District 7 candidates

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

According to the 2013 updated version of the Pinellas County Poverty Study, “there are five At-Risk Zones within Pinellas County that have higher concentrations of poverty than the County as a whole. Those communities are East Tarpon Springs, North Greenwood, Highpoint, Lealman Corridor, and South St. Petersburg. An estimated 45 percent (47,581) of Pinellas County’s total low-income population lives within the identified At-Risk Zones. The five At-Risk Zones within the County all suffer from the same seven factors: insufficient transportation, limited access to food, lower educational attainment, limited access to health care, increased crime rates, high unemployment, and inadequate and insufficient housing. These seven factors all contribute to the continued cycle of poverty and a coordinated, holistic approach must be adopted to overcome these barriers to economic self-sufficiency and community revitalization,” the report goes on to state.

The 2014 Florida Department of Education’s school accountability report includes 300 of the lowest performing elementary schools in Florida. Of those 300, 16 are located within Pinellas County. Of those 16, five are located within south St. Petersburg, and two of those schools, Woodlawn and Blanton, serve children living in south St. Petersburg. Of the five located in south St. Petersburg, two, Maximo and Melrose, have been “F” schools for three consecutive years.

As a community we understand that the Pinellas County School system has the primary responsibility for educating our children; however, as the economic poverty study points out, poverty is directly linked to poor educational performance and the strategy to bring resolution to this cycle of poverty is dependent upon a coordinated and holistic approach by all community stakeholders and powerbrokers.

District 7, which consists primarily of the Childs Park and Midtown neighborhoods is located within south St. Petersburg; yet, in the Tampa Bay Times’ July 2 endorsement of Lisa Wheeler- Brown for the St. Petersburg City Council, District 7, they acknowledged their reason for endorsing her was based on the following: She is “the clearest supporter of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s effort to look for another site in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties,” referencing the Tampa Bay Rays.

Additionally the Times lauded Wheeler-Brown’s efforts in assisting law makers in tracking, apprehending and ultimately convicting her son’s murderer as an example of how the community can learn from her common sense effort in making our communities’ safer.

Oddly, while referencing she efforts to assist law enforcement in apprehending her son’s murderers, they failed to acknowledge Wheeler-Brown’s own encounters with the law under her birth name, Telisha Wheeler.

Wheeler-Brown has been previously convicted of retail theft, evolving from an incident where she stole some shoes, and a worthless check charge evolving from an incident where she wrote a worthless check for a car payment. Her record also contained several traffic infractions to include driving without a valid license and driving without insurance. Wheeler-Brown acknowledged the incidents in a March article in the Times.

While I don’t believe residents within District 7 or in south St. Petersburg are under any false illusions that the Times or any other news media within the Tampa Bay area has a vested interest in the positive direction of our socio-economic status. I, like many others, are incensed at the notion that they would endorse a candidate based solely on how she is going to vote on issues involving the Rays as opposed to what and how she is going to address the issues facing her constituents and the skills and experiences one will need in order to be an effective representative of the residents.

The Times’ endorsement was a direct slap in the face to any child or young adult living in District 7. They had an opportunity to place a spotlight on two candidates who have been raised in District 7 and despite of the many barriers they faced and still face, they worked hard, got an education and then returned to District 7 to serve.

Will Newton’s has over 20 plus years of public service as a firefighter and as the union president for firefighters. In this role, he became a certified negotiator; a skill that will be invaluable when working to reach consensus among seven other individuals on substantive matters that would impact both the city overall and the residents of District 7.

Sheila Scott-Griffin comes from a family that has historically demonstrated their commitment toward education, hard work and public service in south St. Petersburg. It was the Times that featured two of Scott-Griffin’s sisters and their daughters who have worked together to support each other while the four of them earned   their master’s degrees together.

Scott-Griffin herself is a textbook case of an African-American female who did not allow the multitude of barriers facing black women in the 80s and 90s to stand in her way of earning her juris doctorate and ultimately a master’s degree in public administration.

Like Newton, Scott-Griffin has had a career where she has not only been trained in the art of negotiation as an attorney, she has had direct professional experience working with municipalities going through redevelopment as a regional planner.  This skill and set of professional experiences in her tool belt would serve District 7 well in light of the recent county and city’s approval of the Midtown and Childs Park communities as a Community Redevelopment Area.

The Times also placed an emphasis on Wheeler-Brown’s personal tragedy and how she triumphed by working the streets to find her son’s murderer. If they had been interested in vetting all of the candidates, they would have discovered both Newton and Scott-Griffin have had to triumph over personal tragedies as well!

Newton, as a single man for many years, has been the sole caretaker of his sister, who has special needs, while balancing the demands of work, particularly as a union president that often required routine trips to Tallahassee to meet with legislators and a substantial amount of financial resources.

Scott-Griffin was faced with the tragedy of her first husband becoming paralyzed with a permanent spinal cord injury. She found herself at a very young age serving as her husband’s primary caregiver for 18 years prior to his death, while at the same time raising their three children and managing a law career.

Yet the Times chose to focus only on the fact that Scott-Griffin’s law practice failed, and did not attempt to understand the circumstances behind the failure.

Simply put the Tampa Bay Times put it out there for all to see, and the residents in District 7 aren’t their concern!  They were handed two qualified candidates for the job, yet they chose to endorse a candidate simply based on her support of the mayor’s plan to permit the Rays to pursue another home.

Residents of District 7, it is my hope that come Aug. 25 you will decide to send the Times a strong message that BLACK LIVES DO MATTER as evidenced in your vote!

~ Maria L. Scruggs

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