Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 191

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

Bob Cortes calls for Rick Scott to take murder-for-hire case from Aramis Ayala

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes called on Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday to reassign a “heinous” murder-for-hire prosecution case away from State Attorney Aramis Ayala of Orlando – but her office basically shrugged off the lawmaker’s demand, contending that Scott no longer has any reason to remove cases from her review.

“The author of the letter may not be aware this issue has been resolved,” a statement from Ayala’s case declared, dismissing Cortes — who had been perhaps the Legislature’s harshest critic of Ayala and her death penalty policies last year — as if he might be just some misinformed letter writer.

Cortes, Ayala, and Scott had engaged in hostile rhetoric and landmark legislative, executive, judicial, and legal wrangling throughout much of 2017, after she declared her opposition last March to prosecuting Florida’s death penalty. Cortes then, and repeatedly since, called for Scott to remove her from office. Scott removed more than 30 of her murder cases. She sued. The Florida Supreme Court sided with Scott. In September Ayala relinquished, conceded she had been wrong and vowed to turn all potential capital punishment cases over to a panel in her office that she promised would make prosecutorial decisions independent of her views or input.

Aside from a rhetorical skirmish and litigation threats in November and December involving a dispute over whether that panel and Ayala had botched one particular capital punishment case filing, Ayala’s office has been left largely alone since. It now is pursuing the death penalty in three cases in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties.

Cortes, whose House District 30 includes a portion of north-central Orange County, has remained adamant in his criticism of Ayala, continuing to express doubts about her resolve.

On Tuesday he wrote to Scott advising him a particularly notorious murder case that emerged from Osceola County this past week, that of Janice Zengotita-Torres, allegedly kidnapped as a mistaken identity in a botched murder-for-hire scheme, and then allegedly murdered anyway. Cortes called on Scott to reassign the case away from Ayala, as he had done with murder cases in mid-2017.

“I write to ask you not to allow State Attorney Aramis Ayala to handle this case,” Cortes wrote to Scott. “She has proven her lack of objectivity in seeking appropriate justice in capital cases. For the sake of Mrs. Zengotita-Torres’s family, please reassign this case to  a state attorney willing to pursue the death penalty.”

“All murders are tragedies, but this one seems even more so because it involves the cold-blooded killing of a victim of mistaken identity,” Cortes stated in a news release issued by his office. “While we pray for Ms. Zengotita-Torres’s family, we must also pursue justice for her and make it crystal clear that the safety of Florida’s residents and visitors is our highest priority.”

Ayala’s office replied: “State Attorney Ayala will continue to seek justice, fight for victims and follow the law.”

House select committee on hurricanes approves final report, 78 recommendations

A final report of 78 recommendations, ranging from nursing home safety to evacuation route improvements, and shelter planning to longterm development concerns, won unanimous approval Tuesday from the Florida House’s Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.

The 21-member committee, appointed last fall by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, now presents the 2018 Legislative Session with a comprehensive blueprint that the committee intended to show what went right, what went wrong, and what fixes need to be considered immediately, generally, or longterm, following the impacts of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in September.

While Select Committee Chair Jeanette Nuñez, a Miami Republican, called the 110-page report and its list of recommendations a good starting point, she also cautioned that there will be other recommendations and proposals emerging elsewhere, in bills and other committees, or which may emerge from further study and analysis. She also cautioned that some matters raised during the committee’s six previous public hearings this fall may not all be explicitly spelled out, but should all be addressed in one form or another.

For example, the final report’s detailed recommendations make no explicit mention of any desire to encourage power companies to get more of their electric lines buried underground, an omission that raised the curiosity Tuesday of Coconut Creek Democrat Kristin Jacobs. Nor do the recommendations speak specifically to some local concerns, such as one raised by Port St. Lucie Democrat Larry Lee, about the handling of human sewage in hurricane-vulnerable areas around Indian River Lagoon.

However, the recommendations do speak more generally to finding ways to “harden” utilities, and generally to protect environmentally sensitive areas such as the Indian River Lagoon, Nuñez pointed out.

