Local – Florida Politics

Sabato’s Crystal Ball pushes assessments of CD 7, CD 16 in Democrats’ direction

Concluding that all the recent special elections and other factors are putting Democrats in a good position, the political assessment service Sabato’s Crystal Ball is pushing its views of the congressional races involving Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan and Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the direction of improving chances for Democrats.

In updates of congressional race assessments announced Thursday morning, Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its rating of Murphy’s Florida’s 7th Congressional District from “Leans Democratic” to “Likely Democratic,” and changed Buchanan’s Florida’s 16th Congressional District from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican.”

Sabato’s Crystal Ball made such changes up and down the board nationally in anticipation of a “Blue Wave” this fall, nudging the assessments of 26 races all in the Democrats’ direction, starting with a special election coming up next week in western Pennsylvania, which is being changed from “Leans Republican” to “Toss Up.”

Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball is run out of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, assessing federal elections. In the new report update, Murphy, of Winter Park, and Buchanan’s chief Democratic opponent, Sarasota attorney David Shapiro, have improved chances based on what’s been happening since the 2016 general election and the consequential anticipated trend into the fall, according to the report issued Thursday.

“Democrats have been consistently overperforming Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential performance in special elections held since Donald Trump’s election,” Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s managing editor, said in a news release issued Thursday morning. “My colleague Geoffrey Skelley has been tracking these elections, which are mostly for state legislative seats but also include a handful of congressional specials, and he calculates that Democrats have been running on average 13 points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin in the nearly 90 races held so far featuring a Democrat and a Republican.

“That speaks to the overall political environment, which clearly favors Democrats right now,” Kondik added.

Murphy has a primary opponent, Orlando lawyer Chardo Richarson, but the matchup for the seat representing Seminole County and north-central Orange County is likely to be her re-election effort versus a Republican challenge from either Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill, or Winter Park state Rep. Mike Miller. CD 16 has several other candidates, but the match expected there is Buchanan and Shapiro.

In discussing the chances for Murphy and other Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, Sabato’ Crystal Ball stated, “We’re upgrading every single Democratic incumbent to at least the ‘Likely Democratic’ category, and moving several Democratic incumbents off the competitive board altogether. That’s not to say one or more won’t fall back into a more competitive category later this year — certainly someone very well could in the event of a strong, late-breaking Republican candidacy or a major gaffe or scandal — but for now every single Democratic incumbent seems like at least a decent favorite in the fall.”

As for Buchanan’s chances, the report called CD 16, stretching from south Hillsborough County through Sarasota County, a “deep sleeper Democratic target.”

Restaurateur Leo Karruli files to run for Jack Latvala’s Senate seat

Palm Harbor resident Leo Karruli has entered the race for state Senate District 16, the seat recently vacated by embattled Sen. Jack Latvala.

Karruli, 50, owns Leo’s Italian Grill on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor. He is a Queens, New York native who moved to Pinellas County in 1991.

In a brief phone interview with Florida Politics, Karruli said he knows the Pinellas/Pasco County district very well, having previously run restaurants in Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Oldsmar and Island Estates.

A Republican, Karruli said the idea for running for office came after Latvala resigned in December over allegations of sexual harassment.

SD 16 constituents have had no Senate representation at all during the nine-week legislative Session scheduled to end March 9.

“I’m trying to do something good for the community and District 16,” Karruli said. “I know my district very well, and people know me. I worked hard, seven days a week, so now I want to give something back.”

Having only officially filed earlier in the week, Karruli begged off answering any questions about his political platform, saying that he needs time to put his positions up on his website, which he promises will be live soon.

Back in 2012, Karruli and Leo’s Italian Grill made national news, but not in a fashion he wants to be remembered.

That’s when a woman named Wan St. John found a used bandage in her chicken and rice soup at Leo’s. Based on his attorney’s advice, Karruli did not discuss the incident.

Former Clearwater state legislator Ed Hooper is already in the race, raising nearly $300,000 for his campaign with less than six months to go before the Aug. 28 primary.

Hooper’s fundraising prowess doesn’t worry Karruli: “The money doesn’t mean anything. I’m running to give something back to the people.”

Karruli has a wife and three children, one of whom attends the University of Tampa.

At the moment, Bernie Fensterwald is the lone Democrat in the race.

Ken Hagan’s feud with reporter distracted from big Rays news

Ever since he suffered a perceived slight from WTSP-Channel 10 reporter Noah Pransky during the Go Hillsborough transportation effort, Ken Hagan has given the award-winning reporter the cold shoulder.

