Tampa Bay Archives - Florida Politics

At neighborhood meeting, Charlie Crist dismisses question about personnel shakeup

Charlie Crist appeared at a community forum in St. Petersburg’s Midtown area on Saturday morning, where the discussion was advertised as being about the Affordable Care Act, economic development and jobs, education, and voting rights. But it was a personnel decision inside his own office that added an element of drama to the proceedings.

Ray Tampa, a community activist and former NAACP chapter president, challenged Crist to elaborate on the somewhat mysterious departure last month of district director Vito Sheeley. 

Sheeley, who had worked as Crist’s campaign outreach director in his race against Republican David Jolly last fall and was serving as his district director, stunningly announced last month said that he was leaving the office to begin working for Jolly as a senior adviser. That’s the same David Jolly who is no longer a congressman, after Crist defeated him in November.

Tampa told Crist and the small crowd at Saturday’s event that he been solicited by Sheeley for campaign strategy in last year’s congressional race, and  that ultimately Sheeley and other Crist advisers working for the African-American vote had decided to make copies of an email Tampa wrote in praise Crist, printed it out and distributed it to approximately 25 different churches in Midtown.

“And then shortly thereafter, you’re elected and then Vito was terminated,” Tampa said. “That was not good. That was horrible to say the least.”

Tampa said that he didn’t have anything against Gershom Faulkner, who has replaced Sheeley in Crist’s office, but added that “Vito’s termination had an affect on a lot of us in the community. And we don’t know if we’ve gotten a good response as to why that occurred, and it could affect you later on.”

“He wasn’t terminated. Any other questions?” Crist crisply replied.

Tampa left the event shortly after that exchange, and later said that he was unsatisfied with Crist’s response. “That was horrible. For me to call for a question and it’s ignored, that’s not good.”

The public may never know what truly transpired between Crist and Sheeley that resulted in the staffer jettisoning the office. After Sheeley announced last month that he would begin working with Jolly, he issued a statement saying that, “Many have and will continue to question my reason for leaving Congressman Crist. That is an answer that will remain between Charlie Crist and me.”

Jolly’s hiring of Sheeley immediately set off speculation that the Pinellas Republican was already gearing up to challenge Crist in 2018, but Jolly said earlier this week that he won’t make any decision on another candidacy for the seat until next year.

Crist was joined at what was described by officials the “1st quarterly Pinellas County African-American Leaders Conference” at the St. Petersburg College Midtown Center, where he was joined by Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, former state representative and city council member Frank Peterman, and Carlos Senior, the Senior Pastor at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

Although not an official town hall (which Crist said he intends to organize in the coming weeks), the format was similar in that there were a few people in the audience who wanted to speak with their representative about the Affordable Care Act.

In fact, the first two people (there were approximately 20 people in the room) challenged Crist to state his position on the ACA, saying that they couldn’t get a clear answer about where he stood on the GOP’s plan to repeal the landmark initiative from Barack Obama.

“I don’t want to replace it, I want to continue its and I’m not sure who you talked to in my office who told you I don’t have a position on it, but I stand strongly behind the Affordable Care Act,” Crist told a woman named Chelsea Baker, who has had serious health issues and says she goes to bed every night “terrified” about the effort to repeal the law.

Crist elaborated that his GOP brethren in the House have undoubtedly learned through some of their own bruising town hall meetings this month that “they know that if they just take it away and that’s that, it’s over for them.”

“I think they’ve gotten that message and figured it out, and that’s why they haven’t done it yet,” he said, in reference to actually repealing the law.

Crist’s appearance came a day after news broke that he is divorcing his wife Carole after almost nine years of marriage, news that made Page Six of the NY Post on Saturday.

Charlie Crist filing for divorce after less than 9 years

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is getting divorced less than nine years after becoming the first Florida governor in 42 years to get married while in office.

Crist spokesman Kevin Cate said the congressman filed papers Friday seeking to divorce his wife Carole, who he proposed to in 2008 after a 10-month romance. He was a Republican governor at the time.

