Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 389

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at

St. Pete Councilwoman Brandi Gabbard visits D.C. to talk climate resilience

St. Petersburg City Council member Brandi Gabbard is visiting Washington D.C. this week as part of a discussion on exploring the climate risks facing the U.S. real estate sector.

Titled “Building Climate Resilience in the Real Estate Sector,” the forum Tuesday afternoon is sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute and Citizens Climate Lobby.

Also featured in the talk are St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist and New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin.

Gabbard is well versed on the issue of flood insurance, a vital issue for Pinellas residents.

A realtor for more than 12 years in Pinellas County, Gabbard served last year as the vice chair of the National Association of Realtors Insurance Committee. She also served on the St. Petersburg Program for Public Information (PPI), a task force to track outreach projects and create a message to educate the public about flood hazards, flood insurance, proper building and floodplain functions.

Set to lapse in three weeks, the National Flood Insurance Program federal authorization is now $20 billion in debt, thanks, in part, to a brutal 2017 hurricane season, which saw significant storms barrel through Florida, Texas, Louisiana and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Orlando Gudes files to run in Tampa City Council District 5 seat

UPDATED – Retired Tampa Police officer Orlando Gudes is the latest candidate to file for the District 5 City Council seat to be vacated by Frank Reddick in 2019.

It is Gudes’ second run for Council. In 2016, he sought the north Tampa District 7 seat, ultimately finishing fourth out of a six-person field.

What makes Gudes’ candidacy somewhat unusual is that he is campaigning for a different district election than he did two years ago. District 5 encompasses downtown Tampa, Ybor City, Channelside and West and East Tampa.

For years, Gudes has lived in Copeland Park, located in District 7. However, he says he recently moved into his old childhood residence where he grew up next to his family business (the Gudes Funeral Home on Hillsborough Avenue).

It’s been a seat that traditionally has been held by an African-American candidate, though there are concerns that could change with a decline in black population.

Gudes is the fourth candidate to file, joining Moshiah Lightburn, Jeffrey L. Rhodes and Ralph Smith.

In a press release announcing, Gudes gives homage to Reddick, saying that he intends to “carry the torch and continue the work of Reddick” while expanding to reach more projects and more residents.

For 26 years, Gudes served on the TPD before retiring January 2016. Even though he lost his first bid for public office, Gudes remained extremely engaged in local politics.

“Serving neighborhoods and communities has always been my passion,” Gudes said in a statement. “I worked as a public servant for over 26 years here in the City of Tampa, working with children and families, so I know this City. I know what it needs and I know what it takes to make it happen.”

Gudes’ history of public service transcends his work with the TPD. In 2005, he founded the Unity Youth Football Conference, a league focused on giving children in low economic areas a positive outlet and an opportunity to build character.


USF names new head of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity

Haywood L. Brown has been named the University of South Florida’s new vice president for diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity and Title IX administrator.

“Dr. Brown is a highly accomplished and well-respected leader in academic medicine and issues of diversity who will make the University of South Florida System even stronger,” USF President Judy Genshaft said in a statement Monday. “One of our greatest assets is the rich diversity of our students, faculty and staff. Dr. Brown will continue our commitment to providing a welcoming climate of inclusion throughout the USF System.”

Brown will also become associate dean for diversity at the Morsani College of Medicine, as well as chief diversity officer for USF Health.

“I am so honored to have this opportunity at USF,” Brown said. “Throughout my career, I have recognized the importance of diversity in achieving excellence in education and community engagement, particularly as it relates to population health and health outcomes.”

Brown will be responsible for leading USF’s diversity and Title IX programs, and will also work closely with senior leadership to develop diverse modeling across the institution. He will also oversee the implementation of the USF System Diversity Strategic Plan.

At USF Health, Brown will “provide vision, leadership, coordination and strategic planning for the design and implementation of a USF Health-wide platform to enhance diversity, equity and respect,” according to the news release. He will work to align the department’s diversity initiatives with the university’s overall strategic plan, providing guidance on recruitment and retention of a melting pot of students, faculty and staff.

Brown comes to USF from Duke University Medical Center, where he most recently served as the F. Bayard Carter Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and held leadership roles in several committees. He has also been actively involved in diversity initiatives within his department, university-wide and the broader community of Durham, North Carolina.

USF officials have boasted about the graduation rates of black students on campus (for 2012, 2013 and 2014) increasing to 69 percent, significantly above the national average and beyond the rate for white students.

