ST. PETERSBURG — Of the 14 candidates running for City Council this year, more than half have been accused of committing crimes.
The accusations and outcomes run the gamut: most were misdemeanors, some of which were not prosecuted, while other candidates didn't contest the charges or pleaded guilty. One candidate was convicted of felony charges and spent a decade in prison.
It's part of a trend political professor Seth Masket said is growing: candidates willing to run or stay in races despite an unsavory element of their past or a scandalous development that might have forced a previous generation of candidates to the sidelines. He referenced Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama, all of whom stayed in despite scandal.
And it turns out voters can be forgiving.
"What I do think we're seeing is more politicians willing to test this," said Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. "I think we're finding that voters are far more tolerant of this sort of thing than either they used to be or than we originally thought."
In the race for District 7, which is south and west of downtown adjacent to Gulfport, three of the four candidates have been accused of crimes in the past.
Chico Cromartie, 47, who is challenging incumbent Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, has the only felony charges, according to state records and arrests reported by candidates to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. He was found guilty of armed robbery following a 1990 arrest, serving eight years in state prison, the records show. He was arrested again in 2003 and found guilty on drug charges, serving another three years in prison.
Cromartie, who registered to vote in January under Amendment 4, which grants former felons the right to vote, said the convictions shouldn't be disqualifying for voters. In fact, he said, his criminal history makes him a better leader.
"It demonstrates that I can hold myself accountable, I can lead this city in a way that is responsible and transparent and I have nothing to hide. I think what we face as a city is more dangerous than I ever was," Cromartie said. "When you face adversity as a leader, how are you going to handle it? Are you going to be able to handle it? Can you stand to be corrected? Can you lead when it's uncomfortable? My whole life demonstrates leadership."
Eritha "Akile" Cainion, 22, also challenging Bowman, was accused in 2017 of disorderly conduct and resisting an officer, both misdemeanors. She was not formally charged.
"I think it's a non-issue," she said. "You want to talk about criminals, you want to talk about arrest records, but the black community is being occupied by police on a daily basis."
Wheeler-Bowman, 50, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor retail theft in 1990, Pinellas County court records show. In 1998, she was accused of passing a worthless check, another misdemeanor. Records show she pleaded guilty and judgment was withheld.
She said voters had the opportunity to weigh those charges when she ran for the seat in 2015.
"When the voters did find out, I think they appreciated the fact that I was up front about it," she said. "No one's perfect. And I think that since I was up front about it, they believed in me. They trusted me."
The fourth candidate in that race, Sarah Elizabeth Moore, 22, has not faced charges in Florida, state records show.
John Hornbeck, 34, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession following a 2003 arrest, state records show. Judgment of that charge was withheld.
Hornbeck said he stopped smoking marijuana after that incident and shared his experience with students at his church to discourage them from making the same decision.
Hornbeck's opponent, Robert Blackmon, 30, was accused of a hit and run accident in Leon County in 2009, a misdemeanor, court records show. That charge was reduced to a traffic infraction, according to the records.
"A minor traffic ticket when I was 19 years old has no impact on my ability to lead," he said.
Florida Politics regarding her arrests.
"I addressed this months ago because I knew it was important to be honest with the voters right from the start," she told the Tampa Bay Times last week.
Phil Garrett, 54, who is also running for District 5, said he was once taken into a police station in New York City, where he previously lived. He said it was for "public something" and said he was not convicted. Records were not available.
"I don't really want to get into it, but I was racially profiled," said Garrett, who is black. "I am not a criminal."
Times Senior Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at email@example.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.