Richie Floyd, a first-time candidate and a Democratic Socialist, held a narrow edge over a veteran in St. Petersburg politics, Jeff Danner, with just a handful more votes in the race for the District 8 seat on the City Council in Tuesday’s election.
As votes rolled in Tuesday night, the margin between the two candidates seemed so slim that it would put them in the possible zone for a state-mandated recount.
But when the vast majority of batch of mail-in ballots were counted, Floyd’s edge on Danner grew beyond the zone for a recount.
The only ballots left to count are those going through the cure process, said Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections spokesman Dustin Chase.
“We haven’t done the math on whether or not that would potentially cause a recount,” Chase said.
Floyd came into the general election as a heavy favorite. Out of the 13 City Council candidates and eight mayoral candidates on the ballot for the primary, Floyd was the only one to win more than 50 percent of the vote. In the primary, Danner got about 27 percent of the vote.
But in the general election, where all city voters could cast a ballot, Floyd ended with 50.70 percent compared to Danner’s 49.30 percent of the vote as of Tuesday night. If two candidates in a race are within 0.5 percent of each other, state law requires a machine recount. The race is too close for the Tampa Bay Times to call as of Tuesday night.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Floyd led Danner by about 800 votes, or 1.4 percent. Recounts are ordered only if the winning margin in an unofficial vote tally is 0.5 percent or less of the total votes cast following the first set of unofficial results.
Floyd said he was feeling cautiously optimistic but still waiting to see the finalized results. He joked he didn’t think he’d sleep until results were finalized.
“We’ve shown that people in this city are hungry for change,” Floyd said.
A machine recount is simply done by feeding ballots back into tabulation machines to see if the vote totals change, whether because of an improperly calibrated machine or due to some other issue. The machines must be tested before the recount begins. If, after a machine recount, the winning margin is 0.25 percent or less of the total votes cast, then a manual recount is ordered.
In the general election, voters citywide got to cast ballots in the race instead of just those in the central St. Petersburg district. It’s a system that will not change after a proposed charter amendment making voting by district only failed.
Floyd, 30, would be the youngest person elected to City Council and the first Black Council member elected to represent a district north of Central Avenue. His campaign built on the ideals of Democratic Socialism, a political philosophy espoused by U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders that seeks to revive a politics focused on class hierarchy and inequality. He relied heavily on door-to-door canvassing and received many small-dollar donations from across the nation to support him.
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“Right now all I would say is that it’s difficult to go against the status quo, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that we fought this hard and this close,” Floyd said on Tuesday night. “But I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and no matter what happens and we’ve shown that we have a model to continue to build on here.”
Danner, who is not registered with any political party, said he was surprised the race was as close as it was. He said it was a good campaign and he was proud to get support from Democrats and Republicans.
“It’s not partisan, it shouldn’t be partisan, and the city needs to just get beyond partisan politics and move forward with what’s best for the city,” Danner said.
Floyd raised nearly three times the campaign donations than Danner, bringing in many small-dollar donations from all across the nation. As of the last campaign report, Floyd had raised nearly $110,000 while Danner brought in about $39,000.
It was Floyd’s first campaign, but not first experience organizing — the progressive activist had campaigned for Florida’s $15 minimum wage constitutional amendment, which passed last year with just over 60 percent of the vote. He moved to St. Petersburg in 2018 and is on leave from his position as science teacher at Azalea Middle School. His campaign emphasized ideals like higher minimum wages, tenant’s rights, getting the city to use fully renewable energy and social justice.
Danner, 61, who served on the City Council from 2005 to 2013, jumped into the race because he said he saw a lack of experienced candidates. After leaving Council because of term limits, Danner worked as a building inspector for the city, and he has a construction background.
During his time serving District 8, Danner said he helped start the Central Avenue Trolley, which shuttles passengers from the St. Petersburg Pier to Pass-a-Grille Beach. 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.
He said some top issues the city should focus on are managing development and maintaining city character, the high cost of housing and Tropicana Field redevelopment. Floyd has said he wants to tackle issues like affordable housing, getting the city to fully renewable energy and increasing community services.
District 8 encompasses 49th Street and I-275, and stretches from Fifth Avenue North to 40th Avenue North, catching the Historic Kenwood, North Kenwood and Disston Heights neighborhoods.
The District 8 race sought to replace Amy Foster, who was first elected in 2013 and is leaving office because of term limits.
Times Staff Writer Allison Ross contributed to this story.