Despite those gains, as Florida Politics reported last fall, one lane in which university officials acknowledge a need for improvement is in hiring black-owned businesses for construction contracts, goods and services.

While USF spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually in those areas, an incredibly small percentage — less than 1 percent — went to black-owned businesses.

“Diversity is also about recognizing the talent each individual brings to an institution and to society in order to contribute to diverse demographics of our communities,” Brown said. “So much of my work in medicine has been at the community level and to help inspire young learners, especially underrepresented minors to strive for excellence.

“Getting this opportunity at USF to contribute at the undergraduate level at this time in my career is a dream come true.”

Before Duke University, Brown spent more than a decade at Indiana University School of Medicine. He received a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and a medical degree from the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University.

Pinellas commissioners want a ban on assault weapons

With local governments in Florida prohibited from regulating firearms, the Pinellas County Commission is making it clear where it stands on several specific gun-control issues that have emerged since the massacre at Parkland nearly three weeks ago.

The board discussed a series of proposals at its February 27 meeting, and in a letter sent to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Friday, laid out its support for these measures:

— Raising the age to 21 for the purchase of any firearm;

— Requiring a universal background check, including for transactions that occur at gun shows;

— Banning assault-style weapons, including semi-automatic rifles that have the ability to accept a high-capacity magazine, and are equipped with a pistol grip, including on all AR and AK-like models;

— Prohibiting possession of firearms from individuals who are a threat to themselves or others as deemed necessary by a judge;

— State and federal funding to provide for a minimum of one School Resource Officer at every school, without budget reductions to other critical school programs or resources;

— State and federal funding to invest in school hardening, without budget reductions to other critical school programs or resources;

Florida lawmakers enacted a statute in 1987 that gave the state the exclusive right to regulate guns and ammunition. After some local governments went ahead and passed their own gun ordinances, the Legislature passed a law in 2011 that threatened local government leaders with fines of up to $5,000 and removal from office if they dared to adopt or enforce any local gun ordinances.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller says he will propose a ban on assault weapons in Hillsborough County at this week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, in defiance of state law.

Skip Campbell, the mayor of Coral Springs, announced last week that he will push for a constitutional amendment that would ban assault weapons.

On Saturday, the Florida state Senate rejected nearly four dozen amendments proposed by Democrats — from banning assault weapons, creating a registry for guns, allowing local governments to pass stronger gun laws and requiring background checks for gun purchases outside of the state, to prohibiting the sale and transfer of large-capacity magazines.

Illinois U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos to keynote Pinellas Democrats event March 24

Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos will appear in Clearwater later this month to keynote the annual Pinellas County Democrats’ Prelude to Victory Dinner.

Bustos was one of just 12 Democrats to win her seat in the same district that President Donald Trump won in 2016, though nobody did it better, as she took Illinois’ 17th Congressional District by more than 20 points.

Several Democratic political observers consider her the “future of the party,” and her success in winning in Trumpland earned her a recent profile by POLITICO’s Michael Kruse.

The Pinellas Democratic Executive Committee says that Bustos was recommended to speak at the event by Pinellas Congressman Charlie Crist, who says she’s “great.”

“She’s an amazing leader. She has a great message. Very common-sense oriented. I think she’ll do a great job,” Crist said Monday morning.

Bustos is also involved in recruiting candidates as chairwoman of heartland engagement for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Despite her blowout election victory in 2016, Bustos’ congressional seat is still being targeted by Republicans. The National Republican Campaign Committee targeted her seat as one of the most vulnerable to going from blue to red in 2018 and ran ads against her last fall after the GOP passed its tax reform package.

Bustos speaks Saturday, March 24, from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. at Kapok Special Events Center in Clearwater.

Charlie Crist hopes Donald Trump will push for gun control regulations

While Democrats like Charlie Crist hope Washington can finally address “common sense” gun regulations in the wake of the Parkland massacre, he admits the odds aren’t great that will happen. That’s why he’s hoping President Donald Trump can intervene and push for some of the proposals he mentioned last week while meeting with legislators in the White House.

“I don’t really understand why commonsense ideas can’t be brought forward, or even discussed on the floor,” the Pinellas congressman said twhile visiting with Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers, law enforcement officials, administrators and students at Gibbs High School in South St. Petersburg on Monday morning.

