1. News

Diverse candidates vie to represent St. Pete's diverse District 6

International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement-affiliated City Council candidate Eritha "Akile" Cainion pauses between answers during a recent forum at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. She is one of eight candidates vying to represent the diverse and sprawling District 6 seat on the St. Petersburg City Council. [LARA CERRI | Times]
Published Aug. 2, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — The District 6 City Council seat has attracted eight hopefuls who are as diverse as the sprawling area they hope to represent.

Their number includes white and black residents; millennials and baby boomers. They call the booming downtown home; have roots in the struggling Midtown community; or they have settled in the district's middle-class neighborhoods.

When the District 6 boundaries were redrawn in 2013, 51 percent of its residents were minorities. But, outgoing City Council member Karl Nurse said the recent growth of the downtown population has caused that percentage to dip.

It's meant further change to the district that for decades was represented by black leaders — until Nurse was appointed to fill the vacant council seat in 2008. Nurse, who was convincingly elected twice to that seat, cannot run again because of term limits.

Voters will soon decide the next person to represent this sprawling district, which includes some southern neighborhoods and stretches through parts of downtown and even into a portion of Old Northeast. The top two vote-getters will face each other on Nov. 7.

Who will represent the district is a sensitive issue for African-American leaders.

Abdul Karim Ali, whose father, Joseph E. Savage, organized the 1968 sanitation strike in the city — a landmark civil rights effort — believes the seat should go to a black resident.

"I am very concerned about District 6 having proper representation on City Council, said Ali, who is an imam and president of the Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association.

"This is not a criticism of the current council member. I like (Nurse) quite well and he did a lot of good, but the real strong voice of District 6 has been lightened. At one point, we had at least two people sitting on the council, and somehow, we lost that."

The Rev. Manuel Sykes, pastor of Bethel Community Baptist, an African-American church, said the seat had been considered a black seat before Nurse was appointed to take the place of the late Earnest Williams, who resigned to run for the Legislature.

"A number of very qualified African-Americans made a bid to replace (Williams)," Sykes said, adding that he doesn't think that anyone who has not "experienced the neglect and the struggles of the Southside can adequately serve as an advocate."

Sykes said he has a problem with how the district was redrawn: The new boundaries "combine such a vast difference in income, education, lifestyle and city investment ... It's a tale of two cities and I believe it's strategic."

Nurse sees hope in the next round of redistricting. According to the city charter, council boundaries are redrawn every 10 years based on the results of the U.S. Census to make sure that districts remain equal in size and correspond to voting precincts.

Before the 2013 redistricting, Nurse said that task had been the responsibility of the City Council. He proposed that it be taken over by a redistricting commission.

"I don't think that elected officials ought to be able to draw their own lines," he said. "The district is supposed to be compact, contiguous and with natural borders and precincts. It was the last one that got us in trouble."

Nurse said he has since worked to change the charter to make precincts the least important of the four criteria for redrawing the lines. Since some of the precincts are so large, he said, it was difficult to create a compact, contiguous district. That's why District 6 now stretches across 80 blocks.

Nurse, who lives in Old Southeast, lost half of Lakewood Estates and areas of Midtown south of 18th Avenue S in the redistricting. He gained Bahama Shores and downtown from Central Avenue to Ninth Avenue N. And, Nurse said, the district went from 68 percent African American to about half.

"When the district was changed, I lost all of the majority African-American middle-class neighborhoods," Nurse said, "which was where all of the most viable African-American candidates and all the African-American job holders for that district came out of."

He mentioned Bette Wimbish, David Welch, Earnest Williams, Frank Peterman and Charles Shorter.

The only solution, Nurse said, is to redraw the lines after the next census in 2020, which he said will likely happen because of the growing downtown population.

