Tampa Bay – Florida Politics

Jeff Brandes expected to draw challenge from trial lawyer Carrie Pilon

St. Petersburg attorney Carrie Pilon is expected to challenge incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes in Senate District 24, according to planning documents obtained by Florida Politics.

Pilon, a St. Pete native, is a Stetson University law grad and also holds a bachelor’s and master’s in public administration from Florida State University. She runs an injury law firm with her husband, Chad Pilon.

According to a memo circulating among the Florida Democratic Party’s Senate Victory staff (which was inadvertently ((or was it?)) sent to a Florida Politics reporter), Pilon is set to announce her candidacy on April 2.

When the announcement drops, Ruth’s List, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard are on the short list for fundraising support and early endorsements.

The treasurer job will likely come down to Shelby Green or Laura Haggard.

Brian Doheny, a former FDP regional organizing director and alum of the Kriseman re-election campaign, is also expected to be an integral member of the Pilon campaign.

He’s penciled in to switch over from Matt Haggman’s campaign for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, where he serves as finance director, on April 7.

When Pilon enters, she’ll be the only candidate running against Brandes, who has held the SD 24 seat since it was redrawn in 2012. His 2018 bid is his last election before he runs into term limits.

FDP involvement in the SD 24 race indicates Democrats’ optimism the “blue wave” will make formerly non-competitive seats contestable – Brandes’ last major challenger was USF St. Pete Professor Judithanne McLauchlan, who ran in 2014 for the pre-redistricting SD 22.

She was considered a strong candidate in the 2014 cycle but fell far short in fundraising – bringing in $307,000 to Brandes’ $815,000 – and lost 58-42 on Election Day.

Brandes didn’t face a Democrat in the 2016 re-election campaign, which was brought about after Florida courts redrew the district maps. Depsite the lack of competition, SD 24 is considered competitive on paper.

GOP voters make up 37 percent of the Pinellas district’s electorate, compared to 33 percent for Democrats with the remainder registered as third- or no-party voters.

SD 24 would have gone for Barack Obama by about a point in 2012 and 2.5 points in 2008, though the seat went plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Brandes has raised $240,000 for his re-election bid and heading into March he had about $124,000 in the bank.

Greg Steube holding May 2 fundraiser for CD 17 bid

A fundraiser benefitting Republican Sen. Greg Steube’s bid for Florida’s 17th Congressional District will be held May 2 in Sarasota.

The event has will be held in The Tasting Room at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, 7051 Wireless Court, from 5:30 PM to 7 PM.

Hosting the event are John and Denise Saputo, who own the beer distributor. John Saputo is also a retired U.S. Marines colonel who has been nationally recognized for his philanthropic pursuits.

The event invite lists a minimum contribution of $100 to attend. RSVPs can be sent to Kelly Dowd via Kelly@ElectGregSteube.com.

Steube faces state Rep. Julio Gonzalez and others in the Republican Primary for CD 17, which is opening up this year due to the retirement of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney. Two Democrats are also currently running for the seat, which has a heavy Republican advantage.

Steube, currently in his first term as a Florida Senator, was the first major candidate to file for CD 17 after Rooney’s announcement and included a long list of early backers in his announcement.

Gonzalez followed after the 2018 Legislative Session wrapped, and the Sarasota lawmakers could be joined by other Republican elected officials who represent different parts of the sprawling nine county district.

The Republican and Democratic primary elections will be held Aug. 28. The general election will be held Nov. 6.

The fundraiser invite is below.

Pasco fire fighters back Mike Wells for re-election

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells picked up and endorsement for his re-election bid Friday from the Pasco County Professional Fire Fighters.

“The Executive Board for Pasco County Professional Fire Fighters, IAFF Local 4420, has voted unanimously to endorse your candidacy for Pasco County Board of County Commissioners, District 4,” group VP Joe Russo said in a statement to Wells.

“We will be in contact with you to see what sort of assistance you need during campaigning and on Election Day. It is our goal to help you achieve victory in this election and to continue working with you in the future.”

The fire fighter endorsement adds to Well’s long list of backers in his re-election bid. Prior endorsements include Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, county Sheriff Chris Nocco, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Republican Rep. Danny Burgess.

“I am honored to have the support and endorsement of the Pasco County Professional Fire Fighters, Local 4420,” Wells said. “These brave women and men work tirelessly and endure great sacrifice to protect our lives and property here in Pasco County.