Their St. Petersburg wedding was a grand event with an exclusive guest list of political elite and celebrities.

The couple stayed together through his switch from Republican to independent to Democrat and his unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns.

The former Carole Rome was a New York businesswoman and socialite when the couple met. She is Crist’s second wife. He married his college sweetheart in 1980 and divorced less than a year later.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

David Jolly says the state of GOP will determine his electoral future

Though he’s out of public office, David Jolly has never been more ubiquitous in appearing on television.

The former Pinellas County congressman was scheduled to make another appearance on MSNBC Wednesday night, this time on “All In with Chris Hayes” talking about the buzzsaw that his former GOP brethren are confronting when hosting townhall meetings across the country.

Jolly is a rare Republican, speaking out critical against many of the moves of the Donald Trump administration, bumping up his status on many cable news producers rolodexes. However, that opposition could come at a price.

Because of his comments regarding the pressures of fundraising that he says the GOP establishment imposed upon him and other freshmen legislators, the National Republican Congressional Committee opted not to aid him in his uphill battle to retain his seat against Democrat Charlie Crist last year. If he were to challenge him again next year, he surely will need those funds to compete in a seat that Democrats will fight hard to maintain. Yet Jolly says he can’t think that calculatingly.

“We would have won if the NRCC had come in,” Jolly told this reporter on WMNF’s MidPoint program Thursday. “If there had been a half million or a million dollars, the reality is of modern electoral science is we would have won … we would have closed that three precent gap.”

Jolly lost by 3.8 percentage points to Crist, a closer race than many polls had predicted, based on the redistricting of the CD 13 seat that added the much more liberal parts of downtown and South St. Petersburg to the district. However, Jolly says he won’t fall in line and stay silent when he sees some of the actions that the new Republican president is doing in office.

“I’m not going to sell my soul simply for electoral office,” he said. “I’m not interested in being part of a Congress that’s broken.”

And Jolly includes some Democrats of being timid in speaking out against Trump when the occasion calls for it.

“The reality is that a lot of Democrats are afraid to speak out against Donald Trump as well. And Charlie’s one of those.”

Jolly also took note that while there’s been criticism about some Republicans (such as Marco Rubio) avoiding hosting town hall meetings this week, so has Crist.

“The Congressman is meeting with constituents and hearing their concerns at community events across the district,” responds Crist spokesperson Erin Moffet. “We are looking at options for future public events to make sure the people’s voices continue to be heard, and I’ll be sure to let you know when they are scheduled.”

Regarding a potential congressional rematch against Crist next year, Jolly says he won’t make that decision until sometime early next year.

“If this is the state of the Republican Party next year, what we’re seeing today, then there’s probably not a place for me on the ballot, but I just keep doing what I believe is right,” he says.”There will be a point at which that aligns with where the party is and the community is, and then perhaps there might be an opportunity to seek election again. It simply is not my singular focus, though.”

Charlie Crist joins blasts Trump administration’s rollback of protection for transgender students

Charlie Crist is blasting the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity.

“This action sends a frightening message that the administration does not care about the safety of transgender children in our nation’s schools,” Crist said Thursday. “While repealing this guidance does not change the fact that Title IX protects transgender students, it subjects our public schools to more lawsuits and puts trans youth at risk. I stand with America’s trans students who, like all children, deserve a safe place to learn.”

Two GOP members of Florida’s congressional delegation have also criticized the decision.

“This is a disappointing choice for the Administration to make,” Congressional District 26 Representative Carlos Curbelo said in a statement. “We should be working toward ensuring all American children feel safe and accepted in their schools, regardless of where they live, their race, creed, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the decision by the Trump administration, “lamentable.”

Along with Rep. Jared Polis (D – CO), Ros-Lehtinen introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) in 2015 that would prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. She’s also supportive of the Safe Schools Improvement Act which would require schools to create a code of conduct against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other important factors.

Last May, the departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidance directing schools to let transgender students use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The “Dear Colleague” letter, addressed to school districts and colleges that receive federal funding, was based on the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools, to include gender identity.

