Is this not my beautiful house? Questions linger on Janet Cruz residency - Florida Politics

Is this not my beautiful house? Questions linger on Janet Cruz residency

Critics of state Rep. Janet Cruz are accusing the longtime lawmaker of not living in the urban Tampa district she represents.

An anonymous tipster claiming not to oppose Cruz’s bid for state Senate raised the question in an email pointing to Cruz’s husband, Stephen Rifkin, who owns a waterfront mansion in a different House district — one currently held by Jackie Toledo.

Cruz, the outgoing House Democratic Leader, is running against Republican Sen. Dana Young in Senate District 18, which encompasses both of Cruz’s properties and her husband’s.

An analysis of property records, as well as Cruz’s marriage records and past comments to the media, gives credence to suspicions about where she lays her head at night.

Records show Cruz owns two homes, both in Toledo’s South Tampa HD 60. One is located at 4114 W. Empedrado St., the other at 4428 W. Wisconsin Ave. Cruz’s husband owns another home in HD 60, at 5035 W. San Miguel St.

Cruz and Rifkin were married in 2003.

Despite her husband owning a luxury waterfront home, Cruz lists her address as 4816 N. Fremont Ave in Tampa, within the boundaries of HD 62, which she currently represents.

As proof she lives at that address, Cruz’s campaign provided several documents.

The lawmaker’s Florida driver’s license lists the Fremont address as her home and several bills including a Tampa utility bill, Dillard’s credit card, Home Depot credit card and an insurance statement from Five Brothers Insurance Agency. Cruz is also registered to vote at the Fremont address.

Cruz’s campaign also provided bank statements showing she pays $1,150 in monthly rent at the Fremont home.

“Rep. Cruz resides in the district at the address … where she has been a staunch fighter for Hillsborough’s public schools, a leader in promoting real job opportunities through her annual Job Fair and a strong advocate for her constituents,” said Cruz campaign manager Tim Wagner.

“There is no question that the latest false attacks on Cruz are being fueled by Young and her campaign given the recent revelations reporting (that) Senator Dana Young has profited from her legislative actions and votes.”

Cruz recently accused Young of profiting from her votes on the craft beer industry noting her husband has financial interests in that business, claims Young denies.

While the documentation provided by Cruz’s campaign is more than enough documentation to establish residency, other records raise questions.

Property records for Cruz’s Empedrado Street property list her mailing address as her husband’s home on San Miguel and a car registration for a 2016 BMW 328 also lists the San Miguel residence as her mailing address.

“This is just further example of the dishonesty of Janet Cruz,” Young campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said. “If she has been knowingly not living in her House district, how she can expect her community to send her to the Senate?”

This isn’t the first time Cruz has landed in hot water related to real estate. Earlier this year, she repaid $32,000 (plus fees and penalties) to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser for claiming two homestead tax exemptions.

Last week, during a Tiger Bay Club of Tampa event with Young, Cruz called it “an oversight” that was corrected as soon as it was brought to her attention. She said the attacks amounted to little more than dirty politics aimed at drawing attention away from her track record in the House.

“Dana should spend less time attacking Janet Cruz and more time explaining to parents why their children are forced to sit in hot classrooms without (air conditioning), due to her continued votes to slash public school funding,” Wagner said. “These false attacks on Janet Cruz are nothing but another attempt by Dana Young to hide from her atrocious voting record.”

Cruz’s battle with Young is considered one of the most significant in the nation, as Democrats look to seize on a so-called “blue wave” unseating conservatives in state and federal races. 

During last week’s Tiger Bay appearance, both candidates fiercely debated each other’s records — Cruz blasting Young for being pro-gun and anti-education.

Young fired back, saying it was Cruz who failed to protect student safety by voting against the now-enacted school safety bill increasing money for school security and raising the age people could purchase certain firearms from 18 to 21. Cruz voted against the bill because it did not include a ban on assault weapons, she said, a priority for many Democrats.

Latest polling puts three points ahead of Cruz, falling well within the margin of error.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.
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