“I do think these things will change, and I do think new ideas will be brought forward, I just don’t know if it’s going to be now,” Crist added. “If the President weighs in more, I think we’ll have a better shot at that, so I hope that happens.”

Trump stunned Republicans and thrilled gun-control advocates last Wednesday when he called for comprehensive gun control legislation that would expand background checks to weapons purchased at gun shows and on the internet, keep guns from mentally ill people, secure schools and restrict gun sales for some young adults.

A day later, he seemed to back off from that position after meeting with officials from the NRA, and on Friday, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that he still supported raising the age to purchase a rifle to 21 “conceptually.”

Regarding background checks,  Sanders said the president favors “not necessarily universal background checks but certainly improving the background check system.”

At Gibbs, Crist queried the students on what they felt was needed to keep their school safe.

Student body president Jameira Green, 18, said it was critical for student leaders like herself to include other students who don’t feel involved in regular school activities. She said all it takes is one student who feels alone to explode in violence, as was the case last month in Parkland.

“They feel alone, and so now that they feel alone, they have to do mass destruction to get that attention they want from their peers, so I think it’s more about the students and how they treat each other at school,” said Green.

Anthony Harrell, 17, said that school lockdowns have been very productive in making students feel safe.

“When we have an announcement, they say ‘this is not a drill, someone is on our campus,’ ” Harrell said. “Our teachers lock their doors and we cover windows. We duck and cover to make sure that no one comes in. If things are clear, we have an administrator come unlock the doors and tell us everything is all clear.”

The students all said they would feel uncomfortable with teachers being armed in schools, a proposal that Crist strongly rejects.

Clint Herbic, the Associate Superintendent of Facilities and Operations with Pinellas County schools asked Crist if the federal government would be able to set up a grant program for districts and states to have “quick access” to funds to harden the infrastructure of public school campuses.

The congressman said he’d look into it.

Flowers talked about bulletproofing doors on school campuses, something she says she wants the school district to look into.

“We want our schools to remain inviting,” she said. “We want our family members when they’re coming in, to not feel like they’re coming into a prison, they’re coming into a school environment.”


After Parkland, Bernie Fensterwald determined to win state Senate race

After the Parkland mass shooting two weeks ago, Bernie Fensterwald is more determined than ever to win in Senate District 16.

As proof, the Dunedin Democrat is putting $25,000 of his own money into the campaign.

“I’m 100 percent committed to this race, and I’m willing to prove it,” Fensterwald announced Friday. “The tragedy in Parkland only strengthened my conviction towards winning this race … I’ve been blessed in my life, and I want to commit myself to public service, but I won’t win unless I talk to as many voters as possible.”

In 2016, Fensterwald ran in House District 65 in 2016 and lost to Republican Chris Sprowls. Some criticized him for only spending $35,000 in the race when his personal finances show he is worth $19.8 million.

But the northern Virginia native told Florida Politics in January that his money is tied up in real estate. “The mere fact that I have in my case $19 million doesn’t mean that there’s the liquidity to that kind of thing. Unfortunately, that’s the way it was taken.”

Unfortunately for Fensterwald, he seems to be running against Pinellas County Republicans who don’t have a problem fundraising.

Sprowls raised $472,000 in the HD 65 race two years ago, and the top Republican in the SD 16 race, former state Rep. Ed Hooper, has raised more than $297,000 nearly eight months before the general election.

Before announcing his self-contribution, Fensterwald raised only a little more than $13,000 for the race. But the financial discrepancy isn’t fazing him.

“I ran in 2016, and I found that the best way to get out to voters is door to door. Starting the first full week in March, I and my supporters will begin going door to door,” he said Friday. “And when I spoke to voters, the biggest thing they connected to politics was corruption.

“The money I’m putting into this campaign will help launch our efforts to speak to voters, and I’m confident that as more people hear our message of bringing integrity to Tallahassee, they’ll support our campaign.”

Now, a third candidate entered the race, with Republican Leo Karruli joining earlier this week.

Karruli, 50, owns Leo’s Italian Grill on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor.

SD 16 encompasses Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Oldsmar. It had no representation in this year’s Legislative Session after incumbent Jack Latvala resigned in December after allegations of sexual harassment.

Jay Fant: Special Session may be needed for gun issues

On Friday, Senate leaders put off a vote on a package of school safety measures.