“This is by no means a comprehensive and exhaustive list,” Nuñez said. “It is what I call the best starting point that we can have, to not only see the recommendations through in a Legislative Session, in which we are in week two, but recognizing there are some short-term things that need to occur, as well as some longterm things that need to occur. So we really did our best to compile a comprehensive list that is feasible in terms of action items moving forward in the next fifty-some odd days.”

Among the recommendations:

– Vulnerable populations such as the residents of nursing homes should be better protected, with proposals such as requiring nursing homes provide adequate emergency power necessary to protect residents from unsafe temperatures;

– Florida’s ability to shelter people must be strengthened, especially for those citizens with special needs, with such improvements as providing more state assistance for shelter management training at the local level; and creating a statewide special needs shelter registration;

– Florida’s evacuation programs can be improved with recommendations such as establishing strategically-located gasoline distribution centers along evacuation routes; and by emphasizing the effectiveness of shorter evacuation operations;

– More should be done to harden the state’s electricity grid, partly by directing the Public Service Commission to prepare a study of the efficacy and costs of all technically feasible storm hardening measures of the grid; and by improving communications between utilities and local governments;

– Longterm restoration of communities, particularly with issues such as the loss of affordable housing in the Florida Keys, should be addressed with such efforts as creating a temporary program to provide funding for affordable housing recovery efforts;

– To start considering ways to mitigate future hurricanes’ damage, Florida should consider, among other options, producing a complete and accurate 3-D map of the state for use in numerous emergency management and infrastructure planning applications;

– Florida should invest in plans that cost-effectively mitigate flood risks to developed areas, including protection of greenways and blueways that act as flow ways or provide temporary storage during high-water events;

– And Florida should identify areas where rebuilding after a disaster may be high-risk, and consider options for not rebuilding in those areas.

Brian Mast re-election ad: ‘My mission is not over’

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City is dropping his first re-election digital ad of the cycle featuring him talking with seniors, paying respects at a veterans’ memorial, fishing with his sons, and declaring, “My mission is not over.”

The 30-second ad, “Promises Kept,” highlights three areas of bipartisan Congressional achievements for the freshman lawmaker: protecting seniors from fraud preventing critical veterans’ programs from expiring, and passing new funding to combat algal blooms.

The ad is appearing on-line for now.

Mast’s campaign also reported Tuesday that it raised $419,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, and that Mast For Congress now has $1,039,000 cash on hand.

Mast has two fairly high-profile Democrats seeking to face him in the 2018 election for Florida’s 18th Congressional District along the Treasure Coast: former Obama administration official Lauren Bauer, and Navy veteran and lawyer Pam Keith, both of Palm Beach Gardens.

“When I became your Congressman, my promises became my mission,” Mast, a disabled Army veteran, states in the video. “To protect seniors, I passed legislation to crack down on crimes which target seniors and strengthen Medicare. For our veterans, my bill averted crisis by protecting veterans healthcare programs. And for our environment, I secured more than $20 million to combat harmful algal blooms in our waterways.

“I know my mission is not over. That’s why I’m asking for your support to stay in the fight,” he concludes.

David Santiago raises $30K for HD 27 campaign, leading all Central Florida candidates

With two big fundraising dates in December, Republican state Rep. David Santiago of Deltona raised $30,000 in December, leading all house candidates throughout Central Florida, according to the latest campaign finance reports posted by the state.

Santiago, of House District 27 serving western and southern Volusia County, had his third month in a row of at least $10,000 raised, and finished December with a total of $104,845 raised, and about $72,000 in the bank.

Santiago’s December haul was highlighted by 26 $1,000 checks that came in on either Dec. 7 or Dec. 28, none of which came from within his district.

That’s without a significant opponent. Democrat Tyran Basil of Deltona filed to run against Santiago last April, but as with most months, in December he reported no campaign finance activity. He finished the year with about $600 in the bank.

The one district in Central Florida that saw both an incumbent and a challenger have competitively solid fundraising months in December was in House District 42, covering southern and eastern Osceola and southern Polk counties. Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud reported raising $12,750, the second-highest December haul of any incumbent in Central Florida after Santiago. Meanwhile, Democrat Barbara Cady of Kissimmee reported raising $8,106, the highest haul of any challenger in Central Florida.

