Lina Teixeira wins Clearwater City Council Seat 5

She bested Church of Scientology critic Aaron Smith-Levin and the Rev. Jonathan Wade.

Tampa Bay Times/March 16, 2022

By Tracey McManus

Clearwater — Artist and community activist Lina Teixeira won a three-way race for Seat 5 on the City Council on Tuesday, overcoming an opponent who attempted to link her to the controversial Church of Scientology.

Teixeira earned 44 percent of the vote, according to unofficial Pinellas County Supervisor of Election results. Aaron Smith-Levin, a defector and critic of Scientology, won nearly 36 percent and the Rev. Jonathan Wade earned 20 percent.

“I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” Teixeira said by phone from her victory party at Island Way Grill. “I can’t wait to get to work ... I just look forward to serving Clearwater.”

Teixeira, 52, campaigned on the need to make Clearwater’s economy less reliant on tourism, protect the environment and unite neighborhoods. But the race became the most contentious in years as Smith-Levin campaigned that the city should do more to address the church’s growing impact downtown.

On social media and in mailers, Smith-Levin, 41, attempted to portray Teixeira as sympathetic to Scientology, going so far as calling her a “Trojan horse” for the church, a connotation that can be toxic in Clearwater politics.

Teixeira, who is not a member of Scientology, called the allegations false and defamatory. She fought back with mailers of her own that highlighted Smith-Levin’s personal behavior, including two altercations he provoked at bars where law enforcement responded but no charges were filed.

Teixeira was endorsed by the political committee representing Amplify Clearwater (the city’s chamber of commerce), Mayor Frank Hibbard and the Clearwater Firefighters Association. She also earned the endorsement of City Council member Hoyt Hamilton, who will vacate the seat due to term limits.

In the other race on the ballot on Tuesday, city council member David Allbritton won a second term in Seat 4 against two opponents. Teixeira and Allbritton will be sworn into office on Monday after the nonpartisan election results are certified, according to City Clerk Rosemarie Call. Council members earn $23,882 annually and serve four-year terms. All five council seats are at-large.

The results showed a nearly 25 percent turnout, above the 17 percent in 2018, the last time a March election included only City Council races.

This was Teixeira’s second bid for City Council. She lost a five-way race in 2020 for Seat 2 to City Council member Mark Bunker, the first candidate in recent history to center a campaign on Scientology’s impact in Clearwater.

Teixeira has served on 11 civic and community boards and has been a vocal activist for downtown revitalization for nearly a decade. She has served as president of the Downtown Clearwater Merchants Association, is currently vice chairperson of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and was previously elected to the Downtown Development Board.

Smith-Levin alleged Teixeira has been too soft on Scientology in these roles and failed to hold the church accountable for downtown blight.

But Teixeira has maintained that she has had to remain pragmatic and work with all stakeholders in efforts to bring life to downtown. She has also stressed that downtown cannot be the city’s only concern.

In a statement on Tuesday, Smith-Levin’s campaign manager Scott Thomas said the campaign was “focused on changing the perception that Clearwater was controlled by the Church of Scientology and that our neighborhoods deserve a voice.”

“Almost 7,000 voters came out to vote for our cause,” Thomas said. “While these results are not what we wished for, it sends a message that our elected officials must put more of a focus into our neighborhoods and holding Scientology accountable.”

Wade, 67, pastor of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, focused his campaign on “people over development” and advocated for the protection of neighborhoods and the environment.

Teixeira narrowly out fundraised Smith-Levin as of March 9, with $78,198 that came mostly from Clearwater voters and businesses, according to the most recent treasurer report available. It exceeded the $56,000 she raised for her first campaign in 2020.

About 70 percent of Smith-Levin’s $72,196 came from donors outside the city and state, which he said showed the country’s interest in seeing Clearwater fight back against Scientology.

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