Showdown in the Big Guava: A look at Tampa's runoff elections

What you need to know about Tuesday's match-ups.

A view of downtown Tampa.

A view of downtown Tampa. Image by Chalo Garcia from Pixabay

The long, contentious Tampa City Council races are officially coming to an end Tuesday. There are runoff elections for four city council seats that will decide the makeup and tone of the next council working with Mayor Jane Castor.

Elections this week will settle the city council races from the municipal general election on March 7 where no candidate got over 50% support. The elections will also decide whether the makeup of the council will add some Castor allies – or return some of her biggest critics.

The four contests feature incumbents scrambling to other seats, younger progressive candidates trying to find a voice in the Big Guava, and one political heavyweight trying to knock out a political thorn in her daughter-in-law’s side. 

Here’s what you need to know about the Tampa elections tomorrow. 

District 1 (citywide): Sonja Brookins vs. Alan Clendenin

The District 1 contest features two candidates who knocked out the incumbent in the previous election. Council Chair Joseph Citro was ousted in March after receiving just 20% of the vote. 

Keiser University professor Sonja Brookins outpaced him with 22% support while former air traffic controller and Democratic National Committee executive board member Alan Clendenin received over 40% support. If elected, Clendenin would be the first openly gay person to serve on the city council.

It is likely that Clendenin’s dominance in the general election carries over into the runoff. His political connections have allowed him to outraise Brookins over 14-fold, amassing over $148,000 over the course of the campaign, compared to her $9,640.

He has also gathered endorsements across factional lines, including the Tampa Sierra Club, police and fire unions, Equality Florida, the Tampa Bay Times, Creative Loafing and more. Brookins has support from some progressive groups, like the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Tampa Bay. She also won in the NAACP Hillsborough straw poll.

District 2 (citywide): Guido Maniscalco vs. Robin Lockett

This race features an incumbent (of sorts) facing off against a first-time candidate.

Council Member Guido Maniscalco, who is running for the District 2 seat after term-limiting out of District 6, is being challenged by Robin Lockett, an organizer with the progressive group Florida Rising. It’s pursued Tenant Bill of Rights and rent control measures in cities across the state. 

Maniscalco hasn’t aligned with either of the two warring factions in Tampa government, mainly operating as a swing vote.

That could be why he’s the frontrunner. He outperformed the field by large margins in March, taking home almost 47% support while Lockett only brought in about 25%. He has also raised almost double of Lockett’s fundraising, taking in $85,000 to his campaign account compared to her $45,000.

The incumbent has also received more endorsements, being backed by the Tampa police union, firefighter union, Equality Florida and the Tampa Bay Times. Lockett has been endorsed by Ruth’s List, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay and more.

District 3 (citywide): Lynn Hurtak vs. Janet Cruz

This race is not only the closest, but also the most antagonistic race in the field – with the most at stake.

On one side is incumbent Lynn Hurtak, a progressive who has been a frequent critic of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. She was appointed to the seat in 2022 after former council member John Dingfelder resigned.

On the other is former state Sen. Janet Cruz, with over 13 years of experience in the Legislature. Cruz’s daughter, Ballard Partners lobbyist Ana Cruz, is Castor’s long-time partner. While both Cruz and Castor have denied having influence over each other, their political circles are very similar and Castor has officially backed Cruz in the race.

The family ties have been a sticking point. Hurtak has questioned whether her connection to Castor will make Cruz ineffective at pushing back against the mayor when she needs to. Cruz has responded to criticism with accusations of homophobia, asking Hurtak, “Do you have a problem with gay people?” during a Hillsborough NAACP debate.

Mailers from Cruz’s campaign have attacked Hurtak’s voting record and have drawn lawsuits from community groups named in them.

With all the drama, the race is unsurprisingly close. During the five-person general election, Cruz received 38% of the vote in the general election, while Hurtak received 42%.

Cruz has received several endorsements, including from the Tampa Bay Times and the Tampa firefighters union. Hurtak has been endorsed by the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, the Tampa Bay Sierra Club, and more.

District 6: Charlie Miranda vs. Hoyt Prindle (West Tampa and Seminole Heights)

The only non-citywide race to make it to a runoff is also the race with the least suspense.

Veteran politician Charlie Miranda is the frontrunner in the race against political newcomer and attorney Hoyt Prindle. Miranda is the current District 2 councilmember and has served a total of eight terms on the city council over the past 50 years.

Miranda’s name recognition has paid off at the ballot box. In March, he received 49% of the vote, almost enough to escape a runoff altogether. Prindle received about 21%.

The incumbent councilmember’s political experience has also given him an edge in fundraising. He has raised $140,000 to Prindle’s $60,000 in his campaign account.

Contact Tristan Wood at twood@cityandstatefl.com and follow him on Twitter: @TristanDWood

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