Wengay Newton and Jennifer Webb took the stage in Gulfport on Thursday night in a homestretch effort to charm voters before the Nov. 8 General Election.
Newton is running for the State House District 70 seat against Republican Cori Fournier. There is no incumbent in the seat. Webb is challenging Republican incumbent Kathleen Peters for the HD 69 seat.
Neither Fournier nor Peters showed up at the forum, leaving the field free for the two Democrats. The Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored the forum.
Newton, a former St. Petersburg council member, talked of his ties with the community and said he has been serving all his life. He also spoke of his childhood as one of eight children raised by his mother, who had the help of subsidies and other aid. Those weren’t handouts, he said, they were hand-ups.
Nowadays, he said, children aren’t so lucky. Much of that aid has gone by the wayside and children grow up to find no jobs and no way out. Many, he said, fall afoul of the juvenile justice system.
“We’ve got to get busy” looking after young people, Newton said.
Newton also spoke briefly of the sewer issues that have plagued both St. Petersburg and Gulfport during this past summer’s tropical storms. Referring to St. Petersburg’s closure of the Albert Whitted plant, which decreased the capacity of the system, Newton said he would introduce a bill prohibiting sewer plants being closed unless there is enough capacity left in the system to make it through two hurricane seasons.
Webb, director of community engagement at the University of South Florida, discussed her commitment to the environment, to standing up against fracking and special interests, to improving infrastructure, and to returning control to the cities.
Webb also talked about the sewage issue, caused in part by aging infrastructure.
If elected, Webb vowed to help Pinellas County and the cities not only by contributing state money to improvements, but also to collaborating to build a sewer system for the future. Such a system, she said, must be innovative and able to withstand rain and groundwater leaking into the system but be able to cope with rising sea water caused by climate change.
“It’s an expensive problem, and we need to fix it for the future, not just today,” Webb said.
Early voting in Pinellas continues through Nov. 6. The election is Nov. 8.