They’re supposed to be talking about potholes.
But alas, the runoff election for Tampa’s District 6 City Council seat has deteriorated into the same tit-for-tat we’re used to seeing at the state and national level. Political parties and affiliated PACS are paying for attack mailers that target voters in Seminole Heights, West Tampa and other parts of the district, all in attempts to secure one seat in a race that might not even reach double-digit turnout.
“I can’t remember when I’ve seen a City Council race like this,” said Pat Kemp, a Seminole Heights Democratic activist who’s running for county commission in 2016. “The vitriol is extreme, and it’s a bad thing for all of us.”
While City Council candidates can’t tout their party affiliation, their supporters can. But this race’s overt partisanship is somewhat new, she said.
Candidates Jackie Toledo and Guido Maniscalco, a Republican and Democrat, have locked horns over a number of things, none of which have to do with issues they’d actually deal with on council, and each has gotten help from their respective parties.
The shot over the bow came in January when a Gainesville firm push-polled voters with misleading information about Maniscalco and Tommy Castellano ahead of the March 3 primary. Maniscalco’s camp then targeted Toledo for misusing
the Tampa city seal in a campaign photo and for her unauthorized filming of a video on an active construction site. Toledo captured 46 percent in the primary — the lion’s share of votes, but not enough to escape a competitive runoff.
Toledo’s people, via a third-party group supposedly not tied to her, tried to paint Maniscalco as a failed businessman. Tampa Tribune political reporter Chris O’Donnell discovered ties through Facebook between Toledo campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini, who has worked on numerous Republican campaigns, and the group Moving Tampa Forward, a mysterious new political PAC whose sole funding source is a Fort Myers law firm. Maniscalco supporters claim Pedicini is behind the group even though it’s illegal for a campaign and a PAC
“We had expected at least one or two mailers to go out [that are] negative like that,” Maniscalco said. “I think that’s going to backfire big time. It was a mistake on her part.”
All the mudslinging was enough to compel five City Council members to send out a written statement condemning the negativity as the kind of “rancor and deception that have so damaged the political process at the state and national level.”
University of Tampa government professor Scott Paine, a former Tampa City Councilman, said while most people detest such nasty politicking, especially at the usually mundane city level, it’s probably not going away anytime soon.
Paine describes the partisanship and third-party involvement as a “sign of the times.”
Not that either party cares about having that seventh vote on the council, he said. Democrats have a strong majority, so neither candidate would tip the scales on decisions divided along party lines.
What the parties really want to do is groom their candidates for higher office.
“There is considerable interest in building the bench in both parties,” Paine said. “And increasingly now, I think both parties look at local elected offices as the spring training ground for future legislators, cabinet officers, members of Congress. And I think they’re right about that. I think that’s a natural progression, and we’d all be better off if it was a more common progression.”
But that partisanship won’t necessarily go away once the winners reach City Hall, which could be bad for the tone of debate there.
“I...am more concerned that infusing partisan politics into local races can set a city or county back decades,” said Democratic political analyst Ana Cruz. “When you begin to infuse vitriolic party politics and wedge issues at a local level you immediately stifle growth in our communities.”
The runoff election for Tampa City Council’s District 6 seat is Tuesday, March 24. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting sites are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday, March 22. For more information, visit VoteHillsborough.org.