Sarasota, Manatee Not Forgotten in District 70 Race



While the boundaries cut through four counties, all Democrats running in state House District 70 hail from St. Petersburg. But with voters from Memphis to Newtown casting a vote in the primary next week, the candidates have been busy building political connections on the Gulf Coast and promising voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties they will not be forgotten. Attorney Christopher John "CJ" Czaia, business owner Dan Fiorini and St. Petersburg Councilman Wengay “Newt” Newton are all running in the region’s only heavily Democratic district, and they are making sure to put up signs south of the Sunshine Skyway as well.

Czaia, who once served as president of the Manatee Democratic Party before moving his law practice and himself to St. Petersburg, has touted his own connections to the region while he campaigned here. “I’m the only candidate with a Manatee-Sarasota Connection,” says Czaia, who graduated from Riverview High. “This is the most gerrymandered seat in the state of Florida, which was done in my opinion to keep Democrats from voting in Sarasota and Manatee.” The district was drawn with a majority of minority voters, a practice that has guaranteed the election of a black representative here for two decades, but which also resulted in neighboring districts leaning more heavily Republican. Czaia incidentally would be the first Hispanic to represent the district if he were elected. A former public defender, he says he would represent all the socially and financially oppressed populations in the district. A founder of Unidos Now, he also wants to reframe issues impacting the immigrant population. “Immigration is not a crime; it’s a human right and a part of natural law,” he says. “When you don't stand up against hate and xenophobia, that is wrong. Likewise, Latinos need to stand up to racism against black people and help Black Lives Matter in their struggle with police, and to help LGBTQ people in their struggle.”

Newton acknowledges he holds few long-time connections to Bradenton and Sarasota, but promises to improve upon those. But voters only need to look at the work he’s done improving his district in St. Petersburg to see the role he would play in Tallahassee. “Most of the problems in Mid-Town in St. Petersburg are in Newtown in Sarasota,” he says. Newtown, a longtime leader in the Pinellas black community, has also recently attended NAACP forums with the Sarasota Police Department and attended a groundbreaking for the next phase of Janie’s Garden in Sarasota. He also picked up an endorsement from Sarasota Mayor Willie Shaw. The biggest racial demographic of voters in the district is black (49 percent), but Newton says he will promote policies that help all economically disadvantaged groups. Public housing has been a major issue during his eight years on the St. Petersburg council and he plans to study needs for housing authorities here when he represents the region in Tallahassee. “It will take a village,” he says. “But I was born and raised in this district. I didn’t show up and say, now send me to Tallahassee.”

Former House aide Fiorini hopes his experience in government and in business make him stand out. A staffer in the state House from 20 years ago, he also worked for the Secretary of the Air Force in Washington, DC. Today, he owns Tyrone Frame and Mirror in St. Petersburg. And while he hasn’t been involved in racial advocacy, he was a founding sponsor for St. Pete Pride and is a contributing member to the Human Rights Campaign. “I’m a member of the LGBT community, and I’m proud of that,” he says. “But everybody has the same concerns. We have the same issues as straight people do. I want to be able to do the laundry. A lot of gay parents just want to make sure their children are fed and clothed properly.” Fiorini says the way to deal with income inequality for all communities is to make sure companies provide a living wage. “Every taxpayer is subsidizing Wal-Mart, Kmart, McDonald’s and every low-wage employee in the US,” he says, noting minimum wage workers pull in $7,000 less than the poverty line even working 40 hours a week. “It’s just outrageous.

The Democratic primary is scheduled for August 30. The winner faces Sarasota Republican Cori Fournier in the November general election. Incumbent state Rep. Darryl Rouson is not seeking re-election and is running instead for state Senate.

Pictured: CJ Czaia, Dan Fiorini, Newt Newton.

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