Tampa Bay – Florida Politics

James Buchanan opens new political committee

Aspiring lawmaker James Buchanan launched a political committee Thursday to support his bid to succeed exiting Rep. Julio Gonzalez in House District 74.

The committee, Buchanan For Florida, is chaired by the Venice Republican. Former Sarasota County Republican Party chair Eric Robinson is listed as the committee’s treasurer.

The PAC is the first for Buchanan, who was the Republican nominee in the special election for House District 72 earlier this year, losing by 7 points to now-Democratic Rep. Margaret Good.

He raised more than $350,000 for his special election run, all of it through his campaign account. Still, Good trounced him on the fundraising trail, mainly since her committee, New Day Florida, reeled in $188,900 from a handful of donors in the lead-up to the Feb. 14 special.

That fundraising was made possible because committee accounts don’t have the same strict contribution limits as campaign accounts, which only allow individual donors to give up to $1,000 per election.

The committee filing may indicate Buchanan will get some backup in his primary contest against North Port Vice-Mayor Linda Yates.

As of May 31, he had raised $39,510 for his campaign with all but two of his donors sending in max checks. Some of the names on his campaign finance reports, such as HCA, have deep pockets and would likely chip in more cash if they had a venue to do so.

Also running for the seat are Democrats Yves Junior Chery and Tony Mowry as well as unaffiliated candidate Robert Samuel Kaplan.

HD 74 covers southern Sarasota County and carries a hefty Republican advantage. The district voted 60-37 in favor of President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. By comparison, HD 72 voted only voted plus-4 Trump.

Fentrice Driskell

Fentrice Driskell gets Ruth’s List seal of approval

Tampa Democrat Fentrice Driskell announced Thursday that Ruth’s List Florida is backing her campaign to unseat Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison in Hillsborough-based House District 63.

“Fentrice is an attorney and a dynamic community leader in Tampa who supports gender equality, women’s reproductive rights, and investing in education to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Pamela Goodman, executive director of Ruth’s List Florida. “The Ruth’s List community — now tens of thousands of members strong — is excited to support her candidacy.”

The Democrat-aligned org bills itself as “the state’s only resource dedicated to recruiting and aiding Democratic women candidates.” Since 2008 it has notched 72 Election Day victories and raised more than $4 million to support women seeking state or local offices.

“I am grateful for the grassroots support Ruth’s List Florida provides Democratic women in Florida,” Driskell said. “I’m proud to accept the endorsement of Ruth’s List and its tens of thousands of members and supporters who believe like I do, that we need more women’s voices in the Florida Legislature who will focus on the things that really matter: investing in our public schools and our communities, expanding access to health care and affordable housing for hard-working families, growing Florida’s economy and supporting our small businesses, and taking care of our seniors and veterans.”

The Harvard- and Georgetown-educated Tampa lawyer filed for HD 63 in early February. She is the only candidate challenging Harrison in the fall. As of May 31, she had raised more than $95,000 for her campaign and had $76,600 on hand. That’s about a third of Harrison’s $225,000 on-hand tally.

The district covers part of Hillsborough County, including portions of northern Tampa and the communities of Lutz, Pebble Creek, Lake Magdalene and Carrollwood. Democrats make up about 39 percent of the swing seat’s electorate, while Republicans hold a 32 percent share.

HD 63 is a perennial target for both major parties.

Harrison served in the House from 2010 to 2012, when former Democratic Rep. Mark Danish beat him by about 700 votes to flip the newly redrawn HD 63 despite raising less than $20,000 for his campaign compared to nearly $300,000 for Harrison.

Harrison reclaimed the seat in the 2014 cycle with a 5-point win over Danish, and in 2016 he emerged victorious in a tough re-election battle against Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. His sub-2-point victory came as Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the seat by double digits.

Aakash Patel

Aakash Patel lands endorsement from Trey Traviesa

Hillsborough County Commission candidate Aakash Patel snagged a nod former Republican Rep. Trey Traviesa Thursday, making for three endorsements in the past week.

“I met Aakash Patel while he was a student at Florida State University working in Student Government and a member of the Seminole Torchbearers, an organization which acknowledges and encourages leaders at FSU to continue their exceptional service through leadership in the community,” Traviesa said.

“I know that Aakash will uphold these leadership standards when he serves on the Hillsborough County Commission. I look forward to his implementation of conservative principles on the Commission to improve our economy, our tourist industry and education opportunities for our children. I am pleased to endorse Aakash Patel in his race for County Commission.”

