ST. PETERSBURG — Realtor Brandi Gabbard leads bank manager Barclay Harless in the race to replace term-limited Jim Kennedy on the City Council, according to early unofficial results.
As of 7:20 p.m., early voting, partial mail ballots and 55 of 92 precints reporting, had Gabbard ahead of Harless, 60 percent to 40 percent.
The two first time candidates are both Democrats with ties in the community. Gabbard has been active in the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the local realtor trade organization while Harless was state policy chair for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Pinellas Charter Review.
The two Democrats overlap on many of the issues, but Gabbard has said she sees a distinction in what topics they’d prioritize. She said she’s most committed to public safety, affordable housing and economic development.
The 41-year-old Realtor qualified as a City Council candidate not by paying a fee, but by acquiring 500 signatures while knocking on doors within the district. When it comes to fundraising, she has accepted the backing of the Realtor political action committees in Pinellas and Tallahassee. She also voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
Harless, who voted for Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary, said Kennedy personally encouraged him to run for his seat. Kennedy later endorsed Harless, a Bank of the Ozarks manager
Harless said he’s committed to making sure local government spends responsibly and that the City Council is a good steward of taxpayer dollars.
Both are political rookies, though Harless, 32, has experience on political campaigns with state Sen. Darryl Rouson’s, D-St. Petersburg, and Alex Sink’s failed run for governor in 2010.
Harless spent much of the later months focused on campaign contributions Gabbard received from PACs which paid for numerous mailers for his opponent.
Harless made a pledge early in the campaign not to accept contributions of more than $1,000 and challenged Gabbard to do the same. Gabbard declined, saying she hasn’t taken more than the legal $1,000 contribution from any outside group. As for the mailers, she said she’s thankful for any support from realtors, police, firefighters or others want to provide to her and her campaign.
“It was my commitment from the beginning to stay very positive in this race, to stay with the issues and to keep my integrity intact,” Gabbard said Tuesday while handing out fliers to voters at the Coliseum. “And I think I did that very well.”
But Harless, in the last hours of his campaign, said he wished he would’ve brought the financial differences to light earlier in the campaign.
“A lot of people came up to me and said that’s something that was very important to me,” Harless said outside of Sunken gardens Tuesday evening. “People are legitimately concerned about the influence of tens of thousands of dollars of outside money coming in … I didn’t realize it was going to be such a winning issue.”
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.