1. News

Romano: St. Pete election draws yawns from voters now — but they'll be shouting later

Published Nov. 3, 2015

I can see where you're coming from.

Today's election isn't really a big deal, not like a presidential or gubernatorial or even a mayoral race. It's just three disputed seats on the St. Petersburg City Council.

I mean, how often do important decisions actually come down to one or two votes by council members?

Well, yes, if you want to be a stickler, the Tampa Bay Rays stadium search has been in limbo for nearly a year because of 5-3 and 4-4 council votes.

The council's reluctance to approve the mayor's deal with the Rays has produced a cloud over Major League Baseball's future in the market and has thrown up a giant roadblock on the potential redevelopment of Tropicana Field land and the downtown's western expansion.

But that's a unique case.

Usually, the business of the council is done far from the limelight. It's mostly procedural stuff. Not the kind of thing that impacts you on a daily basis.

Well, okay, there was the whole red-light camera saga. For the better part of a year, red-light cameras survived in St. Pete by a 5-3 council majority. It wasn't until, coincidentally or not, two new members were elected that cameras bit the dust.

Still, I totally understand your ambivalence.

And I get why so few of you are expected to venture into Florida's harsh November weather today to cast votes for two races with incumbents and one with a pair of fresh candidates.

The last time St. Pete had an election without a mayor on the ballot in 2011, it drew about 14 percent of the city's eligible voters. That meant six out of every seven people willing to stand in line at Starbucks for a cup of coffee also couldn't find the time to fill out a ballot either in person or through the mail.

And that was a huge upgrade from 2007, when less than 10 percent of St. Pete's electorate remembered to vote.

It seems letting one of your neighbors down at the end of the block choose who is going to represent your interests in major municipal decisions works out fantastically well around here.

Well, all right, maybe not all the time. There was that whole Pier fiasco. A lot of folks seemed terribly miffed with various council members during that decadelong debate.

That would include the 5-3 vote in the spring of 2013 when the council nearly moved full steam ahead with plans to build the Lens despite a pending referendum later in the fall that would ultimately kill the entire plan.

But, realistically, how often are council votes that close?

You know, besides the recent 5-3 vote for a utility rate increase. And that 5-3 vote to pay double the appraised value for land for the new police station. And the 5-3 vote for a $75 fire fee to boost city revenues. And the initial 5-3 vote to disallow digital billboards. And, oh, that time the council voted 5-3 to turn over a public sidewalk to the business owners running BayWalk.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every weekday morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Here's another way to look at it:

Back in 2007, when one out of every 10 voters showed up, Wengay Newton won his race by about 600 votes. Bill Dudley won by 257. And since incumbents rarely lose, those margins bought them seats for eight years.

When it comes to elections, apathy just seems like part of the lifestyle in St. Pete.

Although, weirdly, so does complaining about the results.