The endorsement from Traviesa, who represented South Tampa in the House from 2004 to 2008, follows a pair of high-profile backers announced by the Patel campaign over the past week. On Friday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced his support for the Republican businessman. Attorney General Pam Bondi did the same Tuesday.

“It is an honor to have the support of such an inspirational leader and friend, Trey Traviesa. He has long served our community and I look forward to working with him when I serve on the Hillsborough County Commission,” Patel said.

Patel, who runs business consulting firm Elevate Inc., is running for the countywide District 7 seat currently held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

Before entering that race, Patel was a candidate for the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Sandy Murman, who was expected to resign her seat early and make her own run in District 7.

After a year in the District 1 race, Patel raised $351,149 for his campaign and another $109,525 for his political committee, Elevate Tampa. He had more than $270,000 of that money in the bank on May 31.

He is one of ten candidates vying for the open seat, though only Republican attorney Todd Marks — also a former District 1 candidate — and Democrat Kimberly Overman have posted any substantive fundraising numbers.

Also running are Democrats Ray ChiaramonteCharles Davis IIIMark NashCorey Reynolds and Sky White as well as Republican Cherie Denham and Green Party candidate Kim O’Connor.

Only Chiaramonte, Patel and White had qualified for the ballot as of early Thursday afternoon. The qualifying deadline is noon Friday.

The District 7 seat will be on the 2018 ballot alongside Districts 2, 4 and 5, all three of which feature an incumbent Republican running for re-election.

Las Vegas woman says Jaguars player assaulted her at Lutz mansion

A Las Vegas woman is accusing Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus of a sexual assault from January 2017.

In a civil lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Adrianna Cravin, 37, says she was at AJA Channelside nightclub early last year when a man approached her and invited her to the “VIP section,” where she met Dareus and others. After a couple of hours, Dareus invited her to a party at a mansion he was renting in Lutz

She accepted the invitation and once at the party — which purportedly featured a DJ, a dozen strippers, cocaine, marijuana and other NFL players — Cravin said she gravitated toward the kitchen, where the man who introduced her to Dareus made her a drink she insinuates was drugged.

She says she remembers Dareus groping her in the kitchen and telling him to stop, but at some point, she “blacked out.” The lawsuit says Cravin awoke the next morning next to an unclothed Dareus and “began to immediately realize that there had been sexual physical acts upon her person.” She then “hurriedly straightened her clothes and ran frantically out of the room.”

Cravin is seeking monetary damages for the alleged assault. She did not report the incident to law enforcement at the time, nor did she visit a doctor in the days following the alleged sexual assault.

Dareus’ attorneys seized on those facts in a motion to throw out Cravin’s complaint. They say her three filing — the original, and two amended versions — are “replete with typographical errors, factual inconsistencies and incorrect statements of law, and fails to allege facts necessary to satisfy the required elements of the two claims brought against Mr. Dareus—assault and battery.”

According to online records from the Las Vegas Justice Court, Cravin was cited in 2003 for soliciting prostitution and in 2007 for DUI.

Dareus’ history includes a couple of arrests as well. In 2014 he was arrested for felony drug possession in Alabama, and for reckless driving and reckless endangerment in New York stemming from a car race. He has also been benched multiple times during his NFL career for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

The Buffalo Bills drafted 28-year-old player third overall in the 2011 NFL draft. In 2017, he was traded to the Jaguars.

The filing is below.

St. Pete business says Pinellas wage-theft ordinance is unconstitutional

A St. Petersburg medical practice filed a lawsuit in Pinellas County Circuit Court earlier this month charging that Pinellas County’s wage-theft ordinance violates the state constitution.

The ordinance at issue in allows employees who believe they have been denied wages unfairly to file a complaint with the county Office of Human Rights. If the office rules in their favor, the offending employer is on the hook for three times the contested wages.

The Pinellas County Commission passed the ordinance in 2015 after the City of St. Petersburg passed its own, similar ordinance. It went into effect at the beginning of the following year.

Pinellas Hematology’s lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment on the ordinance. They argue that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it “because it allows a quasi-judicial county agency to exceed the jurisdictional limits of Florida’s county courts” and “encroaches on the exclusive jurisdiction of Florida’s circuit courts” by not allowing for jury trials or for employers to pursue counterclaims.

The specifics of their case relate to an agreement with the former owner of an oncology practice purchased by Pinellas Hematology. David Dresdner, a physician, agreed to transfer his practice to Pinellas Hematology in 2014 and remain on staff temporarily for $25,000 a month in compensation.

