Vito Sheeley, former aide to Kathy Castor, announces run for Wengay Newton's State House seat

The race for this gerrymandered blue district will likely be settled in the primary.

click to enlarge Vito Sheeley, former aide to Kathy Castor, announces run for Wengay Newton's State House seat

Longtime activist and aide to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (and short-time aide to U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist) Vito Sheeley announced he is running to represent Florida House District 70, a seat State Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, won handily last November.

In a release sent out Monday, Sheeley's campaign cited his desire to continue serving the community in which he grew up.

“I want more for the community I’ve lived in my whole life,” Sheeley said in a written statement. “I’ve had the honor to work with our elected representatives on issues like affordable housing, restoration of voting rights, and job creation for District 70 families. That experience has shown me that we’re strongest when we face these issues together.”

His announcement sets the stage for what could be an interesting primary fight against Newton — assuming Newton runs for reelection. This is one of many House districts in Florida that will likely be decided in the primary — because Florida's 70th House District is a prime example of why the state's politics are so lopsided.

It contains bits of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

Which bits, exactly?

The predominantly African-American bits.

Lawmakers stuffed areas like south St. Pete and east Tampa into this district under the guise of creating a minority access district, supposedly to ensure that the most disenfranchised among us have a voice in Tallahassee. What it really does, though, is concentrate likely Democratic voters into one pool rather than jeopardize the GOP's stronghold of surrounding districts (if south St. Pete were instead part of District 69, for instance, Republican State Rep. Kathleen Peters may have had a tougher time getting reelected).

The Republicans who drew the seat and others like it probably take it for granted that a Democrat is a shoe-in for the seat, and they essentially leave it alone. The Dem who wins that seat then gets sent up to Tallahassee to file bills and debate policy virtually in vain against the Republican majority.

The primary should be an interesting one, though it's unclear whether Newton is all that vulnerable. Sheeley is working with Blue Ticket Consulting, the firm that helped flip the Hillsborough County State Attorney's office blue last November. They may go the route of highlighting Newton's alliances with Republicans like Rick Baker — though taking that tack might not go over well in south St. Pete, and Sheeley himself has worked for a Republican, former Congressman David Jolly.

The primary is more than 13 months out, and it's likely that more candidates will jump in before the qualifying deadline.


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