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St. Petersburg City Council incumbents hope to thwart challengers in next week's primary

Two St. Petersburg City Council  seats in next week’s primary are sought by incumbents. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Two St. Petersburg City Council seats in next week’s primary are sought by incumbents. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Aug. 20, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Two City Council seats that are up for election in next week's primary are being defended by incumbents.

Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman of District 7, which is south and west of downtown adjacent to Gulfport, seeks to thwart three challengers, including two political newcomers. Ed Montanari of District 3, which includes Snell Isle and Shore Acres, is defending his seat from two opponents, neither of whom have run before.

Those seats are two of the four up for grabs this year. One other race, in District 5, will appear on the Tuesday primary ballot. That race doesn't have an incumbent, as council member Steve Kornell is term-limited. The top two candidates for each seat will move on to the Nov. 5 general election.

The fourth race, for the District 1 seat, includes only two candidates, so it does not appear on the primary ballot but rather will go straight to the general. Neither of those candidates are incumbents, as council member Charlie Gerdes is term-limited.

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Wheeler-Bowman, 51, looks to hold off hopefuls Eritha "Akile" Cainion, Chico Cromartie and Sarah Elizabeth Moore. Wheeler-Bowman became civically engaged after her son was murdered in 2008, helping to solve the crime and put the killer in prison. She later become the president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations before winning the District 7 seat in 2015.

She considers affordable housing, public safety and transportation her top three priorities. She favors creating an affordable housing trust fund and suggested creating a "community benefit agreement" for the Tropicana Field site, by which revenues from future development there could benefit other parts of the city. She said St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway is doing a good job, and supports bus rapid transit.

On the Tampa Bay Rays, she said she was not thrilled with how the team rolled out its split-season Montreal concept. She previously voted to allow the team to look for a new stadium site in Tampa, and she said she would again support letting the team do that.

Cainion, 22, ran unsuccessfully in 2017 for the District 6 seat. A member of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, Cainion is running on a platform of "making the south side black again." She said her three priorities are securing reparations and economic development to the black community, ending gentrification and fixing the "anti-black rigged" election system in the city.

She said she wants the city to relinquish control of the Trop land to the black community, believes the police are an "occupying force" of the black community and wants to create a trolley system to service the city's southern districts. She has also said high-rise development should stop downtown.

Cromartie, 47, says he is a real estate investor. His platform includes capping rental prices, building a monorail system and investing in solar energy.

Cromartie was convicted of armed robbery in 1991 and cocaine possession in 2004, state records show, and served a combined decade years in prison. He posts on Facebook about his opposition to homosexuality, which he says is a choice.

Moore, 22, is a recent Florida State University graduate and a former communications intern at the state capital. She was hired this month as an analyst at law firm Baker McKenzie. She said she is running to inject a younger voice. Her top three priorities are economic development, low income housing and youth outreach.

According to recent financial reports, Wheeler-Bowman and Cainion are far outpacing Cromartie and Moore in fundraising. Wheeler-Bowman has raised $26,853. She has spent $24,151. Cainion has raised $20,650 and spent $10,698. Moore has raised less than $700, and Cromartie hasn't raised any.

In District 3, Montanari, 61, hopes to hold off Orlando Acosta and Zachary Collins. Montanari, an American Airlines pilot, is the lone conservative voice on the progressive City Council and said he is wary of the city over-borrowing for capital projects. Before running unopposed in 2015, he served on task forces involving Albert Whitted Airport, the Tampa Bay Rays' proposal for a waterfront stadium a decade ago and the future of the pier.

Montanari's primary concerns include maintaining the quality of life in the city, by planting more trees, protecting the waterfront and investing in local infrastructure. He also said he wants to increase economic opportunity in the city and "look to the future" — planning for issues like population growth and transportation. He is not in favor of the Rays splitting the season with Montreal, but said he has an "open mind" about ways to keep the team in St. Petersburg. He says he is proud of the performance of the St. Petersburg Police Department and does not favor officers wearing body-worn cameras, though he does support exploring gun-mounted cameras that are activated when officers draw their weapon.

Acosta, a first-time candidate, is staking out a position far to the left of the incumbent. A son of Colombian immigrants, Acosta, 48, had a career in the U.S. Air Force. Now he's an entrepreneur, having started a military consultancy.

Climate change is one of Acosta's main concerns, and he does not support sharing the Rays with Montreal if the team will demand public dollars for a new stadium in Tampa Bay. He has also said cities should not be pre-empted by the state from enacting restrictions on guns.

Collins, 36, a professional brewer, is also running for the first time. His priorities are protecting the environment — specifically by repairing or replacing private lateral sewer lines — addressing housing affordability and keeping big league baseball in St. Petersburg.

Montanari has raised $71,960 and spent $31,869. Acosta has raised $12,580 and spent $10,890. Collins has raised less than $500.

The District 5 race features Beth Connor, Trenia Cox, Deborah Figgs-Sanders, Phil Garret and Anne Hirsch.

Robert Blackmon and John Hornbeck vie for District 1.

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Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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