– by Phil Ammann
An eight-person field has narrowed to Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll in the St. Petersburg City Council District 6 race. They will face off in 10 weeks to succeed term-limited Karl Nurse.
Robert Blackmon came in an extremely close third, behind Driscoll by only four votes, setting off an automatic recount.
As of Tuesday evening, Bean received just over 21 percent of the vote (1,442 votes of 6,822 cast); Driscoll, the 46-year-old president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association who works as a sales manager at the Hampton Inn & Suites took 17.81 percent (1,215 votes).
Blackmon took 17.75 percent (1,211).
Less than a half-percentage point is separating Driscoll and Blackmon, which sets off an automatic recount.
While there were no clear front-runners leading up to Tuesday’s primary, now the top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 7 general election.
What made the District 6 primary remarkable was the diverse field of candidates battling to represent an equally diverse part of the St. Petersburg: Downtown, the Old Southeast, the primarily African-American Midtown, and the historic Old Northeast neighborhood from Ninth Avenue North south.
Bean, 30, one of only two registered Republicans vying for the nonpartisan seat, had been recommended by the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, which called him “the candidate with the best potential for growing into the job.”
As Bean benefited from the Times, Driscoll received possibly the second most influential endorsement in the District 6 race — from Nurse, the man she hopes to replace.
“I believe of the large field of candidates Gina Driscoll is the most ready to step into this city council seat due to her years of civic involvement,” Nurse said in his July announcement. “Gina is capable of representing the broad range of neighborhoods and has the temperament and drive to be effective on the City Council.”
Real estate investor Blackmon, 28, was the other Republican in the race. Former Mayor Bill Foster endorsed him. Blackmon also briefly made international news as a “good friend” of Sydney Simpson, daughter of the newly released O.J. Simpson.
Maria Scruggs, 59, is an experienced political candidate, having previously run for St. Pete’s City Council in 2004 and mayor in 2001, among others. She now heads the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, as well as serving as an employee with the Orange County Corrections Dept. Scruggs received 16 percent.
Corey Givens Jr. is the 25-year-old president of the Lakewood Terrace Neighborhood Association. He received just under 10 percent.
As a rising community activist, Givens sits on a number panels, including the local chapters of the NAACP, the Sierra Club and the Citizens Advisory Council for the South St. Pete CRA. Despite a dispute over a campaign contribution stalling his early momentum, Givens’ aggressive campaigning helped him regain momentum. Current Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman also endorsed Givens.
Akile Cainion, 20, was the Uhuru-backed candidate in the race. She had aggressively blasted the “two Ricks” mayor contest as maintaining the status quo. With arguably the most progressive agenda of all eight candidates, Cainion — along with mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel — advocated reparations to the city’s black community. That helped her take seven percent of the vote.
James Scott, 29, was another favorite of both progressives and environmentalists. As a former student body president at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Scott is a voting member of the Suncoast Club Executive Committee. He received six percent.
Jim Jackson, 72, is a veteran Democratic Party activist who took four percent of the vote.
Jackson was the other District 6 candidate with campaign experience, mounting two previous runs for Pinellas County School Board. A former psychology professor and educator, Jackson based much of his platform on improving the Pinellas County educational system. He received four percent of the vote.
Only registered voters of District 6 have cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary, but now the entire city will weigh in November for which one will ultimately sit on the Council.