That delay led Rep. Jay Fant to suggest that if the Legislature can’t get everything right on such an important issue by the end of next week, a special Session “would not be inappropriate.”

“I do think that sometimes when we rush into solutions, we get into clumsy situations like this, and sometimes it’s better to slow down and get it right, and to get as much input as possible, not only from all the members but from the public,” Fant, a Jacksonville Republican and candidate for Attorney General, said Friday afternoon in Tallahassee.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano agrees. The Bradenton Republican announced Friday that the Senate would forgo a Friday meeting and instead return to debate the school safety provisions Saturday morning.

Galvano told the Tampa Bay Times: “We will be making bad policy if we approve all these things.”

The National Rifle Association has major issues with the parts of the bill that directly restrict somewhat the immediate availability of purchasing a gun: A provision that raises the age from 18 to 21 to buy any gun and imposes a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases.

Those are the two issues that Fant said would prevent him from supporting the legislation, which comes before the House Monday.

When asked if there are many of his Republican colleagues in the House who agree with him, Fant said he couldn’t be certain.

“I would hope I’m not the only one who regards my oath to the Constitution as paramount, and if somehow we can manage to remove that language, then we’re talking about a different animal,” he said.

“But until then, it’s a non-starter, (especially) for those of us who ran for office specifically to defend individual constitutional rights.”

While some Republicans will oppose the bill because of those two measures, several Democrats, including members of the Legislative Black Caucus, say they will oppose the measure because of a school marshal program that calls for spending money on training and arming school teachers.

This week, Fant prepared to add an amendment to the House bill calling for a removal of a measure to raise the purchase age for any gun from 18 to 21, but the bill never came before the entire caucus.

It is expected the House will vote on whatever the Senate approves over the weekend.

In his bid for the Republican nomination for Attorney General, Fant has made his support for the Second Amendment a key part of his platform.

Hillsborough students say they’ve only just begun to focus on gun control

Only 16 days ago, a mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School took the lives of 14 high school students and three adults.

Nevertheless, some believe the gun control debate is “over.”

That’s what Cafe Con Tampa head Bill Carlson was told when announcing the weekly lecture series would focus on three Hillsborough County students inspired to speak out about the issue.

“The whole world is watching us right now,” 14-year-old Safiyyah Ameer said Friday at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa.

The Blake High School student explained why she and many of her classmates are so focused on doing something to prevent another Parkland from occurring.

While there have been countless gun massacres the U.S. over the past two decades, little has been done legislatively to address the matter.

After a shocking mass shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut killed 20 children, many felt something would finally happen; it did not.

In Parkland, however, from the day after the tragedy, several articulate teenagers from Stoneman Douglas have emerged as media stars through their pronounced comments on gun violence.

And politicians appear ready to respond, at least in Florida.

Measures introduced by Gov. Rick Scott and the House and Senate are being debated fiercely with just a week left in the 2018 Legislative Session.

“We have the power to make change, and we’re using that to our advantage and we’re going to go forward and make change,” said Ameer, who was behind last Friday’s Blake High School walkout and the subsequent rally/news conference at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa.

Alex Barrow, a 16-year-old from Hillsborough High School, told the Cafe Con Tampa audience he and his colleagues met with 40 different students from high schools in Hillsborough Tuesday to strategize about their next actions.

Plans include two upcoming protests: one on March 14, and another on March 24 to coincide with the national march on Washington led by students protesting against gun violence.

Barrow said about 40 different students from different high schools in Hillsborough met this past Tuesday to strategize about their next actions.

While the outrage remains high, several adults in the audience asked the students if they were in the effort for the long haul.

“Persistence will be critical to your success,” advised political consultant Gregory Wilson. “How strong do you believe your resolve will be?”

“It’s definitely going to be hard to keep up this resilience that we’ve acquired and keeping up our courage to stand up against what we are for and to stay strong through it all and through the judgments of the people who are going against what we are trying to do,” Ameer admitted.

“This time it will be different,” Barrow promised. “We realize now that the politicians in office will not initiate the change by themselves, and the responsibility has fallen upon us, the students to take action.”

“We’re students. We’re juggling our personal lives, AP classes, homework, and we’re also trying to keep our peers from being killed,” said 14-year-old Julize Diaz from Blake High School, the third member of the group. “So, of course, there’s going to be some bumps on the road.”