The Hillsborough County Commissioner has repeatedly said on camera that he will never respond directly to a question posed by the CBS-affiliated newsman.

Hagan’s news blackout was evident Friday afternoon in Ybor City, during one of the largest gathering of news media in recent times, where the commissioner kicked off a news conference announcing the Tampa Bay Rays desire to build a new stadium in Tampa.

Pransky asked Hagan, considering discussions about the Ybor City site had gone on for a year: “a lot of viewers are telling us their concerns that they haven’t heard a lot about the financing options that have been discussed behind the scenes. What you tell them?”

Hagan refused to answer the question.

Instead, he responded: “Noah, you’re well aware that due to your misleading reporting that I do not speak to you.”

After attempting a follow-up, Pransky was awkwardly told by public relations consultant Gina Morales that the questioning would move on with another reporter.

Once the news conference ended, Pransky and his cameraman tried to ask the same question to Hagan as he exited through the back door of the Tampa Baseball Museum, where the news conference was held.

The reporter was blocked by J.D. White, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. David Jolly who now works for public relations firm, Mercury LLC.

Watch what happened next:

Hagan is running for Hillsborough Commission District 2 seat this fall, where he is the prohibitive favorite.

(Still photo courtesy of Kim DeFalco.)

Hillsborough Democrats host District 5 forum, first for 2018

In past election cycles, the Hillsborough County Democratic Party struggled to field legitimate candidates to challenge Republicans in local and statewide elections.

This year, that’s not the case, with the county’s District 5 race a shining example.

No fewer than five Democrats have filed to run in the (theoretically) open countywide seat, where the biggest name on the ballot is Republican Victor Crist, term-limited out of his current District 2 seat.

Three of the five Democrats running — Mariella Smith, Mark Nash and Elvis Pigott — spoke about themselves and some of their policy positions Wednesday night at the Hillsborough County’s LGBTA Democratic Caucus’ monthly meeting

During the Q&A portion of the forum, held at the Doubletree Hotel in Tampa, candidates were asked what they do in office to help the LGBTQ community.

Smith, an environmental activist from Ruskin, is pursuing her first run for political office. She said she would not do what Crist did in 2013 when he opposed a domestic partner registry (Crist, as well as the rest of the Republicans on the board, ultimately reversed themselves in the fall of 2014  to support such a registry).

“I would be voting for human rights across the board,” Smith said, adding that it was the right thing to do for the community.

Nash (who casually mentioned he was a member of the LGBT community) is perhaps best known as the one-time chief of staff to former Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the first openly elected gay official elected in Hillsborough County. Nash boasted about his work in helping Beckner get elected in 2008, and was supportive of more members of the LGBT community in elective office.

Pigott, a 29-year-old Riverview pastor, was less specific. It was “kind of sad that we’re still here” having to talk about boosting gay rights in 2018, he said.  Pigott stressed that everyone had the right to fair treatment, and it wouldn’t be an issue if he were elected this year.

When asked where they ranked transportation regarding their priorities, Nash called it the most significant issue among many that the county needs to tackle.

To Pigott, transit was a priority, but he addressed it indirectly, saying the issue was in good hands since fellow Democrat Pat Kemp is on the board.

“I do believe that we have a spokesman and a most definitely a roadrunner for transit” in Kemp, he added.

Smith noted that she too was a fan of Kemp’s advocacy for transit, and also noted she was happy that Kemp had endorsed her in the race, “partly because I’m in sync with her views on transit.”

To improve transit, Smith said it was crucial to begin with growth management, with smart, transit-oriented growth and reduce sprawl. It was time for developers to “pay their fair share,” she added, noting how mobility fees for developers in Hillsborough are distinctly less than in adjoining counties.

When asked how they might alleviate tensions between the county and the city of Tampa, Passmore acknowledged the issue surfaced when County Administrator Mike Merrill and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn butted heads about who held power to call a curfew as Hurricane Irma approached in September.

Pigott said that he would take pride in maintaining good relations with city officials, as well as Republicans on the board of County Commission. “In order to really get things done, you gotta build relationships,” adding that he’s not afraid of conflict, but it was ultimately about “building bridges” to work successfully.

Smith knew there were tensions between the two local governments, but she didn’t understand why that remains the case at times. She would actively reach out, suggesting she could perhaps host public meetings with city and county officials.

“I would certainly be mending fences.”

