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Hot on the trail: Fundraising notes from the St. Pete municipal races

Much has been made of the race between incumbent Rick Kriseman and Rick Baker for St. Petersburg mayor, but three St. Pete City Council seats will also be on the ballot when voters head to the polls Nov. 7.

Here’s where the six candidates running for those three slots stand as of their most recent campaign finance reports, which cover the week beginning Sept. 30.

In the District 2 race between Barclay Harless and Brandi Gabbard, Gabbard won the week with $5,875 in contributions compared to $1,375 for Harless.

Gabbard still lags behind Harless in total fundraising and, with $17,051 in spending compared to Harless’ $4,756, she also lost her cash-on-hand advantage for the final stretch of the campaign.

All but about $90 of Gabbard’s outflow last week went to Tampa-based Politicus, for advertising, while nearly half of Harless’ spending went toward mailers from Tampa-based Sonic Printing.

As of Oct. 6, Gabbard had raised a total of $46,188 for her campaign and had about $11,200 in the bank. Harless fundraising total was $60,155 through the same date, with $14,532 on hand.

In the Disitrict 6 race, Gina Driscoll outraised Justin Bean for the week and maintained her advantage in total fundraising and cash on hand, though Bean was able to take the most votes in the primary election for the seat despite his lower fundraising numbers.

Driscoll added $10,525 during the reporting period and spent nothing, bringing her campaigns total up to $51,836 and putter her with $21,373 on hand a month out from Election Day.

Bean added $5,375 for the week, and also kept spending very low with only $12 leaving the campaign. He sits with about $11,000 on hand on total fundraising of $37,125.

Darden Rice, the only incumbent council member on the ballot next month, continued dominating her opponent in the District 4 contest, 21-year old USF-St. Petersburg student Jerick Johnston.

Rice showed another $17,175 in contributions in her new report, and also showed spending $67,706. Nearly $57,000 of that outflow went to Mack-Sumner Communications for campaign mailers, while Snyder-Pickerill Media Group picked up more than $10,000 for a media buy.

The report shows Rice with a fundraising total of $130,388 through Oct. 6, though she had only had $2,775 on hand when the report was filed.

Johnston, for his part, showed no contributions and only spent $10 on a bank fee during the week. He had just shy of $2,000 on hand on total fundraising of $4,331 when the reporting period closed.

HD 66 hopeful Berny Jacques hosting campaign kickoff Wednesday

Berny Jaques, one of the two Republicans running for HD 66 next year, is holding a campaign kickoff event Wednesday at the Salt Rick Grill in Indian Shores and all are invited, including members of the press.

Jacques filed to run for HD 66 back in March, but with the entry of fellow Republican and Pinellas County GOP chair Nick DiCeglie last month, the campaign has begun in earnest.

The pair, along with Reform Party candidate Paul Bachmann, are running to take over for termed-out Republican Rep. Larry Ahern for the coastal Pinellas County seat which covers the communities of Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and Belleair, among others.

Through the end of September, Jacques led in total fundraising with $67,344 taised and more than $52,000 on hand. DiCeglie posted $30,751 in his first month and had nearly all of that money on hand, while Bachmann has so far shown no contributions or expenditures since filing for the seat in early August.

The host committee for Jacques’ kickoff fundraiser includes Jallo Oil owner Paul Jallo, real estate developer Jim Holton, Sembler Company vice chairman Brent Sembler, and Bay area businessman and former Castle Supply Company owner Joe White and his wife JoAnn White.

Also included on the invite are ten major supporters, including Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, City of Seminole City Council members Chris Burke, Roger Edelman and Trish Springer, Largo City Commissioner Jamie Robinson, and others.

The kickoff event will start at 5:30 p.m. at the restaurant, located at 19325 Gulf Blvd. in Indian Shores.

The invitation is below.

Vern Buchanan’s answers ‘unsafe’ seat rumors by banking $2 million for re-election

Last spring, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced it will target Florida’s 16th Congressional District for recruitment and potential investment. Florida Republicans laughed, mocking the idea that incumbent Vern Buchanan‘s Sarasota-area seat was somehow “unsafe.”