Gus Bilirakis to hold another health care town hall in Wesley Chapel

Tampa Bay Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis will host another public listening session on the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday in Wesley Chapel.

During the two-hour event, Bilirakis said he would take feedback and ideas from constituents about the direction of the U.S. health care system, including the repeal and replacement of the ACA.

The six-term congressman has held similar sessions in Palm Harbor and New Port Richey this month, both of which packed with supporters of the health care law angered at Congressional Republicans’ plan to repeal the law without a replacement.

Following those events, Bilirakis signed on to a bill that would keep the ACA provisions protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions after its repeal.

“I heard a clear message from my constituents at recent town halls: people with pre-existing conditions need the peace of mind of knowing that they can get — and keep — health care,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “At events in Palm Harbor and New Port Richey, I listened to folks share personal stories about themselves and loved ones who were denied access to coverage because of a chronic illness. I made a promise to gather input from the people of Florida’s 12th District about the future of our nation’s health care, and I am keeping that promise with this legislation. We will protect those with pre-existing conditions and put in place a health care system that works for everybody.”

The Wesley Chapel will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Wesley Chapel High School Performing Arts Center on Wells Road. The event is open to the public.

 

Impressive roster of GOP leaders line up for Ed Hooper fundraiser

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper is assembling an impressive number of high-profile state lawmakers for a Tallahassee reception next month. Hooper, a former state representative, is seeking the open Senate District 16 seat currently held by Jack Latvala.

Hooper’s campaign fundraiser will be Monday, March 6, from 2:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the Governors Club, 202 South Adams Street.

The host committee reads like a Who’s Who of GOP state leaders, including Senate President Joe Negron and nearly all the Pinellas County/Hillsborough delegation: Sens. Latvala, Bill GalvanoWilton SimpsonDana Young and Jeff Brandes.

Republican senators from beyond the Tampa Bay area will be there, too: Lizbeth BenacquistoGeorge GainerDenise GrimsleyFrank ArtilesDennis BaxleyAaron BeanTravis HutsonDebbie MayfieldKathleen PassidomoKeith PerryRobert BradleyDoug BroxsonDavid SimmonsKelli Stargel and Greg Steube.

The House will also be well represented, with Larry AhernBen AlbrittonChris Latvala and Kathleen Peters.

A former Clearwater firefighter who served four terms in the House before term limits forced him out, Hooper ran for Pinellas County Commission in 2014, losing to Democrat Pat Gerard after a contentious campaign.

Jeff Brandes calls for investigation of Tri-Rail contract

Saying that testimony before his committee convinced him that inadequate time was set aside to decide what is now a controversial $511 million contract award, state Sen. Jeff Brandes Thursday called for an investigation of Tri-Rail.

Brandes asked Interim Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Rachel Cone to have the department’s investigator general look into how the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority handled its selection process that ultimately disqualified five companies and awarded Tri-Rail’s 10-year operations and maintenance contract to the bidder with the highest price, Herzog Transportation Services, in late January.

Officials of the authority were not immediately available Thursday to comment in response. The authority operates the Tri-Rail commuter trains through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Earlier Thursday, authority Executive Director Jack Stephens testified before Brandes’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development and defended the award as proper and appropriate. The process began with a request for proposals in September, the proposals came in December and the decision to reject five bids was made in late December. The board awarded the contract in late January, which Stephens acknowledged gave little time for a transition from current contractors before the July 1 turnover.

However, Stephens said the rules of the proposals were clear, and it was clear to the authority’s staff and lawyers that only Herzog followed the rules.

But Brandes peppered Stephens with questions about the length of the process and the apparent rush to award and administer the contract.

And Brandes apparently was unconvinced that the authority handled it as it should. Brandes expressed particular concern that the process gave no time for appeals or considerations for unusual circumstances, such as five of six bids being rejected before they were even compared.

