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Tampa City Council District 5: Henderson appears to beat Gudes in tight race

With all precincts reported and early and mail votes counted, the challenger had more than half the vote and a narrow lead over the embattled incumbent.
 
Gwendolyn Henderson, Tampa City Council District 5 candidate, smiles while sign waving on the corner in front of the St. James House of Prayer Episcopal, 2708 N Central, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 in Tampa.
Gwendolyn Henderson, Tampa City Council District 5 candidate, smiles while sign waving on the corner in front of the St. James House of Prayer Episcopal, 2708 N Central, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 8, 2023|Updated March 8, 2023

Challenger Gwendolyn “Gwen” Henderson appeared headed for victory Tuesday night over embattled incumbent Orlando Gudes, with all precincts and early and vote-by-mail votes counted.

Henderson, a long-time educator, had just over 50% of the vote, the threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Gudes had just under 49%.

Gudes, a former police officer who was first elected in 2019, came under fire from sources, including Mayor Jane Castor, after an investigation found he created a hostile work environment for an aide.

Henderson, a Jefferson High School department head, is that aide’s sister, though she said that’s not why she got into the race.

Should nothing change with the counting of any provisional ballots, Henderson’s margin of victory would be more than the half-percent that would trigger an automatic recount. A write-in candidate had less than 1% of the vote.

Related: Tampa City Council election results

Gudes ended his term under the cloud of a city investigation that found he’d harassed his former aide and made derogatory comments about others, including Castor. Castor said she would have removed him from his seat if she could.

Gudes and Castor later appeared together at city events, and Castor said she was just doing her job by investigating the complaint against Gudes. But days before Tuesday’s election, Castor endorsed Henderson, continuing a trend and a break from Tampa tradition in the mayor’s throwing support behind challengers who could reshape the City Council.

Henderson said her connection to the Gudes harassment case — which the city settled for $200,000 — had nothing to do with her decision to run for office. She’d been considering it for years, she said recently, “and this time I decided not to talk myself out of it.” She first filed for the citywide District 3 race before switching to her home seat, District 5.

Henderson and Gudes ran on similar issues — the city’s affordability crisis and low wages among them — but it was Henderson, not the ex-cop incumbent, who picked up a coveted endorsement from Tampa’s police union.

Gudes pointed toward his support of the council’s passage of a tenant’s Bill of Rights and said he stood by his ill-fated effort last year to create a rent stabilization program, while Henderson told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board that she’d use her background in career and technical education to help the city build economic opportunities for young residents.

“The citizens of District 5 deserve democracy and deserve a choice, and I got in that race to give them a choice,” Henderson said Tuesday. “And they made it tonight.”