They’re probably still laughing, especially after Monday’s release of third-quarter fundraising numbers.

Buchanan continues to build up his war chest against any and all challengers. He raised $149,684 over J, and now has more than $2 million in his campaign coffers ($2,056,627, to be precise).

Two Democrats have announced that they are running in CD 16 next year — former circus performer Calen Cristiani and within the last week, Jan Schneider.

The 68-year-old Schneider has done this before. She ran for the seat in 2002 and 2004 against GOP incumbent Katherine Harris, and ran and lost to Christine Jennings in the Democratic primary in 2006. She also ran in 2008 with no party affiliation, losing in the general election. She has just set up her campaign account for 2018.

Cristiani has not reported his contributions for the third quarter yet.

Alex Sink puts money, support behind Barclay Harless in St. Pete Council race

Alex Sink formally endorsed Barclay Harless last week in his bid for the St. Petersburg City Council, but she had already indicated her support in late September by way of a $500 check to his campaign.

Sink’s contribution was part of the $5,355 that Harless raised from Sept. 16-29, the most recent reporting period for the candidates running in the municipal elections in St. Petersburg. That’s more than the $1,840 that Brandi Gabbard raised during the same period.

Gabbard and Harless are competing to win the District 2 seat that has been held for the past decade by Jim Kennedy.

While Harless has brought in slightly more money to his campaign overall, Gabbard leads regarding the cash-on-hand differential with just three weeks to go in the contest. Harless has raised $58,780 in the contest and spent $40,866.99, giving him $17,914 cash on hand.

Gabbard has brought in a total of $39,879 while spending $17,944, leaving her with $29,935 cash on hand. All but about $90 of Gabbard’s outflow last week went to Tampa-based Politicus, for advertising, while nearly half of Harless’ spending went toward mailers from Tampa-based Sonic Printing.

Harless has made an issue of Gabbard receiving support in the form of several mailers sent on her behalf by the Pinellas Realtors Organization, which is supporting her candidacy.

In addition to Sink, Harless also received a $500 contribution from the Stonewall Democrats, and a $1,000 check from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.


Charlie Crist adds $353K during Q3 to re-election fund

Democrat Charlie Crist raised $353,473 during the third quarter of 2017, giving him more than $1.4 million cash on hand for his re-election campaign.

While still impressive, the pace is slowing down for one of Florida’s most prodigious fundraisers. The former governor raised a whopping $720,000 during the first quarter of the year, and followed up with more than $550,000 in the second quarter.

With more than a year before the 2018 midterm elections, Crist has yet to face an announced challenger in 2018.

Republican David Jolly could be that challenger.

Jolly has said that he will announce early next year if he will run again against Crist, who defeated him 52 to 48 percent last November.

Ed Hooper lands endorsement from Bill Galvano

Former Rep. Ed Hooper picked up an endorsement for his 2018 Senate campaign Friday from fellow Republican Bill Galvano, who is set to become Senate President after next year’s elections.

“Having served the community most of his life, Ed Hooper understands the issues that face Senate District 16. Ed is known for being a champion of economic development, job creation, and quality education for our kids,” Galvano said in a press release. “The election of Ed Hooper to the Florida Senate will be beneficial to not just his constituents, but all residents of the great state of Florida.”

Hooper is running for the seat currently held by Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, who is termed out of the senate and running for Florida governor in 2018.

Hooper has called the Clearwater area home for 45 years, including 24 years working for the city’s fire department. He served in the House from 2006 through 2014, when term limits forced him to retire, and has spent his three years out of the Legislature working as a consultant.

Currently, Hooper is the only Republican candidate in the race. Since filing in January 2016, he has racked up endorsements and raised about $144,000 for his campaign.

Also running is Democrat Bernie Fensterwald, who filed for the race in June. He has raised $12,400 for his campaign and has about $7,000 in the bank.

Senate District 16 has a similar makeup to the pre-redistricting Senate District 20. It covers the northern half of Pinellas County and a strip of coastal Pasco County that includes New Port Richey.

The district favors GOP candidates, with about 20,000 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats, and voted for Donald Trump last year over Hillary Clinton 56-39.

