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St. Pete council member Ed Montanari holds off District 3 challenger

Orlando Acosta narrowed the gap between the two by running a partisan campaign in this nonpartisan race. But Montanari will serve a second four-year term.
Incumbent St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari heads in to vote at the St. Petersburg Woman's Club during Tuesday's city election. He won re-election to his District 3 seat over Orlando Acosta.
Incumbent St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari heads in to vote at the St. Petersburg Woman's Club during Tuesday's city election. He won re-election to his District 3 seat over Orlando Acosta. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 6, 2019
Updated Nov. 7, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member Ed Montanari held off a strong challenge for his District 3 seat from Orlando Acosta in Tuesday’s citywide elections, taking nearly 54 percent of the vote.

Council seats are supposed to be nonpartisan races, but Acosta’s supporters tried to hang President Donald Trump around the incumbent’s neck to make the council’s lone conservative unpalatable to the city’s Democratic electorate.

“I’m deeply honored and humbled by the trust the voters have placed in me to continue to be their voice on City Council,” said Montanari in an emailed statement.

“It’s a testament to all we have accomplished together these past four years as well as our shared vision for the future of St. Petersburg. I’m proud of the positive campaign we ran that focused on people, not politics. Our city thrives when we all work together to get things done and that’s exactly what I’ll continue to do in my second term. I would also like to thank my family, friends, colleagues, supporters and volunteers for their hard work and dedication these last several months, I’m blessed to have you all in my life."

ELECTION RESULTS: Find all of Election Night’s winners and losers at The Buzz.

RELATED: Incumbent’s record focus of St. Petersburg District 3 race

Montanari, a registered Republican, said he voted for Trump in 2016 but did not donate to or campaign for the president. But Acosta and the Florida Democratic Party certainly tried to make it an issue in the council race. The party ran ads on Acosta’s behalf showing Montanari wearing with a "Make America Great Again” hat digitally placed atop his head (the incumbent said he doesn’t own a red MAGA hat).

However, that apparently wasn’t enough to overcome Montanari’s incumbency and name recognition.

Yet Acosta did narrow the gap in this citywide election. Montanari beat him by about 50 percentage points in the August primary, when only residents from the district — which includes Snell Isle and Shore Acres — were allowed to vote.

Acosta could not be reached for comment.

Orlando Acosta, left, lost his District 3 challenge to incumbent St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari.
Orlando Acosta, left, lost his District 3 challenge to incumbent St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Montanari, 61, an American Airlines pilot who is known for his preparedness on City Council and for being the body’s conservative voice, focused his campaign on his deep record of city involvement. He has been on task forces addressing Albert Whitted Airport, the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium issue and the city’s new pier. And he’s overseen infrastructure projects in his district, including work on the 40th Avenue bridge and wastewater lift stations and the replacement of playground and exercise equipment.

Acosta, 49, is a first-time candidate and a retired Air Force officer who served overseas and at MacDill Air Force Base. Now he’s an entrepreneur who started a defense consultancy business.

He ran on a progressive platform, saying he he was drawn to the city after seeing Pride flags hanging in neighborhoods. He attacked Montanari for being too conservative for St. Petersburg on issues such as the environment and gay marriage.

All council members serve four-year terms and make $49,281 annually. Montanari will be sworn in for his second term in January.

2019 ST. PETERSBURG ELECTION RESULTS

DISTRICT 1: Robert Blackmon handily wins St. Pete City Council District 1 race

DISTRICT 5: Deborah Figgs-Sanders takes razor-thin win in St. Pete’s District 5 council election

DISTRICT 7: Lisa Wheeler-Bowman easily wins re-election in St. Pete’s District 7 council race

BALLOT QUESTIONS: St. Petersburg voters give big thumbs up to referendum questions