Although Tuesday's city council elections will influence countless of issues in St. Petersburg from wastewater problems to extreme school inequality to impoverished neighborhoods, the election for most outsider observers - and one local newspaper editorial board - came down to where candidates stood on the Rays' Stadium Saga.
Lisa Wheeler-Brown cruised to a 58%-42% District 7 victory over Will Newton, the brother of term-limited councilman Wengay Newton. Turnout for the election was just 17% of all eligible voters in St. Petersburg, approximately 30,000 votes. Incumbents Charlie Gerdes and Steve Kornell also coasted to victory.
Although she won't take office until January, Wheeler-Brown represents the pivotal fifth councilmember in favor of Mayor Rick Kriseman's negotiated compromise with the Rays.
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Wheeler-Brown earned an important endorsement from the Tampa Bay Times by supporting Kriseman's deal that would allow the Rays to explore possible new stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, but require the team to pay the city approximately $2 million for every year the Rays leave St. Petersburg ahead of 2027, when their current agreement at Tropicana Field expires.
Will Newton, like his brother Wengay, had indicated the team should pay more and refused to support the mayor's deal. Kriseman's 2014 compromise was rejected by city council by 5-3 and 4-4 votes. Wengay Newton recently voted to approve a $4.6 million-per-year counteroffer to the team, which the Times panned and the Rays promptly rejected.
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Mayor Kriseman has maintained his believe that a regional search will ultimately convince the Rays that they should build a new stadium in Pinellas County, most likely next to where Tropicana Field currently sits. He recently told me he thought it could be done without city tax dollars because of private interest in redevelopment around a new stadium, but Kriseman didn't offer funding specifics beyond that.
He did, however tweet congratulations to Wheeler-Brown Tuesday night.
While Hillsborough County appears to have a geographical advantage in landing a new baseball stadium, its available revenue streams are limited. Many current commissioners have pledged "no tax dollars" for a new stadium and the Rays don't appear likely to self-finance a new stadium themselves.
The Rays said they had no comment Tuesday night.
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