Brandi Gabbard, Barclay Harless clash over PACs in St. Pete Council race

A relatively genteel St. Petersburg City Council race between banker Barclay Harless and Realtor Brandi Gabbard broke out into verbal warfare Friday over the issue of political advocacy.

The war of words in the District 2 race was over money the Pinellas County Realtors Association is putting behind Gabbard’s campaign.

For years, the 41-year-old Gabbard, a real estate broker with Smith and Associates, has been involved with the Pinellas Realtors Organization. That group has a political action committee (PAC) which has spent thousands of dollars on mailers advocating her candidacy.

That’s legal, but Harless says it’s wrong.

“I’ve seen two Realtor PAC mailing pieces that have hit,” Harless said. “We don’t know how many tens of thousands of dollars of outside money is coming in.”

The St. Petersburg City Council recently passed an ordinance that would limit individual campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees. The measure is not scheduled to go into effect until next January.

Harless said that the issue goes to the integrity of government and the independence of the city council. He then went on to say that fifty-five percent of Gabbard’s campaign contributions have come from realtors or people involved with real estate, contrasting that with his own donations, which he said were spread out from different businesses and groups throughout the city.

The 32-year-old Harless does not have a PAC behind him. He recently made a vow not to accept any contributions from any political organization beyond the legal limit of $1,000, challenging Gabbard to do the same, knowing Realtors were likely to begin spending money on her behalf.

Earlier, she resisted the offer, and doubled down on it again Friday at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting at the St. Pete Yacht Club (moderated by this reporter).

“My integrity would never be compromised based on any contribution that would ever be given to me,” Gabbard said, adding she is of her own mind and not beholden to anyone.

Gabbard was proud of the Realtors’ support: “We fight for property rights, we fight for homeownership, we fight for so many issues; I will never be ashamed of that.”

During the forum’s Q&A session, Team Gabbard continued to play offense on the issue. 

Joe Farrell, the director of governmental affairs for the Pinellas Realtors, and Gregory Wilson, Gabbard’s political consultant, took advantage of the opportunity to challenge Harless.

Farrell said that Harless had come before the Realtors and circled “yes” on a questionnaire asking if the group endorsed him would he accept PAC support.

What had changed since then, Farrell wondered.

Harless responded that he had accepted PAC support from other groups, but only to the maximum of $1,000. Tens of thousands of dollars coming into the community “keeps people from having integrity and being independent-minded,” he said.

Gabbard challenged that comment.

“I have incredible integrity,” she said, “and for my opponent to sit here and say that any sort of support that is legal and a community is willing to give you impugns your integrity, to me is a real slam.”

Gabbard followed up by asking if there would even be a conversation if a PAC were willing to pay money to advocate on Harless’s behalf.

A variation of that question later came from Wilson, who wondered if it was such an important issue for Harless, why didn’t he start out the campaign with such a pledge?

Harless said he appreciated the question, but returned to his default mode — saying how serious he takes the issue of money in politics: “It doesn’t just impact the election prior … It impacts the policy-making the election occurs.”

The legal staff with city of St. Petersburg strongly advocated the council reject the measure, pointing out that they were likely to be sued in court. Legal fees could rise into the millions of dollars, they said.

In debates, both candidates had opposed the measure, with Gabbard admitting at a candidates forum last weekend that the arguments for the measure made at the city council meeting were so compelling she “could have been swayed.”

When the moderator noted that was a change from her earlier position, she disputed it.

“I could have been swayed,” she clarified.

“My concern with the actual ordinance itself is the legal ramifications of it, she said. “We have a lot of things to pay for in this city, and the thought of us potentially having $2-4 million lawsuits that could come out of this, I don’t see where that is prudent of our taxpayers dollars to actually be spending it to fight a fight that, honestly, has been lost in many other communities in the past.”

Gabbard continued: “I can’t say 100 percent that I would have changed my vote on that dais.”

Both candidates are Democrats in what is officially a nonpartisan race, and each have received plenty of endorsements.

Harless was endorsed (or “officially recommended”) by the Tampa Bay Times and by Councilman Jim Kennedy, who occupied the District 2 seat for the past decade.