La Rosa has now raised $88,907, and finished 2017 with just over $50,000 in the bank. Cady’s December was her first serious fundraising month. She now has brought in about $10,400, and finished the year with about $6,400 in the bank.

In other Florida House races set in Central Florida:

– Republican David Smith of Winter Springs raised $4,898 and Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry raised $900 in the House District 28 contest. Smith finished the year with $115,000 in the bank, while Mangold entered 2018 with $11,000 in cash.

– Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood raised $6,850 and Democratic challenger Patrick Brandt of Longwood reported raising only $25 in House District 29. Plakon entered 2018 with about $44,000 in cash, while Brandt had about $1,100.

– Republican incumbent state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs reported raising $6,800 in December and finishing the year with almost $68,000 in the bank while seeking re-election in House District 30. Democrat Clark Anderson of Winter Park has not reported any campaign finance activity yet.

– Republican incumbent state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora reported raising $5,500 in December and entering 2018 with about $17,000 in the bank while seeking re-election in House District 31. Challenger Debra Kaplan of Eustis reported raising $1,365 in December and entering 2018 with about $4,000 in the bank.

– Democratic incumbent state Rep. John Cortes, who has no competition yet in House District 43, reported raising $3,745 in December and entered 2018 with about $21,000 in cash.

– Republican incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden reported raising $5,550 in December, giving him about $19,000 toward his re-election campaign for House District 44. He has three Democratic challengers. Matthew Matin of Winter Garden reported raising his first $1,515 in December, and has it all left heading into 2018. Dawn Antonis of Winter Garden reported no campaign finance activity and entered 2018 with $1,355. Eddy Dominguez has not yet reported any campaign finance activity.

– Democratic incumbent state Rep. Kamia Brown of Ocoee reported raising $6,000 in December and finishing the year with $10,300, with no challenge yet in her re-election bid in House District 45.

– Democratic state Rep. Rep. Bruce Antone of Ocoee has no opponent yet in his re-election bid in House District 46. He reported no financial activity in December and entered the new year with about $9,700 in the bank.

– Democrat Anna Eskamani of Orlando reported raising $11,570 in her bid to flip the likely open seat in House District 47. She finished the year with about $115,000 in cash. In his bid to keep the seat in Republican hands, Stockton Reeves of Winter Park reported raising just $250 in December, and entered 2018 with about $90,000.

– Republican incumbent state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando reported raising $8,000 in December, allowing him to enter 2018 with about $62,000 in the bank for his re-election campaign in House District 50. Democratic challenger Pamela Dirschka of Titusville raised her first $683, and spent none of it.

– In the contest for the open seat in House District 51 in central Brevard County, three Republicans each reported modest months, while Democratic newcomer Michael Blake of Cocoa jumpstarted his new campaign with a $2,100 loan. Republican Tyler Sirois of Merit Island reported bringing in just $150 in December, but enters 2018 with almost $37,000 in the bank. Jeffrey Ramsey of Merritt Island reported raising just $1,000 in December, giving him about $17,600 in his campaign. Thomas O’Neill of Rockledge reported no campaign finance activity in December, and entered 2018 with about $6,300 in the bank.

– In House District 52 in eastern Brevard County, Republican state Rep. Thad Altman of Indalantic reported raising $4,000 in December, and finished the year with about $17,000 in the bank for his re-election bid. Republican challenger Matt Nye of of Melbourne report draining $1,950 in December and entered 2018 with $3,400.

– In House District 53 in southern Brevard County, Republican state Rep. Randy Fine of Palm Bay reported raising $4,650 in December, finishing the month with about $81,000 in the bank. His opponent Democrat Phil Moore has not reported any campaign finance activity yet.

Airbnb touts El Salvador, Haiti, Africa, and speaks out against discrimination

Whatever the president of the United States might say about them, the countries of Haiti, El Salvador and on the continent of Africa are getting a shout-out from Airbnb in a quick campaign to defend the countries where the vacation rental home market claims more than 116,000 listings.

