The District 8 St. Petersburg City Council race may answer whether a young progressive using grass-roots, face-to-face campaigning can upset an established political figure with a long resume of civic work.
In the race, Richie Floyd, 30, a first-time candidate but experienced activist for progressive causes, faces former council member Jeff Danner, 61, who’s been heavily involved for years in neighborhood and historic preservation work.
Both have prominent endorsers, and because of population change it’s unclear how big a name-recognition advantage Danner’s prior eight years on the council, from 2005-13, will give him.
Floyd entered the race early, in November 2020. He has since used volunteers and shoe leather in what political insiders say was an intense door-to-door canvassing and phone banking campaign.
“They knocked on every door they could knock on, most of them more than once,” said county Democratic Party Chair Lucinda Johnson, a Floyd backer, of his campaign.
“I’ve lost weight and had to buy new shoes,” Floyd joked.
Floyd said he wanted to go to the next level with his progressive activism, which included a statewide role in the $15 minimum wage constitutional amendment campaign.
“As an elected official, I can have more sway for the types of issues I’ve supported in the past.”
Danner, meanwhile, didn’t enter the race until six months later, in May.
He said he was responding to a lack of experienced candidates in the field.
“With so many really big, important things going on — the amount of development, dealing with growth, the Trop — I really felt District 8 needs somebody with experience on the council to represent us.”
Danner said he likes to see new, younger faces involved in city government, but that the council shouldn’t be the first step.
In part because of his early start, Floyd so far has raised substantially more campaign money than Danner.
Floyd also surprised many with his strong showing in the Aug. 24 district-only primary — 52 percent to Danner’s 27 percent in a four-way race.
Floyd had pulled in $88,312 as of Sept. 10, with about $45,500 remaining after expenses, while Danner had raised $23,260 with about $7,175 remaining.
District 8 includes Historic Kenwood, North Kenwood, Disston Heights and parts of Central Oak Park, generally between 49th Street and Interstate 275, from Fifth Avenue N to 40th Avenue N.
It’s partly a liberal enclave and was a center of the city’s gay community and cradle of the Pride movement before increased citywide acceptance of the LGBT community.
Asked whether he can expand his primary success from that district to the whole city in the citywide general election, Floyd noted that western areas of the district lean Republican, and its partisan breakdown is no more Democratic than the city as a whole. In fact, the citywide Democratic plurality is slightly larger.
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Floyd is a Democrat who espouses Democratic socialism and was a Bernie Sanders backer; Danner currently has no party affiliation. The race and the office are non-partisan.
Danner backers include current City Council chair Ed Montanari, former council members Charlie Gerdes and Leslie Curran, state Sen. Darryl Rouson and the Police Benevolent Association.
Floyd endorsers include outgoing District 8 council incumbent Amy Foster and several labor unions and progressive organizations, including the local AFL-CIO.
Danner came here from Ohio after visiting family here for years, and he has lived in Kenwood since 1993. He worked in construction and contracting, specializing in renovating and preserving historic homes.
Since leaving the council seat, Danner has worked as a city building inspector.
Among the most important issues, he said, are managing development while maintaining the city’s character; the cost of housing and business rents for small businesses; and getting more community input on Tropicana Field redevelopment.
Danner said St. Petersburg has made good use of housing grants for down payment and rental assistance, but he wants the city to “mirror what the county has done” and set up its own housing trust fund. Current grant programs, he said, often come with strings attached that limit flexibility.
In his previous council stint, Danner helped start the Central Avenue Trolley and led an effort to allow 10 digital billboards along the interstate in return for removing 86 billboards around the city.
He also voted twice against a controversial proposal to turn over the sidewalk around what was then BayWalk, now the Sundial mall, to the property owners to remove protesters and loiterers who were hurting business.
Floyd, a digital systems engineer and Fort Walton Beach native, moved to St. Petersburg in 2018.
He left a high-paying job at Honeywell Aerospace to become a science teacher at Azalea Middle School — he’s currently on leave.
At the same time, Floyd’s wife left a job as an accountant to become a math teacher. Both, he said, “wanted to explore a career that aligned with our values and help the next generation.”
He wants to improve and expand public housing, enact more tenant protection regulations and invest in community land and housing trust funds.
Floyd supports movements for social justice, including Black Lives Matter, Pride and Juneteenth, but said he does not, as some of his critics have contended, support a “defund the police” movement.
Instead, he said the city should pursue initiatives like its Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program “that can take the police out of volatile situations.”