Tampa's City Council will play a pivotal role in the dynamic growth of the region's biggest city. Four of seven members are elected by district to represent distinct neighborhoods, and the ideal representative must balance parochial concerns with the larger interests of the entire city. Council races are nonpartisan. Members are elected to four-year terms and paid $46,238 per year. Early voting begins Feb. 25, and Election Day is March 5.
District 4 (South Tampa)
The race to succeed termed-out City Council member Harry Cohen has drawn three candidates who are familiar with South Tampa's problems, from flooding and traffic congestion to poorly managed growth. Bill Carlson has the edge with his broad grasp of citywide challenges. He complements a South Tampa agenda with big ideas, and the energy and know-how to get things done.
Carlson, 51, a public relations executive, has encompassing ideas for making the neighborhoods better places to live. He would focus on expanding sidewalks, road repairs and other local projects. Carlson appreciates the value of a vibrant arts scene and of viable local businesses that bring jobs, money, convenience and energy to the neighborhoods. He also promises to pay more attention to the areas south of Gandy Boulevard, historically a more moderate income area that is undergoing rapid growth.
Carlson also sees the bigger picture. He wants to better partner neighborhood groups to increase their clout with City Hall. He recognizes the need to beautify Busch Boulevard and Fowler Avenue, harsh and unappealing but important commercial corridors in the city's north. Carlson supports expanding the streetcar and creating mass transit between downtown and the airport. He has worked for years to promote better connections from Tampa International Airport. Carlson understands Tampa's potential as a gateway to global trade and realizes that diversifying the local economy will help attract new talent.
Lee Lowry, 47, a fundraiser for Hillsborough Community College, has solid priorities such as modernizing the traffic control system, and her collegial personality would be an asset on the council. Her civic work with the Junior League helped raise national awareness of the scope of human trafficking. Sal Guagliardo, Jr., 30, who works at his family's dairy distribution company, also understands the importance that quality transportation has on the city's quality of life. But Carlson's has a better blend of local expertise and larger vision.
Carlson has spent years bringing people together to raise the bar on Tampa's ambitions. He co-founded Cafe con Tampa, a popular civic affairs forum, to strengthen the fabric of emerging leaders. He is a forward thinker who sees the city competing on higher terms.
For Tampa City Council District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Bill Carlson.
Jeffrey L. Rhodes
District 5 (East Tampa)
The candidates in this crowded field are vying to represent a district that's changing fast, and the issues of gentrification and neighborhood identity will intensify in the coming years. Jeffrey L. Rhodes is the best choice in these evolving times to succeed term-limited Frank Reddick. He has a presence throughout the district, a long history in business and civic affairs and the skill set to be an effective council member.
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Rhodes, 56, is a Tampa native and co-owner of Ray Williams Funeral Home, one of the oldest in the city. He has long been active in civic and business groups, from the Mayor's African American Advisory Council to the board of the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs. Rhodes has helped organize voter registration and outreach, including Souls to the Polls, a voter turnout event in the black community. He also has been active in neighborhood and local government organizations, including a board assisting with the redevelopment of West Tampa.
Rhodes' experience in business and civic affairs sets him apart. It also gives him the foundation to push a serious agenda — new public-private partnerships to build affordable housing, better training for Tampa police, improved relations between City Hall and minority communities. He understands the need for entry level programs to help people obtain job training and home-buying opportunities. Rhodes is also sensitive to concerns in predominantly black east Tampa that the influx of new residents into the urban core could displace established African-American households, many of whom are struggling with higher rents and property values. He is a good listener who does his homework and focuses on results.
Ralph Smith, 66, a retired bank executive who operates a computer mentoring program for kids, has innovative ideas for improving housing and job development efforts. Ella K. Coffee, 47, a Democratic Party organizer, has the same progressive agenda and a fresh sense of urgency. Todd Cole, 53, who manages his family's barber and beauty shops, wants to raise expectations in the district, beginning with addressing the problems in low-performing schools. Orlando Gudes, 51, a retired Tampa police officer, has solid ideas for strengthening neighborhoods, and his work with youth sports gives him a strong connection.
Rhodes, though, has the fullest blend of civic, business and government experience. He understands the diversity of District 5 but also the connections that transcend neighborhood identity. For Tampa City Council District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jeffrey L. Rhodes.
District 6 (West Tampa)
Guido Maniscalco has established himself since first winning this seat four years ago, becoming a staple at community events and an effective advocate for this mixed-income district. He deserves another term.
Maniscalco, 34, is a Tampa native whose family operates a popular West Tampa jewelry shop. Though widely known and accessible throughout working-class West Tampa, Maniscalco has spent a great deal of time in the further reaches of his district, which stretches into the West Shore business district and South Tampa's affluent Beach Park area. He understands the different needs of these communities and the importance of serving neighborhoods equally. A small business advocate, he also is sensitive to protecting the neighborhoods from the negative impacts of growth, seeking to ensure that mixed-use environments are appropriate in scale and character.
Maniscalco is right to promise a continued focus on stormwater improvements. Despite heavy political pressure from some anti-tax business activists, Maniscalco joined a council majority in 2016 to approve a stormwater fee, putting the city on course to begin addressing its chronic flooding problems. He also vows to use the new countywide transportation tax that Hillsborough voters adopted in November to install new sidewalks throughout the district. This is a health and safety priority for West Tampa, given its narrow streets and the drainage ditches that consume the limited roadsides.
Wendy Pepe, 54, who heads a promotional services company, vows to champion "smart development," ensuring that growth doesn't outpace the city's ability to provide essential services. But her agenda is vague, and she doesn't sound willing to use public dollars for a range of key investments, claiming the private sector would fill the gap. Her ideas seem unformed and unrealistic.
Maniscalco is getting more confident of his own voice. He's constantly reaching out for input. He talks of moving Tampa forward without forgetting those constituents who struggle even now to keep up. He is the right representative and a good ambassador for this district.
For Tampa City Council District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Guido Maniscalco.
District 7 (North Tampa)
For too long the representatives of this seat focused on New Tampa, the suburban enclave north of the University of South Florida, at the expense of older neighborhoods in the district closer to the urban core. Luis Viera has changed that equation since winning the seat in a 2016 special election. He is an advocate for the entire district and deserves a full, four-year term.
Viera, a 41-year-old attorney, grew up in the north Tampa area and graduated in 2000 from the University of South Florida. He knows the district well and has been active in civic life. Unlike some of his predecessors in this council seat, Viera has forged a stronger connection between the district and downtown, recognizing the economic importance of the university area and its potential to become an entrepreneurial hub. He strongly supports a transit connection between USF, downtown and the airport, and new efforts to make the commercial corridors — such as Busch Boulevard and Fowler Avenue — safer and more vibrant.
Quinton F. Robinson, a 42-year old benefit claims specialist, supports a range of proposals to beautify north Tampa and expand the jobs base. But he also wants to phase out taxing districts in the downtown area and shift that money to the general fund, freeing up more for north Tampa projects. That's the wrong approach for neighborhood development, and it would undermine the growing effort to strengthen ties between downtown and the university.
Viera has paid attention to Forest Hills, Sulphur Springs and other under-represented areas. Beyond offering a fuller appreciation of the entire district, he has become a positive force on citywide issues. His professionalism and civility reflect well on local government.
For Tampa City Council District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Luis Viera.