“2.7M guests from Airbnb decided that countries in Africa, El Salvador, and Haiti were beautiful enough to visit. When we embrace the world, we see its beauty,” tweeted Brian Chesky, co-founder and chief executive officer of Airbnb.

Chesky’s tweets – there were more – are part of a campaign the company threw together quickly after reports late last week that President Donald Trump had denigrated the countries with language usually reserved to describe rat-infested sewers. In addition to social media promotions, Airbnb reported launching a six-figure digital ad buy on news websites such as the Washington Post and CNN, with the hashtag, “#weaccept,” promoting the denigrated nations.

“We want to empower the Airbnb hosts who call these communities home and encourage more travelers to visit these special and beautiful places,” the company stated in a news release.

The company also stressed it is unafraid to weigh into political fights that have little to do with its usual issues of legal and regulatory frameworks for hotels and vacation rental homes. In this case, it includes a not-very-veiled criticism of Trump and his comments. It’s not a new policy, the company noted.

“At Airbnb, we believe in an open society and the power of connecting people from different communities and cultures,” the company stated. “Last year, we used an advertisement that ran during the Super Bowl to highlight our belief in the simple idea that no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong. We have opposed discriminatory policies that would limit travel and have urged Congress to protect Dreamers. Going forward, we will continue to advocate for policies that open the world and bring us all together.”

Val Demings picks up Democratic primary challenger in CD 10

Orlando businessman Wade Darius is seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. Val Demings in a Democratic primary this year for Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

Darius, 36, chief executive officer of TD Homes Marketing of Orlando, said Monday he is challenging Demings primarily out of his belief that she has not been aggressive enough in opposing the immigration and economic policies of President Donald Trump or to bring home enough grant money for the people of the 10th Congressional District. Darius filed last week with the Florida Division of Elections to seek to qualify for the ballot.

Demings is a former Orlando police chief and freshman member of Congress representing western Orange County.

Darius also said he is concerned about criminal justice issues, notably prison reform, which he said is needed, and police brutality, which he alleged Demings did not address when she was police chief.

A Haitian immigrant to Miami as a child, Darius said immigration policy was his primary concern, especially considering the very large Haitian and El Salvadoran communities in CD 10, two communities facing mass deportations under Trump’s policies.

“We know our district is vastly populated by immigrants,” he said. “You must be on the side of the people.”

Married and the father of five, Darius’s background has been in banking and real estate before he founded TD Homes Marketing, which he said last year helped 200 people arrange to get at least $15,000 in down-payment assistance toward the purchases of homes.

He said his campaign will refuse to raise any money from corporations because he believes there is a required quid pro quo response to all such donations. He said his campaign will be funded by himself and his family. He started that off by donating $500 to start a Go-Fund-Me account for his campaign.

Jason Brodeur continues to lead Central Florida state Senate candidates in fundraising

Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur continued to lead all Central Florida state candidates in campaign fundraising in December, bringing in more than $21,000 for his official, 2020 campaign for the Florida Senate, and another $59,000 for his unofficial Friends of Jason Brodeur political committee.

Brodeur’s hauls bring his official fund to about $217,000 raised, with $141,000 left in the bank at the end of December; and Friends of Jason Brodeur to nearly $1.20 million raised and approximately $353,500 in the bank.

Brodeur, who is finishing a final term representing Florida’s House District 28, isn’t running for anything until 2020 when Senate District 9 becomes available. He does have an opponent, Frederick Ashby, an Oviedo Democrat who did not report any campaign finance activity in December. Ashby’s state senate campaign had about $300 in it at the end of the year.

Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala raised $16,000 in December, bringing his re-election bid’s fundraising total to $87,850 for Florida Senate District 12. His campaign also spent about $9,100 in December, so he finished the year with nearly $62,404 in his campaign fund.

Baxley has two opponents. Republican primary challenger Kaesha Gray of Ocala lent her campaign $1,000 in December. Democrat Gary McKechnie of Mount Dora raised $850 in December. Both finished the year with around $1,000 left.

