The Democratic primary for District 7 on the Pinellas County Commission is a showdown between three of the area’s more experienced politicians. All three have held local or state office, and two of them have held both. But one candidate has a track record of asking the right questions and the uncomfortable questions in service of his constituents — Wengay Newton, who the Tampa Bay Times recommends for the District 7 seat.
Newton, 56, was born and raised in St. Petersburg and went to school at Northeast High. He was elected to St. Petersburg City Council in 2008 and served until 2016. Since then, he has represented District 70 in the Florida House of Representatives, which extends from south St. Petersburg to parts of Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. In interviews and on his website, Newton paints himself as an everyman who grew up in Midtown in St. Petersburg and wants to prioritize people over politicians in the policymaking process.
His background has informed his legislative priorities. Newton wants to dedicate resources, including some Penny for Pinellas dollars and Community Redevelopment Area funds, to what he calls the “area of greatest neglect.” He wants to use federal coronavirus aid to help citizens and to partner with Habitat for Humanity to redevelop parts of the Tropicana Field site into affordable and workforce housing. He also wants to look at strengthening building codes in anticipation of further climate change and sea level rise.
Rene Flowers, 55, has made her name in the St. Petersburg community. She served as a St. Petersburg City Council member from 1999 to 2008, and as a Pinellas County School Board member since 2012. She also ran unsuccessfully for County Commission in 2008. Much like Newton, she’s a local who went to high school and college in the area.
Frank Peterman‘s local bona fides stretch back to his mother, Peggy Peterman, a prominent journalist at the then-St. Petersburg Times and his father, Frank Peterman Sr., a well-known civil rights lawyer in the area. But Peterman, 58, made a name for himself in his own right, serving on the St. Petersburg City Council from 1997 to 2000. He later represented District 55, stretching across parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota and Pinellas counties, in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2008. He also served as the secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
Despite two experienced candidates, Newton has already forged ahead in fundraising. At more than $51,000, he’s out-raised both Peterman and Flowers, who have raised about $16,000 and almost $42,000, respectively. He also has a tried-and-true record in the community and name recognition. He’s known locally and in the corridors of Tallahassee, and that could be a boon for Pinellas County.
The winner of the Aug. 18 primary will face no party affiliated candidate Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, and write-in candidate Anthony Hart in the Nov. 3 general election. The winner will take over the seat previously held by Ken Welch, who is running for mayor of St. Petersburg.
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Pinellas County Commissioners serve four-year terms and earn about $100,000. In the Democratic primary for Pinellas County Commission District 7, the Times recommends Wengay Newton.
Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. Send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. July 27 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news