The three students, like many in the public education world, said they were vehemently opposed to arming schoolteachers, the most controversial piece of the bills moving through the Legislature. Governor Scott is opposed to that requirement, but it’s uncertain if he would veto a school safety package that includes that item.

The reality on the ground in Florida schools has changed in the wake of Parkland. Barrow said that teachers in all his classes now lock the door when instruction begins.

When asked if they learned much about civics in their classes, Ameer, daughter of St. Petersburg union activist Maria Jose Chapa, said history books only give the “sugar-coated version” of what happened in the U.S.

“I have to learn that on my own and definitely from my mother. She teaches me the real history of America,” Ameer said.

Unlike some venues, where discussions about gun control can get heated, the mostly liberal crowd at Cafe Con Tampa (which included Democratic legislative candidates Bob Buesing and Debra Bellanti and Hillsborough County Commission candidate Kimberly Overman) rarely disagreed with the sentiments from the speakers, starting with many in the audience giving them a standing ovation when the discussion began.

The one time the students were challenged came from a question from New Tampa Republican Jim Davison, an unsuccessful 2016 City Council candidate.

Alluding to measures in the Legislature that would raise the age of purchasing guns from 18 to 21 in Florida (a proposal vehemently opposed by the NRA and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam),

Davison, a self-described baby boomer, said he came from the generation that fought for 18-year-olds to get the ability to vote, drink, smoke and other rights as an adult.

Why should someone who gets trained to be a killer in the military, comes back home at 20 and is denied the chance to buy a rifle, Davison asked.

Diaz replied that the soldier’s job was to kill people when fighting overseas, but when they return home, there was no need for a gun.

Ameer said many soldiers return home with Post Stress Traumatic Disorder, so it would be foolhardy to give them guns.

Barrow believed people should be able to own a handgun, but not assault rifles (Davison agreed).

Tampa mayoral candidate Topher Morrison asked the trio if they were now inspired to get involved in politics when they get older.

Ameer replied that her current activism is just the start of a political career.

Diaz wants to be a journalist; Barrow intends to enter the Naval Academy.

Luis Viera files for re-election on Tampa City Council; Jim Davison could challenge


In 2016, Luis Viera defeated Jim Davison by just 65 votes to win Tampa City Council District 7.

Could there be a rematch in 2019?

“I haven’t decided,” Davison said Friday morning, the day after Viera officially filed for re-election.

In fall 2016, the two men engaged in an intense battle for the North Tampa seat, emerging as the two top candidates from an original field of six in the special election to succeed Lisa Montelione, who vacated her seat for a state House bid.

On Thursday, Davison spoke in front of the council, telling them he didn’t believe that the city needed to fund a new fire station in the district, specifically at County Line Road and Trout Creek Drive.

Viera disagrees with that notion, saying it goes directly to the challenges that New Tampa faces.

“You have more and more residential development out there in those neighborhoods,  and you need amenities, you need basic local government services like police and fire,” he says.

Viera is also proud about that $1.95 million was procured in lsat year’s budget for an expansion of the New Tampa Recreation Center in Tampa Palms, and $90,000 in funding for design and development of a  “sensory-friendly” park in the district.

Viera is a Democrat and an attorney. Davison is a Republican and an emergency room physician. Both live in the New Tampa Hunters Green neighborhood.

Viera is a former chair of the Hillsborough County Bar Association Diversity Committee and had chaired the City of Tampa Civil Service Board. He’s also the founder and President of Lawyers Autism Awareness Foundation and previously served on the Board of Tampa Bay Best Buddies, an organization which assists and advocates for people with special needs and developmental disabilities.

During his time on the Council, Viera helped found the North Tampa Veterans Association.

Davison co-founded the New Tampa Transportation Task Force and served on other transpiration committees, including the “Committee of 99,” which endorsed a sales tax to pay for transportation improvements.

In the primary, Davison won the most votes with 30 percent of the electorate. Viera was second with 22 percent.

Davison had been asked by officials with the Hillsborough County Republican Party to consider a run for the state House, as well as the District 7 contest, he said.

Although he hasn’t decided, Davison is actually more focused on working on a transportation plan.

“I haven’t burned any bridges,” he said. “I’m still talking to people who want to raise money for me, but I haven’t given the go-ahead.”

Viera is one of three incumbents on the Council seeking re-election in 2019, along with Charlie Miranda in District 2 and Guido Maniscalco in District 6. The remaining five Council members are term-limited.


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