Nash, a Lithia resident, said such tensions exist, in part, because Tampa embraces diversity while that isn’t always the case in other parts of the county. He did note that, in eastern Hillsborough, there are more mosques and people of color than ever.

Candidates also spoke about supporting a proposal to ban conversion therapy, which tries to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. A year ago, the city of Tampa passed such a ban.

They were also asked about expanding the homestead exemption (an issue on the statewide ballot this fall), and whether it will be a bad thing for the county since it will reduce tax revenues. Each acknowledged it would be an uphill battle to educate the public in opposition to the expansion.

“It’s a gimmick from Tallahassee,” Nash said.

Smith said the fallout for the county might not be as detrimental as some depict. Even if it passes, she believes the county “will do fine, because we’re going to be getting more and more property tax anyway.”

For Pigott, he said the challenge for candidates is to inform the public, as so many people are uninformed. If elected, he would make sure to get out in the community to educate the public about such issues.

Two other Democrats, not present Wednesday, are running in District 5. Jae Passmore was unable to attend due to obligations with the National Guard. Corey L. Reynolds is another Democrat on the ballot.

Philip Levine to fly El Al inaugural direct flight from Miami to Tel Aviv

After a nine-year interregnum, El Al Israel Airlines will resume nonstop flights from Miami to Tel Aviv, Israel, this weekend.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine expects to be on that inaugural flight as it travels back to Israel.

In May, Miami International Airport and El Al officials made it official. Starting in November, the Miami Herald reported, the Israeli-based airline would begin offering three weekly nonstop flights from Miami to Tel Aviv.

El Al previously provided that trip, but the direct flight was canceled in September 2008.

“Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine recognized early on the importance of a nonstop connection between Israel and Florida and worked to make it happen,” says David Maimon, president and CEO of El Al Israel Airlines.

“This is only the first step in creating a true high-tech hub for Florida, as we get laser-focused on developing the next wave of positive and forward-thinking entrepreneurship for our community,”  Levine said in a statement. “Israel is rightfully known as the startup nation — as we look toward the future, it is only fitting that we ensure Florida is well positioned to be the startup state.”

Levine will be leaving the country Saturday, just days after he is expected to announce his candidacy for Florida governor. A news conference is scheduled in Miami Wednesday for what advisers are calling a “special announcement.”

Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon wants Ken Detzner to look into Donald Trump’s voter fraud claims

Florida Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon penned a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner on Wednesday, urging him to begin an investigation into possible voter fraud alleged by President Donald Trump.

Trump has been alleging ever since his win that his challenger Hillary Clinton‘s popular vote surge was due to millions of illegal votes and undocumented immigrants voting – statements which have never been substantiated by any proof by Trump or anyone else.

Nevertheless, he has continued to make such statements in the first days of his presidency – and now, Braynon wants Detzner to launch an investigation to make sure there was no voter fraud in Florida, saying he’s “deeply concerned.”

“While President Trump has signaled, via Twitter, his intent to probe his allegations, I believe that charges of election fraud by the president of the United States are far too serious to allow more time to elapse,” he says in the letter. “The statute appears to make clear that, on the basis of his allegations, you now have a legal obligation to act.”

He says he understands that other looks into whether there was voter fraud in the election have turned up nothing – but it’s best to be sure.

“But in the interests of reassuring the citizens of this state and Mr. Trump that his election to the presidency was beyond reproach and that no voting irregularities contributed to his success in Florida, I strongly urge you to begin such an investigation,” he writes.

SEIU Florida launches half-million-dollar ad campaign targeting young minority voters

A new push by SEIU Florida aims to get African-American and Hispanic voters out to the polls through a $510,000 investment on radio and digital ads.

The campaign is a coordinated effort through PICO National Network, Faith in Florida, FLIC Votes, Organize Now, and New Florida Majority.

Ads geared towards African-American voters revolve around the Souls to the Polls campaign on Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, and towards voter protection. One ad promises that “tens of thousands” of voters will march to the polls for the Souls to the Polls campaign, saying a vote is not an individual thing, but a “church thing.” Another ad touts the values of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and ending racial injustice.

Other ads will attempt to engage young Hispanic voters who have been turned off and disengaged by the rhetoric of the campaign, appealing to them on the issues that directly affect them — health care, affordable education, raising the minimum wage, immigration reform, and more.

