The first time cell phone screens refreshed with percentages and raw numbers after seven candidates’ names in three races, people took a breath as they looked at each other, murmured and milled.
It was municipal election day at 7:03 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12 at a party at Tangelo’s Grille, 3121 Beach Boulevard.
The polls closed at 7 p.m. and unofficial returns from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections were starting to post online based on mail ballots and poll results, but not provisional ballots.
A few minutes later, after the second online auto refresh, smiles widened and cheering resounded down the blocks of Beach Boulevard above the decibel level of the music pouring out of the open doors of a new nearby bar.
“Landslide!” yelled too many people to count.
This was the scene as over 100 people celebrated big victories for all three municipal council candidates at Mayor Sam Henderson’s Election Night Party.
“I’m extremely excited that myself, Michael and Christine all got back on,” said Henderson, who won re-election in the mayor’s race with 73.81 percent of the vote compared to challenger Frank J. Kemnetz who had 26.19 percent.
“The last year has been one of the most pleasant periods of time to be able to have professional discussions and work through things,” said Henderson. “I’m as excited to have them back on as I am to be back on.
“It’s no longer election season and Gulfport can go back to being nice little Gulfport.”
Vote totals were 1,871 for Henderson and 664 for Kemnetz.
Vice Mayor Christine Brown arrived just as the cheering was reaching a crescendo.
“Like I said in my ad, we did it for the goodness of Gulfport and that’s what we’re here for,” said Brown. “We had to believe in the goodness of Gulfport and here they are.”
In the Ward 2 councilmember race, Brown won with 65.55 percent of the vote compared to her two challengers: Chrisan Herrod had 21.58 percent, while Byron E. Chalfont had 12.86 percent. Vote totals were 1,631 for Brown, 537 for Herrod and 320 for Chalfont.
In the Ward 4 councilmember race, Michael Fridovich won with 70.65 percent of the vote while challenger Richard Fried received 29.35 percent. Vote totals were 1,702 for Fridovich and 707 for Fried.
“I’m very happy we all won,” said Fridovich. “It’s time to get back to the peoples’ business.”
Municipal Elections in Gulfport
Mayors qualify citywide while councilmembers are grouped by wards. Voters elect all candidates citywide. Mayors serve three-year terms while councilmembers serve for two.
As of the February 11 registration deadline, a total of 9,263 people in Gulfport were eligible to vote. The city has three polling locations and seven precincts, six of which contain voters.
In the 2019 municipal general election in Gulfport as of March 12, a total of 2,549 people voted with 764 making election day choices and 1,785 opting for mail-in absentee ballots. The total turnout was 27.52 percent.
According to the supervisor of elections website, municipal election turnout history in Gulfport is as follows: March 2018: 1,888 ballots were cast (21 percent); March 2017: 1,808 ballots were cast (20.30 percent); March 2016: 4,684 ballots were cast (53.34 percent); March 2014: 3,814 ballots were cast (44.09 percent); and, in March 2013: 2,742 ballots were cast (31.98 percent).
In all of Pinellas County for the March 2019 election, 54,395 people were active registered voters, and as of March 13, 14,557 cast ballots and the percent turnout was 26.76 percent.
The three winners will be sworn into office at the next council meeting on Tuesday, March 19. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 2401 53rd Street S. Henderson will begin his third term in office as mayor. As councilmembers, Brown and Fridovich will both begin their fourth terms in office.
The council meets on the first and third Tuesday evening of each month.
About the election results, Councilmember Paul Ray said, “I’m very proud of Gulfport voting for the future of Gulfport.”