“The awarding of a contract in excess of $500 million in public funds after such a short bidding process is disturbing,” he wrote in his letter to Cone. “The procurement policies appear to lack adequate time for disqualified applicants to appeal administrative actions taken by the authority. I am concerned that appropriate competition did not take place during the procurement process for this contract.”

There also were concerns raised abut Stephens contention that if Herzog’s contract was not awarded, that company had grounds to challenge, just as four of the rejected companies now are doing, and that could lead to more delays.

Yet the contract itself includes language that allows the authority to terminate it “without cause upon thirty (30) calendar days written notice to the contractor.”

Brandes suggested the authority’s procurement policies may be flawed.

“The authority maintains their actions are defensible because they complied with their internal procurement policies. However, the taxpayers deserve a higher scrutiny of this process,” he write.

“Therefore, I am requesting the Department initiate an official investigation by the Investigator General into this matter. I further request the investigation review both the facts of this particular procurement in question, as well as the entire procurement policy of the authority.”

Top Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner to speak in St. Petersburg next month

Former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, who became a national cable news star as a top surrogate for Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, will be speaking in St. Petersburg in March.

The 49-year-old Cleveland native served on the Cleveland City Council from 2005-2008. She resigned her seat that year to accept an appointment to the Ohio Senate in 2008. She won a full term in 2010, before losing a contest for Ohio Secretary of State in 2014.

Recently there has been a movement to draft her to run for governor of Ohio in 2018.

Last year Turner became a prominent supporter of Sanders campaign. After he lost the Democratic nomination for president to Hillary Clinton, Turner admitted that she was considering an offer to run for vice president on the Green Party’s national ticket, but ultimately opted to stay within the Democratic Party.

Turner will speak at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7 at the United Methodist Church Allendale at 3803 Haines Rd. N. St. Petersburg. To purchase tickets, go to movetobuild.us.

House Speaker: ‘Zero’ chance Bucs get state money for stadium

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shouldn’t hold their breath for any state subsidy to renovate Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran told WTSP’s Noah Pransky in an interview there was “zero” chance his chamber will fund the pro football team’s $10 million subsidy request – and didn’t think the Senate would go along either.

The Bucs “applied under a statutory scheme put in place” that may be eliminated, he said. The team is the only professional team seeking money from the state this year.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Tampa Bay-area Republican, last month filed legislation to do away with a 2014 state program to provide revenue toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived,” he said. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”

Corcoran, an enemy of what he calls “corporate welfare,” agrees. This year, he’s looking to eliminate the public-private Enterprise Florida economic development organization and VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

“We shouldn’t be building stadiums or subsidizing billionaire owners of professional sports franchises,” he said. “It’s a multibillion-dollar industry. That’s just insane.”

The $10 million asked for Raymond James Stadium breaks down to $1 million a year for at least 10 years. And that’s just a fraction of the projected total costs for the renovations, pegged at a minimum of $120 million.

“We have an education system that needs improvement,” said Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican. “We have seniors who need a greater safety net. We have law enforcement and its needs. Those are the things we should be engaged in.

“Or just returning (money) back to taxpayers,” Corcoran added. “…Giving subsidies to billionaires and picking winners and losers is horrible public policy.”

House committee forwards faculty physicians bill that would help All Children’s Hospital

A bill that would allow All Children’s Hospital to have 30 medical faculty certificates cleared its first House committee Wednesday.

The medical faculty certificate is a special designation which allows a physician to practice medicine without sitting for a licensure examination, though their practice is limited to the teaching hospital they are affiliated with and its related clinical facilities.

Though All Children’s was folded into the Johns Hopkins Health System in 2011, it hasn’t been granted any medical faculty certificates.

HB 209 would put the St. Petersburg hospital on even footing with seven Florida universities and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville which already have certificates to employ medical faculty.

The bill was approved by the Health Quality Subcommittee with a unanimous vote and only a slight language tweak by bill sponsor and first-term Republican Rep. Alex Miller.

HB 209 now moves on to the Health & Human Services Committee.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 496 sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, has yet to be heard in committee.

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