Will Tampa join Clearwater next year as Tampa Bay's next city to have an all-male City Council?

Yvonne Yolie Capin is the only woman currently serving on the Tampa City Council. [Times Files]
Yvonne Yolie Capin is the only woman currently serving on the Tampa City Council. [Times Files]
Published Dec. 19, 2018

This fall, supporters of gender equity in Hillsborough County rejoiced as victories by Kim Overman and Mariella Smith gave the County Commission a female majority.

But the political forecast isn't as welcoming for women in Tampa's mayoral and City Council races, which will be decided next spring.

The qualifying period ends in mid-January, but, so far, Jane Castor is the only woman in a field of eight candidates for mayor.

Castor, 59, a former police chief, said she didn't get in the race because she's a woman. Instead, she feels she's the most qualified candidate. But the lack of other women in the race does bother her, she said.

"My history certainly bears out the importance of a focus on diversity. We're each a sum total of our life experience and you need those different viewpoints when you're making decisions that affect the community," said Castor, who capped a three-decade long career with the Tampa Police Department by serving as the city's first openly gay chief between 2009 and 2015.

Gender diversity isn't making much of an appearance on the down-ballot City Council races either.

So far, only two women, Ella Coffee in District 5, which includes downtown, Seminole Heights, Ybor City and East Tampa, and Vibha Shevade, who is running citywide to replace the only woman currently on City Council, Yvonne Yolie Capin.

If no other women qualify and neither Coffee nor Shevade win their races on March 5 or April 23, Tampa will join Clearwater as having an all-male council.

Across the bay, both St. Petersburg City Council and the Pinellas County Commission have female majorities.

Both Coffee and Shevade are first-time candidates, who, like many of their male counterparts, see transportation and affordable housing as important priorities for the next mayor and council members, who assume their seats May 1.

Coffee, 46, said her experience as a working mother of three children taught her to pay attention to small details while juggling the demands of work and home.

"If we don't have a woman on council, the smaller details that affect the least of us might not get the attention they deserve," Coffee said. "Then we have a problem."

Shevade, 41, said she was surprised by the news out of Clearwater and hopes the same thing doesn't happen in Tampa.

"City Council should be a representation of its people," Shevade said.

Coffee is African-American and Shevade is Indian-American, adding another layer of diversity to their candidacies.

Not too long ago, Shevade said, her ethnicity might have doomed her candidacy, but things have been changing for the better since she moved to the United States with her parents 40 years ago as a baby.

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"I think the times are changing. We are progressing. We are moving in the right direction. It's just a matter of time. I'm very confident Tampa will open its arms for diversity and inclusion for all," she said.

Capin, 69, says she learned quickly as the only women on the Tampa City Council that gender was an issue.

"They don't mean to, but they treat me as a female," said Capin, who has been a council member since 2010. "They try not to, but it comes through."

One example, she said, was when she reprimanded controversial gadfly Tony Daniel for wearing a t-shirt to a council meeting earlier this year with pejorative words about women printed on it.

"Not one of my colleagues spoke up," she said. "That tells me that I'm on my own."

Capin said she isn't afraid to stand up for herself, but has also learned to get along with six men to accomplish her goals.

"I learned very quickly. I had to be one of the boys," she said. "I deal with it."

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago .