St. Pete mayor’s race still has candidates weighing their options

Insiders expect jockeying to begin in earnest next month.
Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.
Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. [ DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Times (2018) ]
Published Dec. 13, 2020|Updated Dec. 14, 2020

As speculation continues about candidates in the upcoming St. Petersburg mayoral race, and insiders expect jockeying to begin in earnest next month, former state Rep. Wengay Newton said this week he’s “definitely considering” running.

Businessman and civic activist Deveron Gibbons said people have asked him to run and he’s thinking about it, but that family considerations might get in the way.

Newton lost the Democratic primary for county commissioner to Rene Flowers in November, but he said he would perform better in a non-partisan election including Republican and no-party voters.

“I was shackled and limited to Democrats only” in the primary, Newton said. “I’ve always prided myself on representing all the people.”

Former state Rep. Wengay Newton
Former state Rep. Wengay Newton

A run by a well-known Black candidate such as Newton could be problematic for outgoing Commissioner Ken Welch, also a mayoral candidate, if it divided the city’s Black voters.

But Welch expressed confidence — “I’m confident in the message that I have for our community, and I look forward to our campaign.”

Some prominent Black political insiders, including Flowers and Rev. J.C. Pritchett, have already announced they’re backing Welch, citing his activity on race issues.

Those moves took impetus from the recent school board race in which Karl Nurse ran unsuccessfully against the only Black school board candidate, Caprice Edmond, which could have resulted in an all-white board.

Deveron Gibbons
Deveron Gibbons

That race “re-established the importance of diversity,” Welch said. “Folks … understand how long it took to get a black school board member or county commissioner. Those gains have been so hard-won — people don’t want to risk losing that.”

Welch endorsed Edmond and returned a $500 contribution to his PAC from Nurse, even though the two have been political allies in the past.

Gibbons said via email that he has just had a second child, and “I must … weigh any political aspirations against this awesome responsibility, knowing that family must always come first.”

“As a lifelong St. Petersburg resident, I’m truly flattered that so many prominent members of the community believe I am capable of serving them well as mayor,” Gibbons said in a statement. “Clearly, the city faces a leadership void, and there is no denying we have seen far too many promises made but not kept. ... So I will carefully consider the suggestions of others that I be a candidate.”

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Party chairs, progressives win

In elections for Pinellas and Hillsborough Democratic Party offices, both party chairs, Barbara Scott in Pinellas and Ione Townsend in Hillsborough, retained their offices without opposition.

But in elections for the important posts of delegates to the governing committee of the state party, progressives from the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren factions of the party were big winners.

Hillsborough County Democratic Party chair Ione Townsend
Hillsborough County Democratic Party chair Ione Townsend

Hillsborough’s election was also ruffled by speculation that Townsend might join the already highly competitive race for state party chairman. She has been meeting with what she called an “exploratory committee” to discuss it.

While winning re-election, Townsend was also exploring a possible leap into the already-crowded race for state party chair, and expected to announce a decision soon.

“I think there is a path for a candidate like me,” she said Friday. “There is no true progressive in the race that has the experience and success that I have.”

Each county has one male and one female delegate to the state Democratic Executive Committee, the governing board of the state party.

In Pinellas, incumbent state committeeman Rick Boylan narrowly held off a challenge from Michael Sherosky, endorsed by the county’s Democratic Progressive caucus, while Bernie Sanders backer Lucinda Johnson beat Karen Mullins for committeewoman.

Pinellas vice-chairman Johnny Boykins was unseated by Jeff Cox.

In Hillsborough, outgoing party vice chair Vanessa Lester, a Sanders backer, was unopposed for state committeewoman, and Marcus Klebe, an Elizabeth Warren backer, won state committeeman over Mark Nash. Ella Coffee was unopposed as vice chair for operations and incumbent Russ Conn held off a challenge from Getulio Gonzalez-Mulattieri as vice chair for outreach.

Castor has new staff chief

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa has announced that Clay Phillips, her long-time chief of staff, will become a Tampa-based senior counsel and senior campaign adviser, and will be replaced as chief of staff by deputy chief of staff Lara Hopkins.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor [ Castor campaign ]

Phillips has been based in Tampa and commuted to Washington while also working on Castor’s re-election campaigns. The change means he will spend more time in Tampa.

Hopkins, a Florida native and University of Florida graduate, has worked with Castor since her first congressional campaign in roles ranging from campaign finance director to deputy chief of staff. She’ll be based in Washington.

An official Tampa cocktail

This column is supposed to be about politics, but lately, there’s nothing more pertinent to politics than the need for a good cocktail — or three.

So, now there’s an official Tampa libation, the result of a contest held by the city and the Downtown Partnership.

The beverage is called “6 A.M. on 7th Avenue,” and it’s the creation of Kamran Mir, a bartender at Tampa’s iconic downtown dive, The Hub.

Mixologist Kamran Mir
Mixologist Kamran Mir [ SANTANA, LUIS | Times (2015) ]

Mir said it’s intended to encapsulate the spirit of Tampa, inspired by café con leche. Café con leche is “the drink that screams ‘Tampa’ to me,” and what you’d be drinking at 6 a.m. in Ybor City, he said.

The recipe:

1.5 oz. Bacardi Superior rum – Bacardi because the brand, like many Tampa families, originated in Cuba.

1.5 oz. Galliano ristretto – an Italian coffee liqueur, also celebrating an ancestral home of many Tampans.

¼ oz. Grand Marnier – French, but flavored by sunshiny oranges.

¾ oz. Half and Half.

Shake with ice, garnish with shaved coffee bean and shaved orange zest, and hope it provides courage to face what’s on CNN.

Clarification: Deveron Gibbons is thinking about running for St. Petersburg mayor. An earlier version of this story was incomplete about his thinking.

Contact William March at