Tampa could see first openly gay council member

Two other openly gay candidates also ran for seats but failed to make the runoff.
Alan Clendenin, 2023 candidate for Tampa City Council
Alan Clendenin, 2023 candidate for Tampa City Council [ handout ]
Published March 25, 2023

Following the April 25 Tampa City Council runoff election, Tampa could see a landmark event — the seating of its first openly gay council member, Alan Clendenin.

The election also saw other openly gay candidates. Tyler Barrett and Rick Fifer both failed to make it into the runoff for the District 6 seat.

Clendenin led handily in the first round of voting March 7, with 40 percent of the vote for the citywide District 2 seat.

In April, he’ll face second-place finisher Sonja Brookins, who tallied 22 percent. A comparative political newcomer running a shoestring campaign, Brookins edged out incumbent Joe Citro, who had 20 percent.

He would be the city’s first openly gay council member, according to the memories of several long-time political insiders.

Brookins herself is part of another unprecedented development as one of two black women who made it into the runoff election along with Robin Lockett. Lockett faces incumbent Guido Maniscalco in the District 2 citywide seat.

Either Brookins or Lockett, if elected, would be the second black woman ever to win a citywide council seat.

Clendenin, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, is a retired air traffic controller, former national controllers’ union official and high-level officer in the national Democratic Party.

He boasts endorsements by pro-gay rights groups, including Equality Floridas’s PAC and the national Victory Fund, but also by the Sierra Club, firefighters and police unions and others.

In an interview, he recalled growing up gay in central Florida, including being stopped and harassed by police when he and friends visited a gay nightclub.

“What a different world it is — thinking of the level of fear I felt, fear of the police, fear of ostracism from my family or job,” he said. “The 20-year-old me would never have thought this would happen in my lifetime.”

But, he added, “The progress that’s been made can be taken away with the stroke of a pen. Having (gay) public officials can keep that from happening.”

Fifer called this year’s diverse candidate field “notable … at a time when the administration in Tallahassee seems to have declared war on the LGBT community as well as the African-American community.”