“I am thankful for their willingness to serve our community and am grateful for their endorsement. I’m committed to continuing to make sure these brave women and men have the resources they need to keep our families and our community safe.”

Wells, a Republican, was elected to the commission in 2014 and is running for his second term this year. He currently faces Democrat Brandi Geoit in the District 4 race. Republican Ryan Boney was running earlier in the cycle, but he exited the race and filed for House District 115.

Also set to appear on the 2018 ballot is the District 2 commission seat, where incumbent Republican Mike Moore will face Democrat Kelly Smith.

The election is Nov. 6.

Nick DiCeglie announces March 23 fundraiser

Republican Nick DiCeglie is holding a fundraiser for his House District 66 campaign on March 23 in St. Petersburg.

The event is set to run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The Mayor’s Mansion, 609 11th Ave. South. Those interested in attending can RSVP with Rick Porter at 407-849-1112 or Rick@PoliticalCapitalFlorida.com.

DiCeglie is running for the seat currently held by termed-out Rep. Larry Ahern. He faces St. Petersburg attorney Berny Jacques in the Republican Primary.

Through the end of February, the Belleair Bluffs businessman had raised more than $90,000 and had $72,000 of that money on hand in his campaign account.

Jacques, who entered the race six months ahead of DiCeglie, has raised a total of $138,545 and has a little over $100,000 in the bank.

Also running for the seat are Democrat Alex Hereen and Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann. Hereen started March with about $5,600 in the bank, while Bachmann has raised $345 since filing in August.

HD 66 is a safe Republican district. It covers part of western Pinellas County, including Clearwater, Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores.

The invitation to DiCeglie’s fundraiser is below.

Nick DiCeglie Fundraiser Invitation

Fentrice Driskell raises $40K in first month of House campaign

Democrat Fentrice Driskell looks like a true contender with more than $40,000 raised in her first month running for House District 63, a Tampa Bay swing district held by Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison.

“I truly appreciate the outpouring of community support from over 200 donors to our campaign who helped us raise $40,805.18 in just the first 22 days,” the Tampa attorney said in a press release. “We are focused on common-sense solutions to the challenges we face every day in Hillsborough County and throughout Florida, from investing in education and transportation to protecting our children with sensible gun laws.

“Everywhere we go, we hear from voters who are tired of Tallahassee politicians putting special interests ahead of the needs of our hardworking Florida families, small business owners, and seniors. We are working hard for our community every day, and I look forward to being their voice in the Legislature.”

Driskell, who filed for the seat on Feb. 6, received 252 contributions last month, including a dozen checks for the campaign maximum of $1,000.

Among the top donors were fellow attorneys Rose Bremprong, Nancy Faggianelli, James Kennedy III, Lu Pratts, Rebecca Tyler, April Walker and Gwynn Young. Premiere Eyecare CEO Lorna Taylor, insurance agent Jeffrey Chernoff, software engineer Michael Lyons, and retirees Ora Mosley and Crystal Whitescarver rounded out the $1,000 donor set.

Another 17 donors, including Driskell, checked in at the $500 level, while 150-plus contributions came from small-dollar donors giving $100 or less.

Spending measured in at $1,307 for the month and included an $800 payment to You Should Run for campaign branding, $250 to Tyrone Thurston for web development and $100 to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections for petition verification.

Driskell finished the month with $39,427 in her campaign account.

Harrison, who has held the seat since the 2014 elections, wasn’t able to raise any money last month due to the Legislature being in session, though he spent $1,389, including a $1,000 payment to Strategic Image Management for consulting work.

He’s raised $107,278 since filing for re-election and entered March with $81,410 in the bank.

HD 63 includes portions of northern Tampa, Lutz, Pebble Creek, Lake Magdalene, University, and Carrollwood.

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.

The following election, Harrison took the seat back with a 53-47 victory over Danish and in 2016 he he held on to the seat in a tough re-election battle against Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione.

Wengay Newton holds onto fundraising lead in HD 70 primary

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Wengay Newton made it through the fundraising pause brought about by the 2018 Legislative Session without ceding much ground to his primary challengers.

Newton started the year with about $15,000 on hand, and after keeping spending low last month, he’s still at that level despite his last campaign income being a little over $1,000 a day before lawmakers convened in Tallahassee.

