ST. PETERSBURG — When Robert Blackmon is asked about his stance on topics like Gov. Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump or abortion, Blackmon typically says he’s running for mayor of St. Petersburg, and he wants to stick to what he can control as mayor.
“I’m always going to be a local guy first and foremost,” he told the Tampa Bay Times after saying he’s never met DeSantis.
But the day before the Nov. 2 general election, Blackmon is set to participate in a partisan political event alongside a roster of outspoken conservative personalities and candidates.
Blackmon promoted the event, “Blexit 727 Block Party” on his Instagram account on Monday. His photo is featured on the digital flier, alongside conservative firebrands Anna Paulina Luna, DC Draino and Brandon Tatum. Their social media pages feature anti-vaccine and anti-mask content, along with other misinformation about COVID-19. They are each avid supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Tatum and right-wing commentator Candace Owens are founders of the Blexit movement. Blexit, as described by Owens, “is the Black exit from the Democratic Party. It’s the Black exit from permanent victimhood, the Black exit from the false idea that we are somehow separate from the rest of America.”
Blackmon said he sees the event as another speaking opportunity. He told the Tampa Bay Times he plans to talk about his vision for city-backed mortgages, opportunity growth in Midtown and bringing the Municipal Services Center to Tangerine Plaza.
“I serve with people who have different viewpoints. I’m not ever of the opinion that you should segregate on the basis of ideologies,” Blackmon said. “I don’t have everything in common with everyone up there on the stage. It doesn’t have to align with everyone up there exactly.”
Tania Gorman is the state director of the Florida Blexit chapter. She said the event brings together the conservative group in Pinellas and puts on an event for the community. She said the focus of the event is on empowering the surrounding minority and low-income communities.
“We can do anything that we want to do, and we are empowered by our inalienable rights in this country to do so,” Gorman said.
She said those who were invited to speak align with the group’s pillars: promoting school choice, entrepreneurship and “positive American history.” Gorman said Blackmon was specifically invited because of his advocacy for school choice on the St. Petersburg City Council.
Asked what his position was on school choice, Blackmon said, “That’s an issue for me not to vote on or to control.” He said he was surprised to hear that’s why he was invited, because City Council has no control over school choice.
“I’m excited, certainly,” he said. “It’s another event on the calendar. It’s another chance to talk to voters before the election.”
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Luna is again running for Florida’s 13th Congressional District in 2022 after her loss to incumbent Charlie Crist last year. Her husband, Andrew J. Gamberzky, applied for a permit from the city of St. Petersburg to host the event at Childs Park. He described it on the application as a “get out the vote” event with 100 adults in attendance.
Childs Park and the surrounding areas are predominantly Black and carried Welch to a comfortable first-place spot in the August primary. Blackmon is a Republican, and Welch is a Democrat. The mayor’s race is nonpartisan but tends to fall along party lines. St. Petersburg is a majority Democratic city.
Brother John Muhammad, president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association, said the event brings an opportunity for people to engage.
“I’m not one to kind of stand in the way of people who want to come in and share information even if I don’t necessarily agree with it,” he said. “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Muhammad said it was good to know that the Blexit group considers his neighborhood important and significant enough to want to spend the day before the election there.
“At one point our neighborhood was being ignored and (people were) not coming here to talk about things politically,” he said. “Politically I think it just lends itself to attracting all kinds of people including a Republican candidate for mayor.”
If elected Nov. 2, Welch would be the city’s first Black mayor. Welch says he will be handing out Thanksgiving turkeys with NBA All-Star Magic Johnson at Tropicana Field on Nov. 1.
Asked about Blackmon’s participation in the Blexit event, “It’s just another example of my opponent’s blatant hypocrisy,” Welch said. “It’s interesting that my opponent talks about not nationalizing this race and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Welch said he’s been speaking with mayors of both parties locally and across the nation to learn from them about the issues they’re facing.
“That’s where we can learn and use those national connections,” he said. “That’s been my focus. Not bringing an ultrapartisan group here.”