“For too long election campaigns focused on parties and candidates, we are changing this by bringing the focus back to the real issues that impact our communities,” said Alphonso Mayfield, SEIU’s state director for the 2016 election campaign. “The issues of racial and economic injustices can no longer be ignored. Our campaign intends to educate the voter that their votes are directly related to how the policies and practices are crafted at local and federal level. We are doing this through our face-to-face contacts with voters and also through the media buys.”

The ads will start airing today in counties all over the state, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Osceola, Escambia, Leon, and Duval counties. Digital ads will reach voters through online platforms like Pandora.

“While politicians are screaming at each other, young Floridians are making some of the toughest decisions in their lives, from how to pay for college, to how to get a job that doesn’t pay them poverty wages, says Maria Rodriguez, executive director for FLIC Votes and lead for Latino voter outreach. “They are also turned off by politicians who don’t accept their heritage and constantly attack their immigrant families. This campaign seeks to remind them that voting is, in a way, taking action to create change.”

Janet Adkins’ campaign sign defaced with swastika in Nassau County

State Rep. Janet Adkins is in a contentious race for Nassau County School Superintendent.

The Republican is the fundraising leader, yet is facing real competition.

Along with that competition, some unsavory campaign tactics from someone opposed to Adkins’ campaign have surfaced, as evidenced by a Facebook post in which a sign of hers was defaced with a swastika and a Hitler-esque mustache painted above her upper lip.

Adkins took to Facebook to decry the tactic on Monday.

“HATE SPEECH — The continued cyberbullying by my opponent’s campaign operatives continues to result in acts of violence against our campaign signs, we have had three stolen and a knife take to others. The use of cyberbullying tactics to attack myself and our family business are an example of what is wrong. I will promise to lead a comprehensive campaign aimed at cyberbullying, this is what leads to acts of hate and violence.”

Adkins offered an extended statement upon request.

“The political “hate speech” is an effort to vandalize and deface my campaign signs and is part of the organized smear campaign directed by my opponent’s campaign operatives.” said Janet Adkins.

“The online cyber bullying that has been allowed by the administrators on ‘Nassau County Rants and Raves’ has fueled the hate speech’ that my opponent and her operatives have approved. While campaigns and elections are contests of ideas and differences, it goes without saying that when people encourage and promote the use of ‘hate speech’ it results in a loss for all of us,” Adkins continued.

“My campaign has continued to see signs stolen and vandalized; and voters being intimidated. I have not responded to the cyber bullying and believe that it creates a toxic environment that results in violence against property and intimidation of voters.” said Adkins, who vowed to “focus on bullying, hazing and cyber bullying as a top priority in addressing school safety issues in Nassau County Public Schools.”

The incidents have been reported to law enforcement.

Joe Henderson: Tom Lee’s tough, surprising choice

I’m a little surprised by Tom Lee’s decision to run for re-election to the state Senate.

Along with just about everyone else in the media and Florida politics, I’ve had lengthy chats with Lee about his future since a judge drew new district lines that essentially forced him to make a tough decision.

Because his current Brandon home now lies in a different district than the one Lee represents, he had three choices:

  • Challenge Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano if he wanted to keep his current seat. Lee ruled that out early.
  • Move within the newly drawn boundaries of District 20, which includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties so that he could run for the Senate again.
  • Run for an at-large seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, where he would have been a heavy favorite.

It came down to options 2 or 3, and as William March of the Tampa Bay Times first reported, Lee chose No. 2.

Why that surprises me, a little, is because Lee talked to me at length about the lure of bringing his Tallahassee experience to his home county. He has young kids and being able to spend more time with them, especially on weekends, was appealing.

Plus, Lee is never shy about saying Tallahassee is where good governance goes to meet a painful end at the hands of lobbyists, special interests and agendas that have little to do with the overall good of Florida.

That’s one of the reasons Lee is not the most popular guy in the statewide GOP.

In the county, Lee’s impact would have been immense. As a resident of eastern Hillsborough, Lee would have given a much-need pragmatic voice to a part of the county that has been treated as a fresh hunting ground for runaway development. The result has been suffocating growth and traffic.

His entry into the race likely would have meant the end of Jim Norman’s attempt to return to public life as a county commissioner. It’s a definite boost to the political ambitions of Republican commission candidate Tim Schock.

But, statewide politics has real appeal too. The power to shape the future of the nation’s third-largest state can be irresistible. That’s the path he chose.

Interestingly, even if Lee wins he will have to run again in 2018.