A wage-theft complaint filed by Dresdner after the arrangement soured led to him receiving a $205,000 award in 2016. Pinellas Hematology challenged the award in circuit court and in February the award was quashed and referred back to the Office of Human Rights. Dresdner has since appealed that ruling.

Pinellas Hematology is not the first business to take legal action against the wage-theft ordinance. KLA Industries, an Ohio-based executive search firm, made a similar argument in a case filed last year.

The filing is below.

Dwight Wilson - St. Petersburg Water Resources Department

Former No. 2 at St. Pete Water Department sues over ‘retaliatory firing’

The former assistant director at St. Petersburg’s Water Resources Department is suing the City of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County Circuit Court for what he claims was a retaliatory firing.

Dwight Derwin Wilson, who is black, was the second-in-command at the Water Resources Department for a decade and whenever the director job opened up, he was routinely asked to serve as the interim head of the department. His efforts to make that his official title were fruitless, with white men always landing the job rather than him.

In 2015, Wilson claims he asked a city human resources representative if he would be considered for the director position the next time it opened up and was told there was no chance.

But getting passed over for the top job is only one facet of the lawsuit.

Wilson, 51, also claims he regularly dealt with “certain white subordinates” who were “openly dismissive of his efforts to manage them.” When he reported the behavior of those employees to his boss, then-director Steve Leavitt, neither Leavitt nor the human resources department did anything address the issue.

After several days of inaction, Wilson told Leavitt that he planned to file Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges for racial discrimination and a hostile work environment. His EEOC complaint was the eighth filed against the department this decade.

Four days later, Leavitt told Wilson that he was “eliminating his position” as well as the technical support manager and business services manager positions, both of which were held by white employees. While Wilson’s job was indeed eliminated, both other managers are still employed at the department with the same titles.

The suit alleges that the “restructuring” story was bunk and that Wilson’s forced exit was a retaliatory firing.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times last year, Wilson’s departure “angered many workers in water resources who believed he was one of the few officials trying to improve conditions in a sector of city government that has long been divided by race and plagued by dysfunction.” Many current and former employees also acknowledged racial tensions within the department.

Wilson, represented by attorney Gary L. Printy Jr., wants his old job back as well as compensatory damages and “back pay, front pay, prejudgment interest, and damages for all employment benefits he would have received but for the discriminatory acts and practices of the City of St. Petersburg.”

The court filing is below.

Aakash Patel

Pam Bondi endorses Aakash Patel for Hillsborough Commission

Tampa Republican Aakash Patel notched another significant endorsement for his Hillsborough County Commission campaign Tuesday, this time from Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“I am happy to offer my support and endorsement to Aakash Patel as he makes his initial run for Hillsborough County Commission,” Bondi said. “I have known Aakash since he returned to Tampa after graduating from Florida State University. I know he will put forth every effort to apply his conservative beliefs and principles in all that he does.”

Bondi, a Hillsborough native, is the latest in a long line of Tampa Bay-area electeds to endorse Patel. Prior endorsements include U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Zephyrhills Rep. Danny Burgess.

“I am extremely humbled and honored to have the support and endorsement of Attorney General Pam Bondi. I believe the voters of Hillsborough County understand her leadership is so helpful in advancing conservative causes and public servants to carry those causes forward. I am very honored to have her support,” Patel said.

Patel, who runs business consulting firm Elevate, Inc., is running for the countywide District 7 commission seat currently held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham. He had previously been a candidate for the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Sandy Murman, who was expected to resign her seat early and make her own run in District 7.

Patel had raised more than $450,000 for his District 1 campaign before switching over to the District 7 race. He is one of ten candidates vying for the open seat, though only Republican attorney Todd Marks also a former District 1 candidate — and Democrat Kimberly Overman have posted any substantive fundraising numbers.

Also running are Democrats Ray Chiaramonte, Charles Davis III, Mark Nash, Corey Reynolds and Sky White as well as Republican Cherie Denham and Green Party candidate Kim O’Connor.

The District 7 seat will be on the 2018 ballot alongside Districts 2, 4 and 5, all three of which feature an incumbent Republican running for re-election.

Mike Alvarez

AFL-CIO endorses Mike Alvarez in House District 62

Tampa Democrat Mike Alvarez’ campaign for House District 62 got a boost Tuesday thanks to an endorsement from labor union group Florida AFL-CIO.

“Working families stand with Mike Alvarez,” said Cheryl Schroeder, who heads the West Central Florida Labor Council. “Voters can trust Mike Alvarez to be a moral and ethical representative for West Tampa. His track record serving our country and our community honorably make him the clear choice in the August election.”

