The Times Editorial Board’s recommendations for Tampa City Council | Editorial
First up, the three city-wide seats. We publish our picks for the other three districts on Monday.
Tampa City Hall in 2022.
Tampa City Hall in 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 5, 2023|Updated Feb. 6, 2023

The Tampa City Council faces many challenges ahead, from expanding affordable housing and improving mass transit to modernizing its aging infrastructure. Districts 1, 2 and 3 are citywide seats, open to all Tampa voters in this nonpartisan election. Council members are elected to four-year terms beginning May 1 and paid $52,060 per year. Early voting begins Feb. 7 and Election Day is March 7.

Related: Read the Times recommendations in other Tampa races.

DISTRICT 1: Alan Clendenin

Alan Clendenin
Alan Clendenin [ Alan Clendenin ]

Tampa’s phenomenal growth in recent years has been accompanied by the usual pains. Residents are increasingly turning to City Council with concerns about affordability and the changing character of the neighborhoods. Alan Clendenin understands the balance needed to grow Tampa responsibly. He is smart, energetic, forward-looking and well prepared for this citywide seat.

Clendenin, 63, is a retired air traffic controller and 37-year Hillsborough County resident who narrowly missed making a runoff for this seat in 2019. His ease with a range of city issues reflects his long involvement in local affairs, his understanding of government and his grasp of this diverse community.

Clendenin wants to restore an image of competence and stability at City Hall, which has been damaged by the ongoing turmoil between the mayor and several council members. He is a voice of reason who could help council navigate a number of contentious issues, from how to expand multifamily housing options in traditional neighborhoods to whether and how Tampa should proceed with plans to redirect its discharges of treated wastewater for more useful purposes.

Clendenin is sensitive to overdevelopment, and he warns against Tampa gentrifying into “Anywhere USA” He supports mass transit and wants new investments in fire stations, sidewalks and other public safety improvements. Clendenin has a good grip on the evolving nature of policing and strategies for revitalizing older neighborhoods.

The incumbent, Joseph Citro, won a five-person race in 2019. The Tampa Bay Times recommended him then, citing Citro’s sound agenda, level head and history of service on city and community boards. Citro, 64, has not done anything disqualifying, but we are discouraged by his limited achievements, and he seems on cruise control in asking voters for another four-year term.

Sonja P. Brookins, a 60-year-old physiology professor, would prioritize housing and small-business development and expand mentorship programs at the Tampa Police Department to strengthen the department’s community ties. Chase Harrison, 62, a U.S. Air Force veteran and retired Tampa police officer, would focus on aging infrastructure and violent crime. Neither, however, offers much specific, and voters have better choices in this race.

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Clendenin brings the most energy and sharpest agenda. He seems creative and proactive, and he’s more interested in doing something than being somebody. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Alan Clendenin for Tampa City Council District 1.

District 2: Guido Maniscalco

Guido Maniscalco
Guido Maniscalco [ handout ]

This is another crowded race with two solid choices. We give the edge to Guido Maniscalco, a current council member who’s termed out of his West Tampa seat.

Maniscalco, 38, was first elected in 2015 and reelected in 2019 to represent District 6, a diverse area that stretches from tony Beach Park to the working-class neighborhoods of West and Central Tampa. Now he is running for the city-wide seat in District 2. He is a small-business advocate who is accessible to constituents and who takes seriously their everyday concerns.

Maniscalco’s priorities are not only to expand available housing but to address the affordability of Tampa in a more comprehensive way. He wants to increase the use of garage apartments and other accessory dwelling units on single-family properties, and make smarter use of mass transit to help residents cope without a car. Maniscalco would also push for new fire stations throughout the city and for increased spending in heavily Black East Tampa, which has historically been underserved, to pay for new sidewalks, parks and other basics.

Mike Suarez, 58, is an independent insurance agent who served two terms as a citywide council member from 2011 to 2019. Suarez also ran unsuccessfully for Tampa mayor in 2019. He knows the city and its challenges and how local government works.