Vito Sheeley, who has picked up some high-profile endorsements, added $850 in contributions and burned through nearly half his war chest with a $4,000 payment to Blue Ticket Consulting last month.

His top donor for the month was Midway-based JBK Insurance, which gave $250, followed by St. Pete sales consultant Nick Carper with a check for $150 and a half-dozen other donors who gave $100 or less.

Sheeley has raised about $8,600 since filing for the seat in July and went into March with about $1,500 in the bank.

St. Pete attorney and activist Keisha Bell, who filed Feb. 1, took over the No. 2 spot in cash on hand after showing nearly $5,000 raised in her inaugural report.

St. Petersburg retirees Janet Paroo and Alvin Frazier topped her list with checks for $250, while the bulk of the rest came in through a flurry of small-dollar donors in the last week of the month.

Bell received 60 contributions in February, more than 50 of which were for $100 or less. She also got $570 worth of “in-kind” support, including marketing, stamps and business cards.

Bell’s $934 in expenditures included about $600 for marketing, with most of the rest covering small purchases such as travel and office supplies.

She finished the month with about $3,940 in the bank.

HD 70 covers pieces of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties including chunks of St. Pete and Sarasota as well as the communities of Memphis, Samoset and Ruskin.

It is a Democratic stronghold. In 2016, Newton was elected over Republican Cori Fournier by a 50-point margin.

interim Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister

Chad Chronister raises another $31K for Hillsborough Sheriff race

Sitting Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister brought in $31,445 last month for his campaign to win a full term in the job.

Chronister brought in the money across 123 contributions, including 18 checks for $1,000.

Among the top donors for the month were Tampa Honda, Netterfield’s Popcorn and Lemonade, The Leytham Group, Parks Advocacy Group, Four M Auto Sales & Leasing and Yellow Cab of Tampa.

The Chronister campaign also spent $17,314 in February, with the biggest expenditure weighing in at $3,371 for campaign shirts. The shirts were part of $7,700 in payments to Strategic Image Management, which also provided website hosting, consulting services and office supplies.

Also on the ledger was a $3,210 payment to World of Beer for catering, and $2,152 to EventLive for event management. Campaign staff made up the bulk of the rest of February’s outflow.

In all, Chronister finished the month with nearly $535,000 on hand in his campaign account. Since filing in October, he’s raised a total of $591,188.

Chronister, a Republican, has been with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office since 1992 and was a colonel before the retirement of longtime lawman David Gee in 2017, which landed him the job as interim sheriff. He filed for election a day after he was sworn in.

He is running against Democrat Gary Allen Pruitt and no-party candidate Juan Rivera, neither of whom have made put up much of a fight on the fundraising trail.

Pruitt, a retired Tampa Police Department corporal, raised $0 last month and has shown only a single self-contribution of $200 since filing in November. He has about $25 in his campaign account.

Rivera, a retired CIA officer, added no money in February, but has raised $722 since filing and has $120 on hand.

Politics is about timing: David Jolly won’t run for elected office in 2018

David Jolly will remain a spectator, albeit an active one, in 2018.

The former U.S. Representative is not looking to return to elective politics this year, referring to a tight Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District special election Tuesday night in a district Donald Trump won by more than 20 points in 2016.

Making the announcement on Twitter, the Jolly also suggested Trump should be “primaried in 2020.” He came to the decision with his wife, Laura.

Jolly said: “Politics is about timing. 4 years ago tonight I was elected in a district Obama won twice. Laura & I have considered another run, but watching PA, this is not the year to re-enter politics. Trump should be primaried in 2020. Our focus tonight is on being a part of that primary.”

Since the bitter presidential election, Jolly, an Indian Shores Republican, has been an outspoken critic of Trump.

Nancy Hodges cruises, Terry Lister maybe loses in Madeira Beach election

Madeira Beach voters re-elected Commissioner Nancy Hodges and may have kicked out Commissioner Terry Lister in Tuesday’s municipal election.

With all the votes counted, longtime City Commission member Lister was four votes behind opponent Deby Weinstein in the race for the District 1 seat on the commission.

Voters cast 1,194 votes in the race and as of 9 PM, Weinstein had 599 votes in her column compared to 595 for Lister.

The vote count wasn’t razor thin in the District 2 race, however.

Hodges was up against Eric Breslin in the contest and easily secured re-election with a 55-45 victory.

