Charlie Gerdes won a majority Tuesday night - so why does he have to run again in November?

Share on Nextdoor

That wasn't the case in the Tampa mayoral race, where Bob Buckhorn barely made it into the runoff in a five person field, and then ultimately smashed Rose Ferlita in the general, winning by 26 points.


But if all that's happening in St. Pete is to have another race in November, why have the race in August?


CL contacted Nancy Whitlock, Elections Administrator with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office on Wednesday.


She explained that the rules as such are listed in the City Charter:


The city of St. Petersburg requires a primary for any council race with more than two candidates; otherwise, that race goes directly to the general election. This is the same way other nonpartisan races like school board and judicial races work. And, their city charter requires that the two candidates with the most votes proceed to the general election ballot — even if one candidate receives more than 50%.

The exception is for the mayor’s race. If a mayoral candidate wins more than 50% in a primary, he/she is the winner.

In St. Petersburg, council races are voted by district in the primary, but at-large for the general. This gives all city voters the chance to make the final decision, not just that district.


So perhaps it's time for a little City Charter review here? The fact is, this is not a fiscally responsible way to hold elections. And the fact that a candidate has received 52 percent of the vote in a three way race shows pretty convincingly that he is the person by far that District 1 wants representing them at City Hall.


There certainly are arguments to be made about the fact that every voter in the city should have the opportunity to vote on every race, but that's certainly not the case in other Bay area governments.


In Tampa/Hillsborough County, there are district seats, and at large seats. In Tampa, one can vote on the three city wide races, but only get to vote in District 5. The same thing in the County, where I can vote for the three county wide seats, but only vote in District 3.


And the same argument works on a state level, where we're only allowed to vote for our single Representative and state Senator, though he or she is one of a much larger body that ultimately decides our fate in Tallahassee.


Just because it's always been done that way doesn't mean it needs to be in the future.


And oh yeah, less than 3,000 people voted yesterday, or in early/absentee balloting. There are myriad reasons for that low turnout, no doubt. If there were more candidates in the race, surely there might have been more interest. It's not the supervisor of elections fault that only three people ran, meaning just one candidate would be eliminated. But again, when one candidate gets that pure majority, the argument for having him or her run again seems to be quite antiquated, if it ever made sense in the past.


Meanwhile, former City Council member Virginia Littrell wrote on the Facebook page of Kevin King (legislative aide to state representative Rick Kriseman) that if they desired, the council itself could place a referendum on the ballot to change the current law.


On the ballot this time you will be asked about the redistricting process for the city. During those discussions ...we talked at length and indepth about the fairness of representation and the potential for undermining the very real fairness inherent in the primary/ general system we have now. I would pose this question: If only the citizens of a council district elected the representative of that district - would the representative be responsive to the needs of all citizens? Would the African American community have a voice, or would that community be pushed aside because 6 of 8 council members didn't have to worry about their concerns in order to be reelected?


Darden Rice with the League of Women Voters, believes that the District 1 race was somewhat of an anomaly, and believes candidates need to be tested and vetted citywide.


"Unfortunately, the set up falls short when there are lackluster candidates and/or not enough candidates to to trigger a primary. It also falls short when just one district has a primary and there is nothing else on the ballot to get people out. Even concurrent primaries in other districts would help put the city on notice. "


Perhaps the new Council elected after November will deal with this issue. In the interim, Gerdes will be running against Bob Kersteen on November 1, along with three other City Council races on the ballot.

In some of the country's more progressive cities, instant run-off voting has been adopted, which, among other things, eliminates the need for a primary election.

Since nobody is clamoring for it in St. Petersburg, we're not about to lead that campaign. But forgive us for thinking there's something a bit off about having a primary election in which the sole purpose is to eliminate (in this case) three candidates to two, with those two candidates now running against each other for another two months - despite the fact that one of the candidates took a clear majority in the race.

We're referring of course, to Tuesday night's primary race in St. Petersburg's District 1 race. Charlie Gerdes won 52 percent of the vote, some 24 points up on Bob Kersteen (Josh Shulman took 20 percent and fell out of the race).

Tampa this past year had a series of primary elections, but if one of the candidates took home 50 percent plus one (as was the case in the races of Charlie Miranda and Mary Mulhern), they become the winner, and save the city the expense (and themselves) of running again in three weeks.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.