Gabbard touts the backing of Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

District 2 encompasses the Gateway/north of Gandy area, but (as in the other two city council races on the ballot) the entire city gets to weigh in Nov. 7.

Hillsborough NAACP head Yvette Lewis takes on the establishment at Cafe Con Tampa

In one of the highest profile appearances since her election in July as chair the Hillsborough County NAACP, Yvette Lewis took a shot at some of the most prominent establishment names in Tampa.

During Friday’s Cafe Con Tampa at the Oxford Exchange, Lewis shared brutally honest thoughts on several topics: A lack of diversity at the University of South Florida, issues with former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor‘s policies and her failure to connect with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

For seven years, Lewis served as chair of the political action committee for the longtime civil rights organization, before moving up to lead the group this summer. Through that, she had become very familiar with the issues roiling the black community in Tampa and Hillsborough County over the past decade.

On example was two years ago, when the NAACP was prominent in calling for the formation of a citizens review board to review the Tampa Police Department’s policies and procedures following the Tampa Bay Times “biking while black” expose in the spring of 2015.

The Times reported the TPD had written more bike tickets from 2012-2014 than police departments in St. Petersburg, Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando combined, and that eight of 10 were black. A subsequent review in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice surmised that the policy was neither discriminatory nor effective.

“We have never received an apology from the Tampa Police Department,” Lewis said at the well-attended breakfast meeting.

At the time, Jane Castor led the TPB. Castor has already formed a political action committee as she eyes a run for Tampa Mayor in 2019. But if she does run, the “biking while black” story will be something that she will have to address.

“She knew what she was doing,” Lewis said. “She was targeting African-American people on bicycles.”

There are also significant concerns in Tampa’s black community about representation on the City Council.

For decades, the District 5 seat, currently held by Frank Reddick, has been considered the Council’s “black seat,” but there is concern that Tampa voting maps will change as county officials start the process of redistricting ahead of the 2019 city elections.

Hillsborough County planning officials say that since the last redistricting process, the African-American population in district 5 has already dropped from 61 percent to 53.8 percent. Lewis and other members of the black community fear if the Channelside district is included in the zone, there will be no African-American representation on Council.

“If someone decides to run for that district in Channelside, our voice has been silenced, and it is gone,” she intoned dramatically.

While former Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena agreed with Lewis about the importance of black elected officials on the council, she said it was as essential to elect like-minded lawmakers.

“You need four votes to make anything happen,” she said about getting anything passed on the seven-member board. Saul-Sena also noted that it was crucial to get people out to vote and that East Tampa has the worst voting percentage of any part of the city.

“You need four votes to make anything happen,” Saul-Sena said about getting anything passed on the seven-member board. It was important to get people out to vote, she added, saying that East Tampa has the worst voting percentage of any part of the city.

The voting percentage is weak because you haven’t given people a reason to vote, Lewis shot back.

But it was USF — the institution as well as its main players — receiving Lewis’s greatest wrath Friday.

Joanne Sullivan, community relations director for USF Health, said some members of the NAACP spoke at the USF Board of Trustee’s meeting Thursday. They had “made a very eloquent statement about what they are hoping to see at USF,” she said, adding: “On behalf of USF, let me just say that your voice has been heard, and there are interests at making things better.”

If that was intended to mollify Lewis, it didn’t work.

“What about the students who look like me who have not received their degree who have been told, you should not be in school? What about the faculty … that don’t look like me?” she said about professors with tenure at the university.

“USF has a long way to go. USF has been an island out to their own, and they figured they didn’t need the African American people.”

A lack of diversity isn’t a new topic at the north Tampa campus. Two years ago, students rallied for diversity, saying the university had a problem.

Lewis said that black members of the faculty had been so intimidated to meet with her organization, they refused to come to their office, instead meeting at a nearby McDonald’s on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

“You tell Dr. [RalphWilcox, you tell Judy Genshaft that she needs to come and have a sit-down conversation with the NAACP ASAP,” she said to Sullivan, naming those officials who had declined to meet with the group.

In fact, lots of people refused to meet with Lewis and her group, after giving lip service about how much they care about the organization.she’s tired of it.

