TAMPA — Robin Lockett and Sonja P. Brookins were big surprises in the city election last week, edging out established politicians to advance to the April 25 runoff.
But that’s not the only thing they have in common. They also appear to be the first two Black women to compete in a runoff for citywide council seats in the same cycle in Tampa’s history.
“It’s historic,” said Lockett, 58. “It’s a great thing. Who would have thought it?”
Lockett finished second behind Guido Maniscalco, an incumbent who is seeking the District 2 citywide seat after leaving his District 6 seat because of term limits. Lockett won 24.8% to Maniscalco’s 47% in a four-person race decided Tuesday. She finished ahead of Mike Suarez, a former two-term council member.
Brookins, 60, finished second out of four candidates in the District 1 citywide contest with 22.5% of the vote behind Alan Clendenin, a retired air traffic controller, who won the first round with 40.3%. She beat Joseph Citro, the incumbent council chairperson.
“This will really push Tampa in a progressive trajectory forward,” Brookins said. “If I can make history while representing the people, that would be just magnificent.”
Both Lockett, an organizer with the social advocacy group Florida Rising, and Brookins, a former Keiser University professor of anatomy, physiology and microbiology, say they’re proud not only of making history as Black people, but as doing so as Black women.
Brookins said a middle school-age girl approached her recently to tell her that her strong showing had inspired her. And Lockett said their gender shouldn’t be discounted, especially on a seven-member City Council that was all male until Lynn Hurtak was appointed to a seat in April after John Dingfelder resigned.
“The biggest thing is that we are women,” Lockett said.
Gwen Miller, the first Black candidate to win citywide seats in 2003 and 2007, was excited by Lockett’s and Brookins’ success. She had some advice for them: Work hard and let people all over the city know you’ll work just as hard for them.
It’s traditionally been difficult for Black candidates to win citywide. Florida’s third-largest city has never had a Black mayor. But Miller said two Black women in citywide runoffs is evidence that “things are changing.”
Brookins and Lockett both said they were inspired by Miller’s political breakthrough. And they said they plan to repeat it.
“In the Black community, the question has always has been: Why don’t we run citywide? That was one of the reasons why I decided to do it. I wanted to show the Black community we can win citywide,” Lockett said.
The city has one Black-majority council district, District 5, that covers East Tampa, downtown and parts of West Tampa. Overall, the city is 22% Black, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
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Yvette Lewis, the president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, said the strong showings of Lockett and Brookins are a welcome sign and one that has made Black residents of Tampa proud.
“People are stepping up and stepping out. Change needs to come,” Lewis said.
But the challenge of winning a council seat has kept the the celebrations to a minimum, both women said. Their opponents have raised more money, grabbed more endorsements and have high name recognition.
“You can relish in the moment, for a moment. But it’s a proud moment,” Lockett said. “It’s a fact, not a factor.”
Brookins said she has always considered herself an underdog in her politics dating back to a successful run for the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District.
“Sometimes, underdogs win,” she said.