disability friendly, protecting green spaces from reckless development and addressing stormwater needs.
He favors establishing a Community Redevelopment Area to make dramatic improvements in the USF area. He wants to use money from the newly passed transportation sales tax for a mass transit connector between USF and downtown Tampa, implementing design reform and safe streets for Fowler Avenue and Busch Boulevard, develop walkable communities and, as he said in answer to the Times' questionnaire, build "on the relationships between business, technological, educational and medical stakeholders in the area.''
"I support a framework and dialogue which gives our neighborhoods and ignored areas priority, including neglected areas and areas suffering from long-term congestion like New Tampa (which has seen an increase in population from 7,000 in 1990 to 60,000 today), the USF area and other areas throughout our City,'' he said.
Viera's contributions totaled $82,784 by mid-February, compared to Robinson's $8,006.
DISTRICT 2 Charlie Miranda, 78, the incumbent in District 2, has served on Tampa City Council for a total of 26 years. He was born in Tampa and grew up in Ybor City. He graduated from the University of Tampa. He works for the state of Florida as a thoroughbred horse racing steward. He and his late wife, Shirley Martinez Miranda, have three married children and eight grandchildren. https://www.facebook.com/CharlieMirandaCares2019.
John Godwin, 31, grew up visiting his grandfather in Tampa on weekends and moved here three years ago. He is a national security and technical innovation consultant. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Florida State University. He is married to Catherine Araszkiewicz Godwin. They have a 2-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. Website: www.VoteGodwin.com
Joe Robinson, 64, has lived in Tampa since 1958. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Iowa in 1977. He became a licensed professional engineer and started his own mechanical/electrical/plumbing/fire protection consulting firm in Tampa in 1990. He currently is president and CEO. Robinson has served on numerous government advisory and regulatory boards, including the Southwest Florida Water Management District. He is single and the father of a grown daughter. Website: www.electjoerobinson.com
Guido Maniscalco, 34, the incumbent in District 6, was born in Tampa. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in English from USF in 2007. Before becoming a City Council member, he was self-employed, selling vintage watches, and is a former sales associate at Mont Blanc and Dillards. He is single. Website: www.guidofortampa.com
Wendy Pepe, 54, , has lived in Tampa for 36 years. She graduated from USF with a degree in marketing. She is president of SpringboardPC, a distributor of promotional products. She is married to Mike Pepe, and they have three children, ages 24, 21 and 18. Website: www.WendyPepe.com
Luis Viera, 41, the incumbent in District 7, has lived in Hillsborough County since he was a small child. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from USF and has a law degree from Stetson College of Law. He is a lawyer with the Banker Lopez Gassler firm. He is divorced and has an 11-year-old son. Web site: https://www.facebook.com/VieraForTampa/
Quinton F. Robinson, 42, has lived in Hillsborough County for 36 years. He has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Florida A&M University and a master's degree in divinity, ministerial services from Luther Rice University & Seminary. He was partner and principal manager for State-Road Trucking, LLC, until 2016. He is married to Zackia S. Robinson; they have two children, ages 13 and 4. Website: www.voterobinson.com