The Madeira Beach Board of Commissioners consists of the mayor and four commission members. After each municipal election, the board votes to elect a Vice-Mayor for a one-year term.

The panel meets the second Tuesday of every month at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.

Madeira Beach was one of several Pinellas County municipalities to hold elections Tuesday.

More than 20 city commission or city council seats were up for grabs in communities across the county, including seats in Belleair, Belleair Beach, Clearwater, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Redington Beach, South Pasadena and Treasure Island.

In addition, the communities of Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Pinellas Park and Treasure Island voted in mayoral elections.

Unofficial returns for each of Tuesdays elections are available through the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.

Voters decide several Pinellas County municipal seats

Voters in a dozen Pinellas County municipalities decided races Tuesday night.

Among the municipalities holding elections were Belleair, Belleair Beach, Clearwater, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Madeira Beach, Pinellas Park, Redington Beach, Safety Harbor, South Pasadena and Treasure Island.

A roundup of some of the unofficial results from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections:

Belleair Beach

Registered voters chose four Belleair Beach council members from a field of six: incumbents Rob Baldwin and Julie “Jewels” Chandler, challengers Marv Behm, Glenn Gunn, Nicolas Pavouris and Jody Shirley.

The challengers were successful as Pavouris brought in 19 percent; Gunn received 17 percent; Shirley 17 percent and Behm received 17 percent. Baldwin took only 16 percent: Chandler brought in 15 percent.


Bruce Plesser lost to incumbent Dan Liedtke for the Ward 1 Council seat. Liedtke took 66 percent.

Indian Rocks Beach

Indian Rocks Beach voters chose the mayoral race, between Donald House Jr. and incumbent Commissioner Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy to replace Mayor R.B. Johnson, who announced he would not run. Kennedy easily took the race with 71 percent.

Voters also selected two commissioners, from a three-person field that included Jude Bond, incumbent Edward Hoofnagle and Nick Palomba. Palomba lead with nearly 42 percent, followed by Hoofnagle with nearly 38 percent; Bond came in third with 21 percent.

Indian Rocks Beach voters also approved a pair of referendum questions on the city’s sewer fund by 70 percent.

Kenneth City

In a three-person race for two council seats, incumbents Barbara Roberts and Carl Troup came in first and second, respectively. Roberts took 42 percent; Troup received nearly 34 percent. Ron Sneed took third with 24 percent.

Madeira Beach

Voters also decided a pair of Madeira Beach Commission seats Tuesday night.

Incumbent Terry Lister faced challenger Deby Weinstein for District 1. At about 9 p.m., Weinstein was leading by four votes, 599 to 595, of 1,194 cast.

Incumbent Nancy Hodges defeated Eric Breslin in District 2 with 55 percent.

Pinellas Park

Mayor Sandra Lee Bradbury warded off challenger Donna Saxer with 56 percent of the vote.

Redington Beach

In the three-person race for two Redington Beach Commission seats, incumbents David Joseph Will and Tom Dorgan defeated challenger Laura Barnett. Will received 250 votes; Dorgan picked up 249. Barnett took only 100 votes.

Safety Harbor

Three Safety Harbor Commission seats were up for grabs. Nancy Besore defeated Scott Long for Seat 1, 51 two 49 percent.

Spence Bell faced incumbent Cliff Merz for Seat 2. Merz easily won another term with 73 percent. Incumbent Andy Zodrow also faced Damon Lister for Seat 3. The incumbent one this race too, with Zodrow taking 55 percent compared to 45 percent for Lister.

South Pasadena

Four candidates competed for two seats on the South Pasadena Commission, which included incumbents Lari Johnson and Gail Neidinger. Challengers were Dan Calabria and Arthur Penny. Neidinger took 35 percent; Penny, 30 percent; Johnson, 23 percent and Calabria, 11 percent.

Treasure Island

Larry Lunn, who represents Treasure Island District 2, will replace Mayor Robert Minning, who has served in City Hall since 2009. Lunn took nearly 55 percent against Melinda “Mel” Lenehan with 45 percent.

For the District 2 seat, Tyler Payne took nearly 58 percent against Jim Buchyn, who picked up 42 percent. Incumbent District 4 Commissioner Ken Keys lost to challenger Heidi Horak, who received 70 percent of the vote. Keys took only 30 percent.

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