The Florida AFL-CIO represents over 500 local labor unions, ten labor councils, and over 1 million union members, retirees, and their families in the Sunshine State.

“I’m so humbled to have the support of working families in District 62 and around our state,” Alvarez said. “As a 5th generation Floridian raised right here in West Tampa, I’ve seen what our community can accomplish when we do what’s right, work hard, and put people above politics. This endorsement will help me share that message with the voters.”

Alvarez is a U.S. Marine Corps. veteran who now works as the director of operations for Westfall Roofing, a locally owned roof repair business. He is also an active member of Hillsborough Hispanic Caucus, where he serves as secretary, as well as the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Oakford Park Neighborhood Association, and the Sierra Club.

Alvarez filed for HD 62 in May 2017. He has since been joined in the Democratic primary by Christopher Carlos Cano, who entered June 1, and Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes, who filed last week.

Alvarez has publicly questioned the legitimacy of Valdes’ late-filed “resign-to-run” letter, a charge she didn’t attempt to refute in an admonishing rejoinder from her campaign.

HD 62 is a Democratic stronghold covering part of Hillsborough County. It is currently held by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who is term-limited and running for state Senate in the fall.

interim Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister

Andrew Warren endorses Chad Chronister for Hillsborough Sheriff

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister picked up an endorsement Tuesday from Andrew Warren, the state attorney for Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit.

“Sheriff Chronister is an exceptional and proven leader in our community. Just days after becoming Sheriff, Chad Chronister helped prepare our County for Hurricane Irma. His leadership has helped support our mission to fully prosecute violent criminals and seek justice for victims and their families. He has helped implement sensible civil citation programs for low-level juvenile and adult offenders,” Warren said in a press release.

“Sheriff Chronister is a true partner in making Hillsborough County a safe place for our citizens. Most importantly, Sheriff Chronister is a friend and trusted adviser that I know our entire community can count on. I am proud to endorse Chad Chronister for Hillsborough County Sheriff.”

Warren, a Democrat, was elected to the state attorney job in 2016. The endorsement sees Warren cross party lines to endorse Chronister, a Republican.

“The State Attorney works closely with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office not only to prosecute crimes and seek justice for victims but to also protect the rights of all our citizens. To have the support of State Attorney Andrew Warren is definitely a boost to our campaign,” Chronister said.

Chronister, who has been with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office since 1992, was appointed Sheriff last year after the retirement of longtime Sheriff David Gee. He filed for election a day after he was sworn in.

Since launching his campaign in October, Chronister has built a massive fundraising advantage. At last count, he had raised $661,865 for his campaign and had nearly $560,000 banked. He officially qualified for the 2018 ballot back in March.

His only opponent is Democrat Gary Allen Pruitt, a retired Tampa Police Department corporal who has raised about $3,310 since entering the race in November. He has about $3,100 on hand. Pruitt has not yet qualified for the ballot.

Sean McCoy

Sean McCoy files to succeed Jake Raburn in HD 57

Republican businessman and U.S. Army veteran Sean McCoy announced Tuesday that he has filed for House District 57, the seat currently held by Lithia Republican Rep. Jake Raburn.

McCoy’s announcement comes one day after Raburn announced he would not run for re-election to devote more time to his family and business.

“Our community enjoyed six years of strong representation in Tallahassee under the leadership of Rep. Raburn. We need a leader to succeed Rep. Raburn who will continue the same strong commitment to our conservative values and local priorities,” McCoy said.

“Our state needs servant leaders who will not back down but instead will work night and day to keep Florida on the right track. The Army taught me how to meet challenges head-on and work together as a team to win. I’ve done that in the battlefields of Iraq and the boardrooms of America, and I’ll do it in Tallahassee for those I seek to represent in District 57.”

McCoy, a West Point graduate, currently works as the strategy and commercialization director for Ideal Image. He is also the founder of Fishhawk Military & Veterans, which supports service members and their families. He lives in FishHawk with his wife and three children.

McCoy is currently the only Republican running for HD 57. Also running are Democrats Layla Hartz and Debbie Katt.

The deadline to qualify for state legislative races is Friday noon.

As of May 31, Katt had raised $6,810 for her campaign since filing in March with $5,233 of that on hand. Hartz, who filed in April, raised $1,520, with about $1,400 in the bank.

Republican candidates have the advantage in HD 57. Republicans have a 7-point lead in voter registrations within the district, and Raburn had no trouble holding the seat for three terms — he beat Democrat Bruce Barnett by 17 points to win his first term in 2012 and went unopposed in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

The seat also voted plus-12 for Donald Trump two years ago.

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