In the race for St. Petersburg’s District 4 City Council seat, candidates Lisset Hanewicz and Tom Mullins are hoping to convince voters that their experience — running a neighborhood association and working as an investment banker, respectively ― will serve the city best.
The two candidates emerged from a pack of five hoping to replace term-limited Darden Rice on the Council. Hanewicz garnered about 42 percent of the vote, while Mullins received about 23 percent.
The general election is Nov. 2. In the primary, only voters within the boundaries of District 4 — which includes the Historic Old Northeast and Meadowlawn — could have a say. But in the general election, voters citywide can cast a vote.
Though the city election is non-partisan, ideological politics have come up in the race when Mullins, a registered Republican, sent out a campaign mailer saying Hanewicz, a Democrat, was backed by far-left interest groups and the “usual group of public employee unions, who are simply looking for a candidate willing to throw taxpayers under the bus.”
Hanewicz and the local firefighter and police unions that endorsed her quickly denounced Mullins’ comments, but Mullins said he stands by it.
Mullins said when he was going around and talking with voters, he heard often about how people want to avoid moves here that other progressive cities have taken. He sees those policies as weakening law enforcement when it comes to drug and property crimes, an anti-development philosophy and higher taxes.
“That is a political playbook that I believe has demonstrated itself to be harmful,” Mullins said.
He also said defining anyone by their race or gender is an “unfortunate tendency.”
But Hanewicz, the daughter of Cuban exiles, said she’s excited at the prospect of being the first Hispanic to serve on the City Council. Though it wasn’t a motivator in her decision to run, she said it’s been special to have people reach out and tell her that as Cubans or as children of immigrants, they’re inspired to see her possibly make history.
Hanewicz was president of the Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association and part of the Council of Neighborhood Associations. She also is a former state prosecutor, which she said gives her a deeper understanding of the community and the issues it faces.
“We have populations in our cities that can be vulnerable,” Hanewicz said. “I think every neighborhood should be a place where you can raise a family and feel safe.”
Hanewicz touts her prosecutorial background and experience working citywide, and appearing before council, from the neighborhood association.
Mullins said his work at Raymond James in the transport and infrastructure field helped create hundreds of jobs.
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“The industries that I cover for work happen to be ones that are absolutely central to the challenges and issues that the city council will face,” Mullins said.
As a growing city, both Hanewicz and Mullins said retaining the city’s character amid development is important. Mullins said the only way to create affordable housing is to increase the supply of it, and that he would want to do it in a way that doesn’t disturb existing neighborhoods with a strong character.
He said he is also the only candidate who has put forward controlling property taxes as a priority.
“Taking money from one taxpayer and giving it to another as a housing subsidy, that doesn’t count as affordable housing at least not in any real world sort of way,” Mullins said.
Hanewicz said affordable housing isn’t just a citywide issue to address, but also needs state and federal funding.
She’s in favor of changing zoning to allow more density and create a variety of housing in neighborhoods. She said it’s possible to do that and retain character, and that in some older neighborhoods there are quadruplexes that look like homes.
“I think when you engage the community and have those conversations in terms of growth, you can have both, you can retain what makes your city special and at the same time allow for that growth,” Hanewicz said.
In addition to the local police and fire unions, Hanewicz has been endorsed by primary opponent Clifford Hobbs III and Council member Gina Driscoll. She has also received the support of Ruth’s List Florida, the Sierra Club, Florida NOW, the Pinellas Realtors Organization and the Service Employees International Union.
Mullins has been endorsed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg and primary opponent Jarib Figueredo.
As of Sept. 10, Hanewicz has raised about $92,000 while Mullins has raised about $66,000.