Race for City Council has West Tampa flavor

Former council member Mike Suarez will face off against Guido Maniscalco in a crowded citywide District 2 race.
Mike Suarez, a former two-term Tampa City Council member and 2019 mayoral candidate, filed paperwork for the citywide District 2 seat Tuesday.
Mike Suarez, a former two-term Tampa City Council member and 2019 mayoral candidate, filed paperwork for the citywide District 2 seat Tuesday.
Published Jan. 17|Updated Jan. 18

TAMPA — Mike Suarez, who served two terms in a citywide seat as a council member, ending in 2019, filed paperwork Tuesday for the chance to represent the entire city again in District 2. He will take on an old colleague and political opponent.

Suarez, 58, will face Guido Maniscalco, who is running citywide after being forced out of a seat representing West Tampa because of term limits.

Maniscalco, 38, greeted the news with the equivalent of a shrug.

“I was expecting him to do it. I was just waiting,” Maniscalco said.

Suarez said he is running again for the council to finish uncompleted work.

“For eight years I served as your citywide councilman, promoting a city where transportation is freedom, making our streets safer for our citizens from eight to 80 years-old and supporting a robust city economy dedicated to enriching each of our families,” Suarez wrote in an emailed statement. “There’s still work to do to solve the challenges ahead to assure all of our citizens not only survive but thrive in a just and equitable way.”

In his statement, Suarez used the slogan for his unsuccessful 2019 mayoral bid, “Every neighborhood is Tampa,” when asking residents “again” for their vote.

Aside from serving together as colleagues for four years, from 2015 to 2019, Suarez and Maniscalco also have been political opponents. In 2011, Maniscalco, then a 26-year-old launching his first political campaign, lost to Suarez, who later won in a runoff for his first term.

“It was a very friendly race,” said Maniscalco, who remembers dining after a forum with Suarez and two of the other candidates in the five-person race.

Maniscalco and Suarez are council veterans, but the race also has another recent entry: Robin Lockett, who filed last week.

Lockett, a New Tampa resident, has been a visible presence in recent years as an organizer with Florida Rising, a progressive nonprofit focused on social justice issues. Lockett played a key role in a failed effort last year to persuade council members to adopt stabilization measures amid skyrocketing rents.

When council members voted down the proposal, Lockett took the microphone during public comment at a council meeting soon afterward to put them on notice that elections have consequences.

Also in the District 2 race for the March 7 election are Michael Derewenko and Gary Pruitt. The cutoff for qualification is Friday at noon.

Suarez, who lives in Riverside Heights, was known during his time as a council member as a transportation and affordable housing advocate. He also was a strong supporter of police and fire unions.

Suarez and Maniscalco are both West Tampa natives. Maniscalco said he’s expected Suarez to declare his candidacy since shortly after Christmas, he said.

“I saw him at a Christmas party. We took pictures and everything,” Maniscalco said.

Then, a few days later, he said, Suarez stopped talking to him.

“I’m old enough to know if someone stops talking to you out of nowhere, something is up,” Maniscalco said. “I get it.”

Suarez declined comment on Maniscalco’s take on his decision.