Republican state Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland reported raising $8,000 in December toward her re-election bid in Senate District 22. That brought her total raised to about $132,000 and left her with about $105,000 in the bank at the end of December.

Her opponent Democratic challenger Bob Doyel of Winter Garden reported raising $1,722 in December. He’s raised $12,262 total and finished the year with about $7,000 in the bank.

In Senate District 14, Republican state Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange reported raising $7,100, putting the total raised for her re-election effort to $106,200. She finished December with about $74,000 in the bank.

Her opponent Democrat Melissa Martin of Cocoa reported raising $1,464 in December. She has raised $12,673 total and finished the year with just over $11,000 left in the bank.

Among races that, like Brodeur’s still are more than two years away, Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Ocoee, reported raising $7,500 in December, leaving him with about $13,000 in the bank for his re-election bid in Senate District 11. Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando reported raising $2,060 in December, leaving her with about $2,000 in the bank in her bid for re-election in Senate District 13. Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando reported raising $5,250 in December, leaving him with about $26,700 in his re-election bid in Senate District 15. None of them has an opponent yet.

Gwen Graham charges that receiving phone calls means Rick Scott should have acted on Hollywood Hills

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham alleged Friday that Gov. Rick Scott and his office could be partly to blame for the 14 heat deaths at a Hollywood Hills nursing home following Hurricane Irma after the Associated Press reported the facility called him three times seeking help.

The Governor’s Office quickly shot back, insisting that nursing home officials never advised that there were any dangerous conditions there, and that, nonetheless, state officials advised them that they should call 911 if any concern for the residents’ health did arise. And that never happened until later, when people started dying.

“Today’s report from the Associated Press makes it clear that 14 Floridians may have died and nursing home patients across the state were put at risk because of the Scott administration’s complete incompetence and neglect,” Graham stated in a written statement issued Friday afternoon by her campaign.

“There is no question the Hollywood Hills nursing home should have evacuated their residents as soon as the temperatures began to rise — but there is also no doubt the Governor’s Office or Rick Scott himself should have called 911 or ordered a wellness check as soon as concerns were raised,” she added. “He promised to take action and failed to follow through. The buck stops at the governor’s desk.”

Scott, the Republican whose final term ends this year and who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate, was in no way to blame for fatal neglect in the South Florida nursing home when not even the administrators in the home seemed all that concerned, his office replied.

“At no point in time did this facility report that lives were in jeopardy or that conditions had become dangerous,” Scott’s press secretary Lauren Schenone replied in a written statement later Friday. “State officials told this facility to dial 911 if they had any reason to believe their patients were in danger, something every healthcare professional knows to do. The governor looks forward to the findings of this homicide investigation and continues to demand answers as to why this facility didn’t take the necessary steps to keep their patients safe.”

Hollywood city police are investigating the deaths as homicides cases.

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in the quest for the Democratic primary nomination to run seek to succeed Scott. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are the leading Republican candidates.

The exchange between Graham’s campaign and Scott’s office was keyed by this week’s release of public records.

Prior to Irma’s Sept. 10-11 assault on Florida, Scott had given out his cell phone number to nursing home administrators and urged them to call him directly if they needed his help. In the days following the hurricane, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, like much of Florida had lost power and air conditioning, and heat increased inside. Fourteen residents died, apparently the result of hyperthermia.

Did Scott and his administration have any cause to think something was going very wrong there? Graham’s campaign in particular pursued that question with records requests, and on Monday the governor’s office released records of Scott’s cell phone.

The Associated Press, which received copies of those records, reported Scott’s cell phone got 120 calls from nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including three from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. The AP reported that Scott’s office said it responded to those calls. The AP also reported that Geoffrey D. Smith, an attorney for the center, suggested the the center’s administrators there may have been given false hope.

In a written statement, Smith told the Associated Press that the nursing home administrators who called Scott’s cell phone “felt assured that he would take decisive action to be sure that power was promptly restored for the AC when this was reported. It is difficult to know in hindsight what may have occurred differently if the governor had advised that he would not take any action. But the facility administrators would not have been instilled with the false hope that help was on the way.”