Of the eight candidates vying for the seat, three are black. Maria Scruggs, 59, is president of the St. Petersburg NAACP branch and a supervisor with Orange County Corrections. Corey Givens Jr., 25, is a claims clerk with WellCare Health Plans in Tampa. Eritha "Akile" Cainion, 20, is a shoe store clerk and membership coordinator for the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, a group that advocates for social justice for African Americans.

Sykes said he has "narrowed" his support to Scruggs, whom he referred to as an "elder statesman," and to Cainion. He said he supports Cainion "because she's young, she's smart and, with the one exception that some of her language is inflammatory, I think she has a good analysis of the current state of affairs."

Ali is endorsing Scruggs "because of her experience."

"I want to make sure we have a voice that looks just like myself, but can speak for the entire district," he said, adding that a black person is just as qualified to speak for the black community and also for the entire city.

Nurse, who said he tried unsuccessfully to recruit several African-American candidates he thought could win the seat, has endorsed Gina Driscoll, 46, president of the influential Downtown Neighborhood Association.

The other District 6 candidates are Justin Bean, 30, Robert Blackmon, 28, James "Jim" Jackson, 72, and James Scott, 29.

The Aug. 29 primary will determine the top two candidates who will face each other in the Nov. 7 general election.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.


  1. Authorities found 29-year-old Sharee Bradley stabbed to death on Aug. 5. The chief says she had three children; the 12-year-old and 3-year-old were found safe, but Nevaeh had disappeared. Sumter Police Department/Facebook
    DNA from the remains found Friday has been matched to Nevaeh Adams, Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark told reporters.
  2. Cars back up at a Tampa intersection last October, not long before Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. This week, local officials detailed how the money would be spent, if the tax survives a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. URSO, CHRIS  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Local governments have plans for $527 million in projects. But the Florida Supreme Court would need to clear the way.
  3. FILE - In this Sunday, April 22, 2018, file photo, a statue of a chained man is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a new memorial to honor thousands of people killed in racist lynchings, in Montgomery, Ala. Facing an impeachment inquiry that he and supporters claim is illegal, President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, that the process is a lynching. Some Republicans agree, but the relatives of actual lynching victims don’t. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Made in a tweet that drew backing from some Republican supporters including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Trump’s claim was ill-informed at best and racist at worst, they said.
  4. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Damien Wiggins Jr. was found with a gunshot wound in the parking lot of a vacant business on Haines Road.
  5. FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2018 file photo, Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz listens during a status check on his case at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. As his death penalty trial draws closer, a hearing is set for school shooting defendant Cruz in the 2018 massacre that killed 17 people. The hearing Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, likely concerns the setting of timelines leading up to the planned January trial of the 21-year-old Cruz. AMY BETH BENNETT  |  AP
    The hearing Wednesday likely concerns the setting of timelines leading up to the planned January trial of the 21-year-old Cruz.
  6. FILE - This undated file photo released by the FBI shows 3-year-old Kamille McKinney, who police say has been missing since she was abducted while attending a birthday party on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala. Investigators searching through garbage found the body of McKinney, who was missing more than a week, and authorities are charging two people with murder, police said Tuesday, Oct. 22. AP
    The child, known as “Cupcake” to relatives, vanished while outside a birthday party on Oct. 12. Investigators know of no link between the suspects and the girl or her family, police say.
  7. An aerial view as police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurock, South England, early Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019. Police in southeastern England said that 39 people were found dead Wednesday inside a truck container believed to have come from Bulgaria. UK POOL  |  AP
    “We are in the process of identifying the victims, however, I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process," Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner said.
  8. A top U.S. diplomat, William Taylor, departs the Capitol after testifying in the Democrats' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    Democrats said they were shocked and disturbed by what they heard. A look at the key takeaways from Taylor’s statement, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
  9. A Florida black bear (not this one) was found at a Marion County school and removed. CARLTON WARD JR  |  Carlton Ward Jr
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Weeki Wachee Springs main entrance VAUGHN HUGHES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    From its iconic mermaids to its signature statue, Weeki Wachee Springs will be considered for historic designation.