A lot of things can change between now and then, starting with the races for governor (paging Adam Putnam, please report to the candidate’s booth) and cabinet posts. Lest we forget, Lee unsuccessfully challenged Alex Sink in 2006 to be the state’s chief financial officer.

Lee has been coy throughout the process that led to this decision and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue. For now, though, he has shown one of his cards. He will show the next one when he gets around to it.


Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry condemns Ken Adkins’ ‘appalling’ rhetoric

On June 14, Pastor Ken Adkins – whose hate speech about the LGBT community has become well-known in Jacksonville over the last year – let loose with another volley in the wake of the massacre of 49 people at Pulse in Orlando.

“Been through so much with these Jacksonville Homosexuals that I don’t see none of them as victims. I see them as getting what they deserve!”

Adkins upset a lot of people with his latest foray into hate speech. None more so perhaps than Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who was deeply upset and angered by Adkins’ “outrageous and appalling comments,” as he said Tuesday to FloridaPolitics.com.

“We are on the heels of an attack on people,” Curry said, a “terrorist attack” with “people killed and maimed in our state.”

For Curry, this is personal. He has family and friends “hurting and grieving” in Orlando over personal and community losses, and “they know someone personally who was there that night, who is no longer with us.”

“This has been a conversation in our house for two days,” Curry said Tuesday, adding that any rhetoric that “suggests that people should be victims is appalling.”

Curry hosted a series of community conversations regarding the potential expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance in his first year in his term, which had Adkins as a panelist representing opposition to the HRO expansion.

Curry did not pick Adkins for the panel, he said; the panelists were selected by staff in collaboration with interest groups on both sides of the HRO issue.

“He wasn’t my handpicked guy,” Curry said. “I would not choose someone with that kind of language.”

Curry did not see Adkins’ anti-LGBT rants on Twitter, he said.

“I don’t pay attention to a lot of what goes on on Twitter,” Curry said.

Curry’s spokeswoman, Marsha Oliver, echoed the mayor’s assertions in a separate conversation.

“The panelists in no way reflect the beliefs, shared values, or ideals of the mayor and his staff,” Oliver said, adding that the “mayor is completely outraged by the comments Adkins made” and “in no ways supports them.”

In fact, says Oliver, the mayor’s first reaction was that of many people: “that’s sick.”

Though there are those who will seek to politicize this issue, Curry rejects that impulse as “shameful.”

“There’s no room for politics at this moment,” Curry said.

The mayor’s sister-in-law and brother-in-law own and operate a business in Orlando, Palmer’s Garden and Goods, which posted the following to its Facebook page Monday morning:

The work family at Palmer’s is deeply saddened by the acts of hate that occurred this weekend in our city. Orlando is the City Beautiful. We are beautiful because of our people, our uniquely beautiful people. Just like a gardener goes to sew her garden, she carefully chooses uniquely different flowers that compliment and coexist with one another. She carefully picks them for their color, texture, stature and size; each flower picked serves a purpose in her garden. Likewise, God created us uniquely different in this garden we call life. He never intended us to be the same, He even gave us each different finger prints to prove that. As a Palmer’s Garden & Goods family, our thoughts and many, many prayers go out to the family and friends of those involved in this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers also go out to the many uniquely beautiful flowers that create this garden we call Orlando, our city beautiful. We are saddened, but we are not going to let this define us. TOGETHER we are going to rise above and PLANT THIS CITY BEAUTIFUL.

And therein is the real discourse, the dividing line.

There are those who would use the atrocities that happened in Orlando as a platform for hatred and division.

And then there are those who seek to rise above the noise, the chaos, and the sickness, and rebuild.

In his forthright reaction to Adkins’ comments, Mayor Curry cast his lot with those who seek to build, rather than destroy.

Curry expanded on the conversation with an official statement Tuesday afternoon from the mayor’s office.

“On June 12, 2016, 49 people lost their lives, and just as many more were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history. While there has been much discussion and speculation about the victims, the single most defining characteristic for them all is that they are people – human beings who perished as a result of an individual’s deliberate and cowardly attack. As federal investigations reveal to date, this was an attack on the United States of America. As an American, I hurt for our country. As a native Floridian, I hurt for our state. As a mayor, I hurt for city leaders. And as a husband and father, I hurt for humanity. I vehemently oppose violence and discrimination of any kind. I am as equally opposed to a historic tragedy such as this being used as a backdrop and platform to advance the goals and interests of any political agenda.”

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