Guido Maniscalco celebrated a big victory over Jackie Toledo on Tuesday night. It was a big win for grassroots over money, Democrats over Republicans, blue collar over silk stockings, West Tampa over South Tampa and honesty over ugliness. It also was a chance, once again, for a La Gaceta-endorsed candidate to beat a Tampa Tribune-backed one.
We didn’t predict in this race. We were too emotionally involved. We knew it would be close, and it was.
Maniscalco had 3,731 votes to Toledo’s 3,580, a difference of 151 votes.
Just three weeks ago in the first election, Jackie Toledo had 3,720 and Maniscalco had 2,350. Tommy Castellano, who placed third and therefore did not make the runoff, had 2,017.
Toledo’s lead was huge and most did not believe Maniscalco could catch up in just 21 days. The hole got deeper for Maniscalco when the money is considered. Toledo raised $161,000. Her alleged secret PAC must have spent close to $50,000, which brings her total $211,000. Maniscalco raised $56,000 and the Democratic Party spent $3,500 to help him. That’s a total of $59,500.
This upset started several months ago when Toledo hired the first consultant she met – Anthony Pedicini.
Pedicini wasn’t good with City Council races. He blew a big wad of dollars Shawn Harrison raised against Mary Mulhern in a City Council race eight years ago and was the architect of Rose Ferlita’s failed mayoral campaign four years ago.
He has a bad habit of running nasty races, no matter the circumstances. He went negative early in the first election against Castellano and Maniscalco. His attack, poorly hidden behind a secret political committee, guaranteed Maniscalco would back Castellano in a runoff or, as it turned out, Castellano would back Maniscalco.
The ugliness wasn’t just in the mail. The campaign was rotten in every aspect. There was cheating when it came to the campaign’s financial reporting, violating campaign laws and city rules, trespassing on FDOT property, Maniscalco and his family being followed, sign stealing and lying about party affiliation. You name it; it happened in this race.
As Toledo and Pedicini sunk lower, the unity between Maniscalco and Castellano strengthened. Also, Tampa Latins started to take notice that their own were being attacked and the race became personal. Toledo’s campaign woke West Tampa’s Latin Democratic base, which started to go door to door. They called on their large families to come out and vote, and they did.
Tampeños who slept through the first race and voted for Toledo changed their votes or stayed home because they could no longer stomach the attacks.
The group who voted earliest were those who voted by mail. Toledo won that group 2,555 votes to Maniscalco’s 2,088. The next group to vote cast ballots at early-voting sites. Maniscalco won that group 347 to 226, but his big win was Election Day voting. He attracted 1,296 votes to her 799.
As the election wore on, Maniscalco grew stronger and Toledo’s reputation became more tattered. Had the election gone on longer, we are sure his margin of victory would have increased.
The final blow to the Toledo campaign came when a piece was mailed, full of lies against Maniscalco. The piece blamed Maniscalco for some financial trouble his grandmother had years ago.
Pedicini and Toledo’s alleged secret political committee attacked a Latin family’s 87-year-old grandmother – they might as well have burned the American flag.
Four City Council members authored a letter condemning the nasty campaign tactics. Newspaper columnists penned articles critical of Toledo. The Tampa Bay Times doubled down its endorsement while the Tampa Tribune became very silent. This column launched a full-out crusade for Maniscalco.
If a candidate could sue a consultant for malpractice, this is surely a gold-plated case.
Toledo spent between $30,000 to $40,000 to lose 140 votes between her first election and her second. Maniscalco’s campaign gained 1,381 votes over the same period with half the money.
Pedicini and Toledo made the mistakes that gave Maniscalco a chance and his campaign tooled up to take the advantage. One plus for him was that the local Democratic Party, which has been ineffective over the past few political seasons, got its act together. The new chair, Elizabeth Belcher, wasn’t afraid to get involved in this non-partisan race. Her vice chair, Ione Townsend, drummed up volunteers to make calls. The local party’s newly hired fundraising guru, Mark Hanisee burned up the phone lines so there was money to spend in this race.
Loyal local Democratic electeds and former candidates such as Bob Henriquez, Mary Mulhern, Albert A. Fox, Jr., Pat Kemp, Yolie Capin, Susan Long and Ed Turanchik, pitched in to help.
Maniscalco’s campaign started to hit 500 to 800 houses a day in its walks and remained positive and focused. It was a Herculean comeback.
We were with the Maniscalco family on election night and it was a sweet victory, like David defeating Goliath.