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Darden Rice maintains fundraising lead in St. Petersburg mayor’s race

Rice and former county commissioner Ken Welch have far surpassed other mayoral candidates in fundraising.
Darden Rice (left) has raised over $550,000 in her mayoral campaign. The next-biggest fundraiser in the race is former county commissioner Ken Welch, with over $280,000.
Darden Rice (left) has raised over $550,000 in her mayoral campaign. The next-biggest fundraiser in the race is former county commissioner Ken Welch, with over $280,000. [ Darden Rice; Pinellas County ]
Published May 28
Updated May 28

With the qualifying period approaching, St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice is maintained her fundraising dominance in the mayoral race.

In April, Rice raised $108,805 in her campaign and independent political committee, bringing her total fundraising to $556,053. After expenses, she has about $376,000 in cash.

The next-biggest fundraiser in the race, former county commissioner Ken Welch, raised $52,941 in his campaign and committee, bring his total to $282,469 and leaving him about $243,000 in cash.

Other candidates’ totals for the race so far: Vince Nowicki, $22,117; Wengay Newton, $16,959; Michael Levinson, a $3,319 loan from himself; Michael Ingram, $1,611; and Marcile Powers, $533.

Field grows for St. Petersburg’s D4 Council race

Two new candidates, including a Raymond James investment banker, have entered the race for the St. Petersburg City Council seat being vacated by Rice.

The addition of investment banker Tom Mullins and former Cuban refugee Jarib Figueredo brings the field to five.

So far, the fundraising leader and possibly the best-known candidate is Lisset Hanewicz, a former prosecutor and president of the Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association.

Former prosecutor and trial lawyer and Crescent Lake neighborhood advocate Lisset Hanewicz has filed for the District 4 St. Petersburg City Council seat being vacated by Darden Rice.
Former prosecutor and trial lawyer and Crescent Lake neighborhood advocate Lisset Hanewicz has filed for the District 4 St. Petersburg City Council seat being vacated by Darden Rice. [ Lisset Hanewicz ]

The other two are chef and bartender Clifford Hobbs and business executive and Northeast Neighborhood Association activist Doug O’Dowd.

In fundraising reports through April 30, Hanewicz had raised $47,389, Hobbs $13,808 and O’Dowd $3,030.

Mullins, 57, married with two children in college, came here from Chicago in the late 1980′s to work at Raymond James, he said.

He specializes in the transportation and municipal infrastructure industries, areas important in local government, he noted.

He said he has previously avoided politics or government activism except where work-connected, partly because his company avoids political involvement; but he plans to retire later this year.

Mullins said he wants to combat “anti-development, anti-business ideology and the impulse to grow the scope of government and raise taxes”; and because he believes the city is setting its sights too low in redeveloping Tropicana Field.

A parcel that size in such a location, he said, is a rare commodity that should yield a major economic engine such as a university or Fortune 500 relocation.

Figueredo, 33, has never voted and didn’t register to vote until November, two days after the 2020 election. He said that’s because he and his family are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who shun involvement in politics. He calls himself “an entrepreneur, not a politician.”

He has worked in payroll for two local companies and has started a company that will make open-source payroll software for international companies, but said he expects no revenue from that company and earns a living as an investor in digital currency.

He said his views are conservative — “My intention with running is to bring the American dream back.”

Candidates scramble for D1 race

City Council member Robert Blackmon’s resignation to run for mayor has created a scramble for potential candidates for his District 1 seat, with the two-week qualifying period only a few days away.

The District 1 special election will go on the same ballot with the four scheduled elections in Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8, an Aug. 24 primary and Nov. 2 general election, and qualifying dates will be the same, 8 a.m. June 3 to 5 p.m. June 18.

As of late last week, there were plenty of insider conversations and phone calls about who might run, but only one candidate had actually filed: Ed Carlson, known as “Dr Ed.” Carlson, 80, is a retired dentist, martial arts teacher, longtime Jungle Terrace Civic Association leader, and advocate of what he calls “Core Health,” using a chiroproactic-like technique called kinesiology to “clear life energy.”

Former St. Petersburg council member Charlie Gerdes
Former St. Petersburg council member Charlie Gerdes

Former District 1 council member Charlie Gerdes, term-limited two years ago, can’t run again until 2023, but didn’t deny speculation that a member of his family might run — he has four sons.

Bilirakis bipartisan in legislation, but not rhetoric

For the second straight year, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, has been ranked the most bipartisan Florida Congress member in legislative work, and near the top in the full House — although he sometimes sounds less so in his political rhetoric.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor

The rankings come from The Lugar Center, a foundation named for the late Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, and the Georgetown University school of public policy. They’re based on how often a Congress member introduces significant bills that attract opposing-party co-sponsors, and in turn co-sponsors bills by opposing-party members.

Bilirakis, who emphasizes veterans’ benefits in his legislative work, this year ranked 27th out of the 435 House members and first in the Florida delegation.

“I understand my constituents want their leaders to work together to do what is right for our country … They are tired of partisanship and bickering,” he said in a release announcing the ranking.

But Bilirakis sounded different two weeks ago describing why he voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, from her House leadership position over her criticism of former President Donald Trump.

He said the House needs leaders who “will work in unison with me and my colleagues to combat a catastrophic Democrat agenda that has in just four short months unraveled peace in the Middle East, destroyed a booming and historic Trump economy, demolished border security, and triggered a gas shortage.” He called it a choice between “leftist dysfunction versus American exceptionalism.”

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com.