Schenone contended there was never any point when Hollywood Hills administrators suggested to state officials there was any danger. Nor did the home’s administrators show they felt anything was perilously by calling 911 themselves, or send anyone to the hospital right across the street, until the first deaths occurred on  Sept. 13. The others died after they were taken to the hospital.

Schenone told the AP that each Hollywood Hills call was returned and administrators said they had enough portable fans and coolers.

“No amount of finger pointing… will hide the fact that this health care facility failed to do their basic duty to protect life,” Schenone wrote in an email to the AP. “This facility is failing to take responsibility for the fact that they delayed calling 911 and made the decision to not evacuate their patients.”

The AP reported that most of the phone calls to Scott’s cell phone went to voice mail, and that Scott’s office responded later. There were no cell phone voice mails released. Graham’s campaign said they were told the voice mails had been deleted, though the campaign is seeking to see if they can be recovered.

Graham’s campaign contended that Scott’s office appeared to be hiding something, because it fought to keep the cell phone records secret, and that the campaign “had to fight tooth and nail” to obtain them, an effort that ended Monday with Graham signing a $1,200 check to pay for public record research expenses by the governor’s office.

“They have exposed how the governor’s office botched the response — but we still do not have the actual voicemails that were left and I will continue fighting for them until they are made public,” Graham stated in the news release.

Ricardo Rosselló accuses Washington of turning its back on Puerto Rico

A sometimes angry, defiant and determined Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló accused Washington D.C. Friday of “turning its back on” Americans on the island since Hurricane Maria

Rosselló called on Puerto Ricans in Florida and others to respond in elections.

Speaking to a packed room of about 500 people at the Kissimmee Civic Center, Rosselló unleashed a torrent of frustration over a nation that made promises to help the island (and its residents) and has failed to do so since.

The Puerto Rican Governor was in Florida for the first time since Hurricane Maria devastated the island on Sept. 20-21, and since hundreds of thousands of his constituents fled to Florida because so much of the island remains without power, potable water, and much of a functioning economy.

Rosselló was joined at the podium by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, who all also spoke to a crowd that was so much larger than expected that the room had to be expanded twice before the program started.

The gathering also included more than a dozen other elected officials and candidates, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, state Sen. Victor Torres, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

While Rosselló’s New Progressive Party is generally aligned with the stateside Republican Party of Scott, Jacobs, and President Donald Trump, and while in the early weeks after the storm he and Trump appeared to be united, he struck a strongly different tone Friday.

Rosselló said the island government and Congress and Washington struck a deal through the PROMESA act passed in 2016 to address Puerto Rico’s economy and debt, and that the island government lived up to its end with massive cuts and changes in labor laws. But after Hurricane Maria, many of those in Washington who had made promises “turned their back on Puerto Rico, and not only forgot about us, but made things increasingly worse.”

“This is where we have to draw the line in the sand,” he said. “This is where we need to be outraged, outraged, by the inadequate response for U.S. citizens who live in Puerto Rico.”

“A storm that, as evaluated by third parties, was a thousand-year storm … Maria is the most devastating natural event in the modern history of the United States of America, make no mistake about it. This is why there are challenges of unprecedented nature, and this is why we needed a response of unprecedented nature,” Rossello said.

He spoke of Puerto Ricans’ love for American citizenship, but said Puerto Ricans have been treated as second-class citizens for a century, and he accused Congress and leadership in Washington of breaking promises just in the past few months.

“We fight the same wars, we have the same citizenship and we deserve that equal and fair treatment. After the storm, when the world was watching Puerto Rico, people started to say, ‘Hey? How come the response is so fast in some places in the United States yet so slow and so filled with obstacles in Puerto Rico?'”

Rosselló drew a standing ovation when he finished the 26-minute speech.

In his speech, Scott pointed out all of the things Florida has done to help both the island and the evacuees, from sending utilities experts and crews to the island to widespread waivers of state rules so that Puerto Ricans could more easily settle in to live in Florida. Rosselló also announced $1 million is being added to CareerSource to help Puerto Rico evacuees find work in Florida.

