ST. PETERSBURG — The South St. Pete Democratic Club held a forum for the two candidates running for City Council District 7 last Sat., Oct. 10 at the Sanderlin Center. Candidates Winthrop “Will” Newton and Lisa Wheeler-Brown had five minutes maximum to respond to each of the five planned questions drafted by the board. Questions were also posed by members of the audience and each candidate was given two minutes for an opening and closing statement.
What is your understanding of and position on each of the four referenda with respect to changes to the City Charter as they are described on the ballot? What are your ideas to educate voters on these issues so they are informed when they vote?
Winthrop “Will” Newton – In favor of all four referendums. To educate voters he would hold forums, utilize the water bill mailing system and the city’s marketing department to disseminate information.
Lisa Wheeler-Brown – In favor of Referendum 1-3 and disapproved of No. 4. To educate voter’s she agrees with Newton, but also adds using the library system and recreations centers to get the word out.
Referendum No. 1: Approving Permanent Use Restrictions Over a Portion of City Owned Submerged Lands in Tampa Bay
Referendum No. 2: Precinct Lines Need Not be Followed Where it Would Compromise Compact and Contiguous Council Districts
Referendum No. 3: Charter Amendment Clarifying Residency Requirements for Council and Mayoral Candidates Before, During and After Election
Referendum No. 4: Charter Amendment Clarifying That Electronic Tallying of City Council Votes Satisfies the Roll Call Requirement
Several recent city projects including the South St. Petersburg CRA have been financed using TIF type financing. What is your understanding of TIFs and what proposed projects for South St. Petersburg economic development do you support most (eg. Top 2-3) and why?
Wheeler-Brown – Supports the CRA.
“TIF stands for Tax, Increment, Financing, and I’m very excited about the CRA because that’s going to bring job readiness programs, job creation—which is needed in our area. And because no one who works 40 hours a week should have to worry about keeping a roof over their head or food on the table, so I’m very excited about it. And I know that this time it will work because of the accountability provisions within the CRA,” she said. Wheeler-Brown is looking forward to CRA bringing jobs and affordable housing.
Newton – Supports the CRA.
“I’m interested in seeing the land that the stadium sits on being redrawn into the south side TIF. The land the stadium sits on now is not on the tax roll, and because it’s not on the tax roll it’s not generating anything. It’s drawn into a different TIF now. And if you can see the success of downtown and what can happen when you have a community development area designated, it takes off…Now the way it’s designed we can use county money for brick and mortar, we can use city money for job training and job opportunity and educational opportunity,” Newton said.
Newton supports the proposed homeownership and jobs portion, but warns against gentrification.
What is your opinion on the city’s recently passed 2016 budget? What do you think are strengths and weaknesses of this budget?
Newton – Supports this budget, and is happy that it approved just under a million dollars for youth employment.
“I believe our strengths and weaknesses are probably two in the same because we need to try to provide as much opportunity and access to everyone. I still believe that we have a huge challenge when it comes to our youth, and we can keep addressing that but we also need to make sure that we have access to our small businesses and try to attract some of those, especially into the Midtown area.”
Wheeler-Brown – Supports the budget, and is excited that the CRA will bring money to the arts.
“One thing that should be in the budget a little bit more invested in…our sewer pipes. They are over 70 years old and that is one of the reasons why the spill happened. We need to definitely invest more in infrastructure.”
What new ideas do you have to address climate change in the city and what established ideas will you support if elected?
Wheeler-Brown – Feels that educating the public is key. Suggest putting information in libraries, recreation centers and stores. She sees a lack of overall knowledge in the community about global warming and environmental issues.
Newton – Feels we need to be proactive in helping the environment. He is in support of cleaner travel options, such as using the bus, carpooling and using your feet; not building in low lining areas and protecting natural barriers.
What is your best NEW idea for the city that you would seek support for and try to implement should you be elected?
Newton – Wants to work collaboratively and collectively with fellow council members. He wants to create opportunity for those living in poverty; wants to work for the good of the whole.
“The challenge I face that I think we all face is because of the systemic problem of poverty whether you believe it or not. And because we are here tasked with the responsibility of making sure we are good stewards, I think that you’ll spend less money, have less taxes and better opportunity in life if we can tackle those seven factors that lead to poverty.”
Wheeler-Brown – Wants to make sure that the city is engaged in educating the youth, and not just the county. Wants more teachers in recreation centers tutoring for free.
“I’m interested in utilizing our rec centers to have teachers in there to help with tutoring to increase their basic skills—their reading, their math, science—just help like that but that’s one thing I’m going to champion if elected to council because education is very important and we want our kids to be successful.”
Winthrop “Will” Newton has lived in District 7 for almost 30 years and is the youngest of eight siblings. A native of St. Pete, he graduated from Pinellas Technical Institute and became a firefighter. He has served as a firefighter for 23 years and was elected by the union to negotiate labor contracts.
Wheeler-Brown was born and raised in St. Pete, and after high school she joined the military. She was instrumental in solving her son’s murder and was recognized nationally by former Attorney General Eric Holder. She is also the immediate past president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.