Suarez has long advocated the smart-growth policies that recent councils have traditionally backed. He would promote corridors that combine housing, transportation and business activity, and better channel public and private investment to these mixed-use developments. Suarez wants a robust, dedicated revenue source for sidewalk improvements, and a more targeted approach to identifying specific needs in individual neighborhoods, be it parks, flood control or other projects.

Robin Lockett, 58, has been active locally in tenants’ rights issues as Tampa Bay’s regional director of Florida Rising, an economic and racial justice advocacy group in Florida. Her sensitivity to bread-and-butter concerns would bring a helpful perspective to council debates. Michael Derewenko, 43, a corporate marketing manager, wants tighter oversight of city contractors and better controls on litter and yard waste. The two political newcomers have fine ideas, but they cannot match what Maniscalco and Suarez bring to the job.

Maniscalco, though, seems better positioned to make the council functional, reasonable and relevant again. He has taken on more of a peacekeeping role in de-escalating tensions between the council and mayor, aware that continued warring will damage public confidence in City Hall. Maniscalco needs to show more independence at times. But he’s a strong advocate for his constituents, and as a sitting member, is more up to speed on current issues. His relative youth also makes city government more reflective of the population it serves.

The Tampa Bay Times recommends Guido Maniscalco for Tampa City Council District 2.

District 3: Janet Cruz

Janet Cruz
Janet Cruz [ STEFANIE THEODOROPOULOS | handout ]

What distinguishes the two standout candidates in this race is not their agendas, but their prospects for delivering them. Janet Cruz’s long history in elected office and relationship-building skills make her uniquely suited for this citywide seat.

Cruz is a 66-year-old lifelong Tampa resident who served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2010 to 2018 and in the Florida Senate from 2018-2022. She championed housing, mass transit, civil rights and other issues in Tallahassee and promises to bring many of those priorities to local government.

Cruz wants to incentivize developers to expand affordable housing, and work to help seniors and blue-collar workers remain in their homes. She understands that higher rents and housing prices are pushing many in Tampa’s workforce to the relatively cheaper suburbs, where they face longer commutes that threaten to disrupt the city’s ready supply of labor. She wants more crosswalks, traffic lights and other safety measures to reduce the risks to pedestrians, and supports more focused recycling and environmental programs and grants to encourage small businesses.

City Council member Lynn Hurtak was appointed to this seat in April to serve out the term after John Dingfelder resigned. The Tampa native also embraces smart growth and would make expanding affordable housing her top priority. Hurtak wants to encourage so-called “middle housing” — duplexes, triplexes and quads — and put a greater emphasis on restoring rather than replacing existing homes. Hurtak also would expand mass transit in the city, explore more sustainable waste management practices and pay greater attention to the parks and other amenities throughout the city.

George “TheHunted” Feshev is a 52-year-old business consultant who was shot in a 2019 gun attack on his Ybor City home. Feshev, originally from Bulgaria, wants Tampa police to take tougher measures against nuisance crimes as a means of curbing more serious violence. He is conversant, sharp and engaged. Two other candidates — K.J. Allen and Jose Vazquez — are running ghost campaigns.

Cruz and Hurtak offer the meatiest agendas, and they differ in only one key policy area. Cruz supports further exploring a proposal to convert the city’s treated wastewater into more useful purposes; Hurtak opposes the project. Further studies are essential for the city to make an informed decision.

But the real difference between the two is their chances for getting anything done. Cruz is a seasoned public official who knows how to navigate political and policy differences. She is a voice of reason whose personal skills and practicality brings people together. Her energy and sense of fair play are also critical attributes for a citywide council member.

Cruz’s daughter is the partner of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, leading some to question whether that poses a conflict to her being on council. Voters would have ample opportunity to watch and hold Cruz accountable if that relationship affects her performance. Cruz has demonstrated her independence throughout her career and deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The Tampa Bay Times recommends Janet Cruz for Tampa City Council District 3.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.