Rosselló thanked him for that and acknowledged that all the work he and his staff have done for the island, and said the channels of communication with the island’s government, “means a lot to us and the people of Puerto Rico.”

But he heaped more praise on Nelson, who likely will face Scott for the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Florida, declaring, “It’s hard to find a better friend than Sen. Nelson has been for the people of Puerto Rico.”

Rosselló then said similar things about Soto and Alvarez, and called on Puerto Ricans in Florida and across the country to remember who has been their friend, and who has not, and to send a message by registering to vote, and then voting.

He called on the six million Puerto Ricans in the United States, including more than a million in Florida, to exercise their power to “make things right, not only on the island, but to make things right for yourself as well. We have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right now.”

Rosselló said America has “no moral standing” to preach democracy for Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq and Afghanistan until it addresses full citizenship for Puerto Ricans.

“How do we make this happen? We make this happen not just by talking, but by acting. And I am committing myself here to coming to Florida and to other states as well to organize our communities, so that we can make them know what the issues are, and make the distinctions between those have been friends to Puerto Rico, and those that have turned their back, and we can be influential in the up and coming midterm elections.”

Alvarez, Soto and Nelson all set the tone in criticism of the federal government and Congress in its Puerto Rico response.

The Democrats decried everything from slow recovery efforts — 40 percent of islanders are still without power more than 100 days after the storm — to the passage last month of a tax reform package that penalizes Puerto Rico with a new excise tax.

With immediacy, Soto said FEMA is telling evacuees in Florida that their housing vouchers are being canceled Saturday because the agency determined their homes back on the island are habitable, even though some still have no electricity, and some do not even have water.

Orlando Sentinel launching national soccer news website

Concluding that there is an under-served market of soccer fans seeking news about American professional soccer, the Orlando Sentinel announced Thursday it is launching a website devoted to Major League Soccer news, analysis and commentary.

The Sentinel reported Thursday that its new site, ProSoccerUSA, will tap into the coverage the newspaper’s sports staff has provided of the league and Orlando City Soccer, and build upon that for national coverage, hoping to attract a national audience of fans looking for news on the Columbus Crew, the Orlando City Lions, the San Jose Earthquakes, and the rest of Major League Soccer.

The paper’s former Orlando City beat reporter, Alicia DeGallo, has been named website editor.

“No one really does what we do at the moment,” she said in a story the paper published Thursday. “With the growth of Major League Soccer in the last decade and its projected growth for the future, there is no better time for a sports news site like”

“No one” may be a bit of exaggeration, but the Sentinel appears to be appealing to those soccer fans who never think there is enough available news on their favorite pastime, suggested Tim Brown, associate director and associate professor of journalism and radio/TV at the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication.

The Sentinel, like all “legacy media” has been searching for outlets to find readers digitally, seeking more sustainable audiences in niche markets while legacy audiences at broad media continue to decline, Brown noted. A soccer news website also could become an independent generator of revenue for the newspaper company, and the Sentinel’s investment might not have to be much, considering how easy it is to aggregate content coming in from other sources.

The product appears to be Orlando-based and developed, though the newspaper is owned by Chicago-based tronc Inc., owner of newspapers from Los Angeles to Baltimore, including the Sun Sentinel of South Florida.

“Is it a gamble? Yes, absolutely,” Brown said. “My guess is it is not as much of a gamble as it would have been 10 or 15 years ago when you had to print this stuff, and you would have had to have more people to do it, whereas now you have other places you can get the information.”

Brown added, “The people I know [involved in the Sentinel’s digital products,] this is not something they would jump into lightly.”

The site will not be officially launched until February, but the Sentinel has taken live a beta version of the site, intended to be available to provide coverage for the MLS Player Combine being held at Orlando City Stadium through Jan. 17.

The site will have reporters covering the combine, the Sentinel reported. The site will be expanded heading toward kickoff of the 2018 MLS season in March. The Sentinel also solicited its readers to provide contributions to the site.

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