1. Florida Politics

St. Petersburg City Council candidate field finalized

Published Jun. 23, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG— A crowded field of five emerged to replace outgoing City Council member Wengay Newton while incumbents Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes drew one challenger each as the qualifying period ended Monday.

Only one seat won't have a race. Ed Montanari, 57, an airline pilot and veteran civic volunteer, won by default because he was the only candidate who filed to replace term-limited council member Bill Dudley. The other four city council seats aren't up for re-election.

Kornell, 49, has represented District 5 since 2009. It covers much of the city's southwest neighborhoods. He is the only council member up for re-election who voted against a deal proposed by Mayor Rick Kriseman to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to look at possible stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Kornell said the Rays situation is just one of many factors. "It's not a one-issue race."

His opponent, Philip Garrett, 50, a senior appraiser for Hillsborough County, said he is open to a deal with the Rays and thinks the team's value is regional.

But he said the financial terms for any deal need discussion.

"We need to do a little more talking," he said.

District 7, which covers Midtown and other southern neighborhoods, promises to be a lively race with five candidates competing in an Aug. 25 primary. The top two finishers in the field — Lisa Wheeler-Brown, Will Newton, Aaron Sharpe and Sheila Scott Griffin and Elvert Lewis Stephens — will advance to the Nov. 3 general election.

Wheeler-Brown, 46, is the immediate past president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

Newton, 49, the younger brother of Wengay Newton, is a retired firefighter who now works as a firefighting professional association.

Sharpe, 46, is a consultant and neighborhood activist in the Pasadena Bear Creek neighborhood who also is the chairman on the city's Code Enforcement Board.

Griffin, 57, is a former attorney and manages a luxury transportation company.

Stephens qualified Tuesday but wasn't immediately available for comment.

Wengay Newton voted against the Rays deal. His potential successors haven't made their positions clear.

Monica Abbott, who sued the city in October for not following its own rules on how long the public could speak at meetings, will challenge council chairman Charlie Gerdes in District 1.

Abbott didn't immediately return a call for comment about her candidacy in the west St. Petersburg district.

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.