5 Reasons So Many Black Voters Still Unsure in St. Pete Mayoral Election

Poll results released Friday show three times more Black voters undecided in St. Pete’s mayoral race, compared to the 2017 election.

Over 15% of Black voters remain unsure of their choice for mayor, according to the August 5, 2021 poll results released by on Friday.

Only 5% of African American voters were undecided four years ago, when polled on August 7, 2017.

Some of the indecision may be because this year’s election is an open contest (i.e., there is no incumbent in the running). In 2017, we had two well-known names on the ballot – former Mayor Rick Baker versus incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman.

But that doesn’t fully explain it, especially when compared to the action happening among other voters.

About 30% of white voters made up their minds in the past six weeks, leaving only about 8% undecided in the August 5 report.

By contrast, the needle has barely budged among Black voters. They were 17% undecided in a June 21 poll, and remain 15% undecided as of August 5. Both polls were conducted by the same firm.

Though eight out of 10 registered Black voters have made up their minds, the undecideds could supply a boost to one or more candidates in the August 24th primary election.

I asked several community leaders to weigh in on why more Black voters are still uncertain who to vote for. Here’s what they said.

1. Lack of Focus on Voters’ Top-of-Mind Concerns

NAACP President Esther Eugene says, “The pocket of undecided voters speaks to the climate of our area and the thought that possibly those who are running for election are not speaking to the core concerns and issues that affect everyday people.” Her advice: “Intentionality is needed in addressing the top of mind concerns of our citizens.”

In a similar vein, long-time city employee Kevin Jackson is still deciding between Ken Welch and Darden Rice. His concern: “Neither one of them has said much about what he or she will do to improve working conditions for city employees. I don’t know Ken but have met and talked with Darden so this is going to be a tough choice.”

Jackson continued, “I am just tired of having a mayor that only appears on special occasions or election time but remains silent or absent while employees are treated like garbage by management.”

2. The Trump Effect After Darden Rice Mailers

The consensus is that recent mailers depicting Welch as being in league with Donald Trump supporters made some voters question Welch’s candidacy. The mailers were issued by Rice supporters, and defended by the candidate herself.

When asked about it, Eugene estimated that about eight to 10 voters have mentioned the mailers as a factor in doubts about Welch, Rice or the election overall.

Another local activist and businesswoman, who prefers to remain anonymous, confirms that two people in her network told her they shied away from Welch after the Trump mailers. She notes that they were still on the fence at the time, deciding between Welch and Wengay Newton.

It’s worth noting that Rice suffered a wave of backlash for the attempt to paint Welch as a Trump sympathizer. The move was was widely seen as hypocritical, given the number of Republican and Trump-backers among her donor rolls.

3. Relationships with Multiple Candidates

“I’ve experienced some indecisiveness among Black voters simply due to allegiances,” said St. Petersburg Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders. “There may be a connection to multiple candidates that makes them hesitate about choosing one over the other.”

Figgs-Sanders, a Welch supporter, went on to say “Although I understood the dilemma, I wonder why experience, presence and proven outcomes didn’t weigh more heavily in their decision making. Especially from those familiar with the process and how relationships critically impact local policy and progress.”

Barbara Sorey-Love, Editor of The Bulletin News and a Newton supporter, voiced similar feedback: “Part of the indecision in my opinion is because we have two Black candidates, who are well respected and come from the same community. Black voters are torn between who to choose.”

She added, “It’s too bad the candidates didn’t come together on the issues for the good of community as a whole.”

4. Need for More Specifics

Minister William Graveley, owner of Betterway Bar-B-Que & Catering, says he is inclined to back Welch, but he hears from a lot of people who question what specifically Welch has done, particularly for the African American community.

Graveley’s advice: “I would encourage Welch to be very specific about the things he’s done and the things he’s going to do about our biggest challenges.”

5. COVID Causing Distraction for Voters 

Graveley also points to COVID’s impact. “I think COVID more than anything is stifling people’s interest in the election. Not many people are tuning in the way they ordinarily would.”

Kimberley Turnquist-Webb, a local entrepreneur, agrees. Her opinion: “People are distracted and numb from this prolonged pandemic and don’t have the time or mind share to study the candidates.”

The clock is winding down on the August 24th primary election in St. Petersburg. Voting by mail is already underway.  

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