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Six of seven seats are contested in races that many see as a referendum on City Council’s fractured relationship with Mayor Jane Castor.
The Tampa City Council elections on March 7 could clear the hostility between Mayor Jane Castor and City Council, or it could intensify it.
The Tampa City Council elections on March 7 could clear the hostility between Mayor Jane Castor and City Council, or it could intensify it. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Feb. 15, 2023|Updated Feb. 16, 2023

TAMPA — In just less than three weeks, the Tampa City Council may get an infusion of new faces or see the return of its current seven members.

One key question: How would a reshuffling affect the council’s relations with Mayor Jane Castor, who doesn’t face an opponent on the ballot in the March 7 election?

Castor has clashed with several council members over policing, community redevelopment areas and water issues since her 2019 election. She was the first mayor to use her veto in more than 30 years on a slate of charter amendment proposals that would limit her power, nixing all five. Council members overturned her veto on four of them, placing them on the ballot for this election.

And she’s indicated that she’ll back challengers to some of her strongest council critics, including Blake Casper, a Republican donor and wealthy businessperson. He filed as a last-minute challenger for the South Tampa District 4 seat against Democratic incumbent Bill Carlson.

The races are nonpartisan, but the South Tampa race has drawn involvement from both parties.

Castor has already endorsed former state Sen. Janet Cruz, the mother of the mayor’s partner, who added familial intrigue when she announced her bid to unseat Lynn Hurtak. Hurtak, who has supported the effort to rein in mayoral power, was appointed last year to the citywide District 3 seat to replace John Dingfelder. Dingfelder, another Castor critic, resigned in the face of a lawsuit over his handling of public records.

Castor also clashed with Orlando Gudes, the council’s lone Black member, over a former aide’s claims that he created a hostile work environment. The aide’s sister is now running against Gudes, though it’s not clear if she has the mayor’s support.

Not enough drama for you? Read on for more interesting storylines from the council races.

District 4

This is arguably the premier race of the cycle. Carlson, 55, is a lightning-rod incumbent who has pushed hard against Castor on a range of issues, including police oversight and reusing wastewater for drinking water or to replenish the aquifer and Hillsborough River. Carlson was rumored to be weighing a run against the mayor, but he filed for reelection to his South Tampa seat shortly before the qualifying period ended on Jan. 20.

But in a move that surprised Tampa’s political world, McDonald’s heir Blake Casper, 49, entered the race hours before the qualifying window closed. Casper has deep pockets and is running on a pro-police platform.

What to watch: Money. Casper has a lot of it. Carlson has a strong fundraising network. In a compressed race in a geographical district, how much will that matter?

District 3

Lynn Hurtak, 45, was appointed to this seat in April by fellow members of the City Council after the resignation of Dingfelder. The Old Seminole Heights activist faces a stiff challenge from Cruz, who says her daughter’s relationship with the mayor has nothing to do with her decision to run.

Cruz, 66, says she wants to help repair relations between the mayor and council members, saying drama-filled 2022 hurt the city’s reputation. Hurtak, who has challenged some of Castor’s priorities, has said this election can be defined as a contest between those who want the council to be a rubber stamp and those who will challenge Castor.

K.J. Allen, George “TheHunted” Feshev and Jose Vasquez are also in the race.

What to watch: Hurtak says her opposition to PURE, (Purity Usable Resources for the Environment), the wastewater reuse project championed by Castor, is the defining issue of the race. Is she right?

District 2

Another citywide seat up for grabs pits Guido Maniscalco, who cannot seek reelection to his current West Tampa district due to term limits, against former council member Mike Suarez, who served from 2011 to 2019.

Maniscalco, 38, has positioned himself as a peacemaker on an often volatile City Council. Suarez, 58, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019, touts his experience on a City Council that got along much better with former Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Robin Lockett and Michael Derewenko are also in the race.

What to watch: Suarez and Maniscalco are both West Tampa residents. If they split that vote, South Tampa, with its traditionally strong turnout for city elections, might prove decisive. How will Suarez and Maniscalco appeal to South Tampa voters?

District 1

Incumbent Joseph Citro, 64, defeated retired air traffic controller and Democratic Party activist Alan Clendenin, 63, in 2019 for this citywide seat.

But, so far, Clendenin has raised more money than Citro in his latest bid and has picked up the endorsements of the police and city workers unions. Citro is an ally of Castor and picked up the fire union’s endorsement. As the current council chairperson, Citro has pushed for more fire stations, including near downtown.

Sonja Brookins and Chase Harrison are also in the race.

What to watch: Will the mayor endorse or campaign for Citro? So far, her campaign staff are keeping mum.

District 5

Gudes has battled with Castor over policy and personnel issues during his first term in office.

After the city found Gudes, 55, had created a hostile work environment for his former aide, Castor said she would remove Gudes from his seat if she could. More recently, she told the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board that she knew Gudes thought she targeted him, but that she was just doing her job by investigating a complaint. The mayor has appeared alongside Gudes with increasing frequency in recent months.

In a twist, the aide’s sister, Gwendolyn “Gwen” Henderson, 58, is challenging Gudes for the majority-Black district, which covers East Tampa, downtown, Ybor City and parts of West Tampa. Both Gudes and Henderson are Black.

So far, Gudes has raised more money and picked up endorsements from the fire and city workers unions. But Henderson nabbed the police union’s endorsement over Gudes, a retired Tampa police officer.

Evelyn Jané-Marie McBride is also in the race as a write-in candidate, but won’t appear on the ballot.

What to watch: Henderson has said she doesn’t plan to campaign on what happened between Gudes and her sister. Will it be an issue that sways voters?

District 6

Charlie Miranda, 82, has been a fixture in Tampa politics since the 1970s. He’s running for a ninth term with his eye on a new seat, which covers West Tampa and parts of Seminole Heights and South Tampa.

Hoyt Prindle, a 38-year-old lawyer, is challenging Miranda. Prindle says providing more affordable housing while preserving the character of neighborhoods is a top priority. Miranda, a Castor ally, has been a longtime advocate for PURE, the wastewater reuse project.

Nicole Payne, Rick Fifer and Tyler Barrett are also in the race.

What to watch: To counter Miranda’s strength in West Tampa, his longtime neighborhood, Prindle will have to do very well in the other parts of the district. Can he counter Miranda’s strong name ID?

District 7

Incumbent Luis Viera, 45, was reelected without a challenge to his North and New Tampa council seat when qualifying ended last month.