And she’s tired of it.

That includes Tampa’s mayor, who noticeably got cross-eyed with the NAACP during the controversy over the call for a police citizens’ review board in 2015. The NAACP, the ACLU, and several other organizations wanted it, but Buckhorn fought against it before he ultimately agreed to form the committee.

Many of those same activists have never been happy with how it was formed or the powers it had.

“We’re supposed to have yearly meetings with the mayor that has been requested, many times,” she said. “As of right now, we have been denied a meeting with the mayor. [The] same mayor that comes and visits all the old African-American churches … but he refused to meet with the NAACP.”

Buckhorn spokesperson Ashley Bauman responded that there is no regular scheduled yearly meeting and there has never been.

“He would go periodically at the request of Carolyn Collins, the former president of the local branch, if she requested but it was not a standing event,” Bauman told Florida Politics. “He has never heard from the current president and to the best of his knowledge she has never interacted with our office.”

Bauman went on to say that the city has supported the organization through funding for its ACT-SO youth programming; the mayor did so again for the most recently approved budget. ACT-SO is the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, a yearlong NAACP achievement program formed to recruit and encourage academic and cultural achievement among African-American high schoolers.

Lewis says that the past NAACP president, Benny Smalls, did call to request a meeting and received no response

“That’s his choice,” Lewis told the crowd about her lack of communications with Buckhorn. “He’s missing out on a good thing because I could give him a good conversation because I’m a beautiful black woman,” she said as the audience cheered.


Pasco’s Saint Leo U. helps students from Puerto Rico

Saint Leo University says it will provide free room and board and a discounted tuition rate of $8,500 to students from Puerto Rico, which was hit hard by Hurricane Maria.

“At Saint Leo, we live by six core values, one of which is community,” said Dr. William J. Lennox Jr., the university’s president. “We are happy to extend this helping hand and extend our community to those who have had their college careers interrupted by this devastation.”

Saint Leo, a Catholic university in Pasco County, also will waive student fees to further aid in their ability to continue their educations, a press release said. Federal financial aid and other private scholarships can be used to help pay the discounted tuition rate, but students still must pay for their own books.

The program, offered for the spring semester beginning in January 2018, will be for students currently enrolled in Puerto Rican colleges and universities.

“Our hope is that those displaced will have an opportunity to continue their studies here for a semester and be ready to return to their primary institutions, still on track to graduate on time,” said Dr. Mary Spoto, acting vice president of academic affairs.

Students who enroll at Saint Leo for the spring 2018 semester under this program may choose to continue their studies at Saint Leo for the 2018-2019 academic year, provided they show satisfactory academic performance.

Going forward, regular tuition, fees, and room and board will follow the traditional cost of attendance for full-time students. However, students may be eligible for financial aid and other institutional funding at that time.

For information, contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@saintleo.edu or call (352) 588-8283 or  toll free at (800) 334-5532.


Mike Moore lands endorsement from Chris Nocco

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore’s re-election bid got Sheriff Chris Nocco’s stamp of approval Friday, his campaign announced.

“Mike Moore’s support for public safety has made us a safer county and we are better prepared to protect our citizens during natural disasters,” Nocco said. “His leadership is helping to transform Pasco County to be business friendly, developing an environment to create more jobs and opportunities. Mike Moore has a strong reputation for getting the job done and he has my strong support and endorsement.”

Moore, a Wesley Chapel Republican, has held the District 2 seat on the commission since 2014, and is the current chairman.

In addition to serving on the county commission the small-business owner serves on numerous state boards, including the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. He has also previously held board seats on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and Florida Department of Elder Affairs Advisory Council.

“I am honored and humbled to receive Sheriff Nocco’s endorsement,” Moore said. “Sheriff Nocco and his team work tirelessly every day serving and protecting the residents of Pasco County. I am grateful for his dedication and commitment to our community and appreciate his endorsement and support.”

He faces Democrat Kelly Smith in his re-election campaign.

Since filing for re-election in April, his campaign has raised More than $155,000. Smith had raised about $1,500 as of her most recent campaign finance report.

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