St. Petersburg is on a roll with a vibrant downtown and low unemployment, but some neighborhoods lag behind. Three City Council district races are on the Aug. 27 ballot, and two feature incumbents. The top two finishers in each race advance to the November citywide election. Council members earn $49,281 and serve four-year terms.
Ed Montanari is an independent, thoughtful voice on the St. Petersburg City Council who is thoroughly prepared, asks smart questions and is not afraid to vote against the majority. He provides an important counter-balance to the council majority's liberal leanings, and he deserves to be re-elected.
Montanari, 61, is a commercial airline pilot who was heavily involved in city issues before he was elected unopposed to the council in 2015. He chaired a task force on Albert Whitted Airport that helped lead to a new terminal, control tower and adjoining park. He was involved in a task force that studied the Tampa Bay Rays' proposal for a waterfront stadium more than a decade ago. And he served on several task forces involving the future of the Pier, which is expected to reopen next year.
On the council, Montanari has supported making investments in improving wastewater and sewage systems, building the new pier and the proposed bus rapid transit line from downtown to St. Pete Beach. He generally votes with the council majority, including on issues such as the rejection of a nonprofit's proposal to sell its share of Bayfront hospital. But Montanari has not been shy about voting against some high-profile efforts by Mayor Rick Kriseman that the council approved — including a move to protect smaller storefronts along Beach Drive and Central Avenue, the controversial "complete streets'' program that has reduced traffic lanes in favor of bike paths and traffic calming measures, and the planned Janet Echelman art installation at the Pier.
In a second term, Montanari wants to continue to protect waterfront parks, address the impacts of climate change and invest in infrastructure. He opposes the Rays' proposal to divide its games with Montreal and supports efforts to increase affordable housing. He wants to redevelop the Tropicana Field site as a destination that features Booker Creek as an attraction and brings new businesses and jobs.
Orlando Acosta, 48, is an Air Force veteran and military defense consultant who is a first-time candidate. He wants to address the impact of climate change and opposes sharing the Rays with Montreal if it requires public money for a new stadium. He sees transit, affordable housing and new business as part of the Trop site.
Zachary Collins, 36, is a professional brewer and first-time candidate. He wants the city to help residents inspect and repair their sewer lines, and to expand affordable housing. But Collins lacks a detailed grasp of other city issues.
Acosta and Collins have not attended a single council meeting. Montanari is an engaged, effective council member who has been endorsed by most of his council colleagues. This race is not a close call. For St. Petersburg City Council District 3, which includes Shore Acres and Snell Isle, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ed Montanari.
There are several well-qualified candidates to succeed term-limited Steve Kornell in this racially diverse St. Petersburg City Council district that includes the city's most southern neighborhoods. They have deep roots in the community and strong records of civic involvement. The edge goes to Trenia Cox, who has the best blend of experience in the public sector and active involvement in a wide range of issues.
Cox, 69, spent nearly 20 years working for the Juvenile Welfare Board in a variety of roles before retiring two years ago. She worked with the faith-based community and nonprofits on school readiness issues and managed contracts with youth programs. Since retiring, she has remained engaged as a member of the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board and the District Monitoring and Advisory Committee for Pinellas County Schools, which monitors the school district's commitment to racial diversity and economic equity.
As a council member, Cox would focus on sustainability issues ranging from upgrading stormwater systems to adding transit options; creating jobs through more job training and assistance to small businesses; and making housing more affordable by adding units and working to raise wages. She opposes sharing the Tampa Bay Rays with Montreal and suggests the redevelopment of Tropicana Field include a hotel conference site, room for research and a new African-American museum.
Deborah Figgs-Sanders, 54, is a consultant who worked for seven years as the executive director of the Childs Park YMCA before leaving in 2017. She sits on the citizen advisory committee for the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area. She recognizes the district has a variety of needs and understands the importance of programs to assist young parents and children. She also would focus on creating more affordable housing and assisting small businesses, including at the Trop site.
Beth Connor, 54, is a former paralegal who has been a dedicated community activist for years on issues ranging from the environment to land use. She has a solid grasp of city issues and has specific ideas about redeveloping vacant shopping centers in the district.
Philip Garrett, 54, is a substitute teacher who worked for 17 years for the Hillsborough County property appraiser. He ran a competitive race against Kornell in 2015 and remains concerned about the vacant shopping centers and lack of affordable housing in the district. Anne Hirsch, 61, is a midwife and affiliated with the Uhuru Solidarity Movement. Her campaign is centered on reparations to the black community, including returning the Trop site and more than $100 million in city money to the community. The details of how that could be carried out are unclear.
For St. Petersburg City Council District 5, including Pinellas Point and Lakewood Estates, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Trenia Cox.
St. Petersburg City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman provides a strong connection between city government and a district that includes much of Midtown and some of the city's poorest neighborhoods south of the thriving downtown. She has built solid relationships with city staffers and other council members, and she deserves to be re-elected.
Wheeler-Bowman, 50, first emerged as a civic leader after her son was murdered in 2008. She reached out to the community for tips, identified the killer and helped authorities send him to prison. She emerged from a crowded field to win this open council seat in 2015, and she has provided residents in her district with stronger connections to the police department, code enforcement and other city services.
On the council, Wheeler-Bowman voted for allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to spend three years looking for a new home in Tampa, which proved unsuccessful. She has not endorsed the Rays' latest plan to split home games with Montreal. She wants to start redeveloping the Tropicana Field site, perhaps with affordable housing west of the dome. In the long-term, she envisions a community benefit agreement that would enable some proceeds from development of the site to be used for redevelopment in nearby neighborhoods.
Wheeler-Bowman supports creating more affordable housing; the proposed bus rapid transit line between downtown and St. Pete Beach; and the city's efforts to address the impacts of climate change. She supported Mayor Rick Kriseman's "complete streets'' program that has reduced traffic lanes in favor of bike paths and traffic calming measures but has concerns about its implementation.
Eritha "Akile'' Cainion, 22, is affiliated with the Uhuru Solidarity Movement and ran unsuccessfully for the District 6 seat in 2017. She is better prepared this time and remains a passionate critic of the Kriseman administration. Cainion is focused on reparations for the black community and calls for the city to return the Trop site to the black community through a land trust. Beyond that, the details are unclear.
Chico Cromartie, 47, is a former member of the St. Petersburg NAACP executive committee who has posted anti-LGBTQ views on Facebook. Sarah Elizabeth Moore, 22, is a recent Florida State University graduate who supports creating more affordable housing and businesses in the district. They are not viable candidates.
Wheeler-Bowman is an effective council member and the clear choice in this race. For St. Petersburg City Council District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Lisa Wheeler-Bowman.