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Joe Henderson: Judy Genshaft did what many believed impossible at USF

Judy Genshaft has been many things during her nearly two decades as president of the University of South Florida.

She has been relentless. Focused. She was the center of nearly every room she entered. She had a vision for USF that probably sounded ridiculous when she arrived on campus in 2000, but then made it happen.

She wanted to turn an urban commuter college filled with nontraditional students into what it is today — a preeminent university with rigid admission and academic standards, an economic powerhouse, and focused on helping guide the Tampa Bay region into whatever the future brings.

By any measure, she has succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations except maybe her own, but her era is coming to an end.

Genshaft as first reported in Florida Politics, announced her retirement Monday from USF — effective July 2019.

In a letter to the USF community, Genshaft noted, “We are reaching milestones once reserved for universities twice our age. We are being recognized by everyone from local supporters to state leaders to national and global higher education stakeholders. We continue to make groundbreaking strides in research, student success, teaching and community impact. And we are coming together, for the good of our students, as one united, strong and dynamic university.”

On her watch, the six-year graduation rate rose from 38 percent to 70 percent. Admission standards got much tougher, a shock to some in the community who always looked at USF as a fallback option if their sons or daughters couldn’t get into Florida or Florida State.

It should be acknowledged that some of the changes at USF were launched by Betty Castor while she was President. Genshaft followed Castor and kept pushing, engineering a major overhaul of the campus both on the inside and out.

As a commuter school, few students lived on campus. That changed after a building boom of multiple residence halls. There is a Greek village. An expanding athletic presence, with more to come. The aging Sun Dome was refurbished into a first-class arena.

She engineered a $1 billion capital campaign.

She forged important business and political relationships to fight for USF’s fair share in a state dominated by leaders who attended Florida or FSU.

She sharpened USF’s identity as a medical research giant. Construction is underway on a USF med school in downtown Tampa.

On and on.

There were controversies, of course.

Shortly after 9/11, USF came under national criticism for having Sami Al-Arian on the faculty as a computer engineering professor. The U.S. Justice Department ordered Al-Arian arrested, alleging he was the leader of a jihad. Genshaft and the USF trustees board eventually fired him, landing her in the middle of a bitter debate over academic freedom.

She could be testy if crossed, as the head of USF St. Petersburg learned. She forced out USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska for mishandling preparations at the school a year ago for Hurricane Irma.

All those things are important pieces of her legacy.

But a lot of people will also think of her as an unabashed cheerleader for her university and everything that went with it. Judy Genshaft believed in USF before it believed in itself. That wasn’t easy to do.

I’m sure she’ll be given all the appropriate honors and the proper send-off before she leaves. I have no doubt we’ll see her name on the side of a building or two at some point.

I’m sure USF will conduct a nationwide search for her replacement. It will be an attractive position for a proven leader. But whoever that person turns out to be, all I have to say is this: good luck following this dynamo of a lady named Judy Genshaft.

You’re going to need it.

It’s official: Judy Genshaft to retire from University of South Florida

Judy Genshaft, the powerful academic leader who propelled the University of South Florida into national prominence, will announce her retirement later today (Monday).

On Monday morning, the university published a letter from Genshaft to the university community in which she thanked it for its support and friendship. She plans to step down as president on July 1, 2019, after holding the position since 2000.

The 70-year-old will outline her decision at a 2 p.m. press conference at the Patel Center.

“Nearly two decades ago, this university and this Tampa Bay community welcomed me, Steve and our sons into its family,” Genshaft wrote in the letter. “The impact that this community has made on me and my family cannot be overstated, and we are deeply grateful.

Members of the board of trustees and key regional political leaders were first briefed Sunday on the development, however USF officials at first would neither confirm nor deny Genshaft’s decision.

“President Genshaft has not made any announcements regarding her future,” university spokesman Adam Freeman said Sunday in a statement.

Genshaft, previously the vice president of academic affairs at the University at Albany, SUNY, came on as president of USF in July 2000 following a national search to succeed Betty Castor.

During her tenure, USF grew to be a research and engineering powerhouse, and just this summer the university obtained the distinction from Florida’s Board of Governors as a “preeminent university,” a goal Genshaft set out during her introductory speech in the year 2000.

That guarantees millions in additional funding each year to continue building the university’s academic strength.

Genshaft also welcomed the university’s first Phi Beta Kappa chapter in August, further establishing the school’s national reputation for academics. Just this past week, she announced new branding at the school, including a new academic logo.

“Like any great organization, we now have a clear, consistent brand to guide us as we continue to evolve in the future,” Genshaft told The Oracle, the campus newspaper.

During her 18-year tenure, the six-year graduation rate at the university rose from 38 to 70 percent. And during her tenure, USF became the second public university in 50 years to complete a $1 billion capital campaign.

She’s seen her share of controversies too, most notably when she suspended and later fired Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian, who at one point was arrested on charges stemming from the USA Patriot Act.

The episode regularly gets referred to as one of the biggest academic freedom cases in U.S. history. Al-Arian, who always maintained he was a scapegoat and victim of anti-Muslim hysteria post-9/11, was deported to Turkey in 2015.

But Genshaft also worked to make sure the university grew in size, population and diversity.

She has overseen a mass expansion in the number of students receiving Pell grants, which Genshaft told WUSF earlier this year would ensure education for Tampa Bay’s diverse, urban population.

“These are capable students that, with the right mentoring and the right surroundings, achieve remarkably well,” she said.

In March, she named the university’s newest chief diversity officer, who will oversee implementation of a system-wide diversity strategic plan.

For the past several years, the university wrestled with internal debate over consolidation.

The St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Bradenton campuses previously earned independently accredited, but the Legislature this year stripped the campuses of that honor. The USF system now has a consolidation process underway.

Over the course of her 18-year tenure, Genshaft tallied numerous honors for the university and herself, rising to become one of the most well-paid university presidents in the country, earning $1.18 million last year according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

She has served as the chair of the American Council on Education and was the first women ever to chair the Division I Board for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. She won the Florida Economic Council’s Richard L. McLaughlin Award in addition to numerous awards with the Tampa Bay business community. And this year she serves as the chair for the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.

USF during her time at the helm served as an incredible economic engine. University officials say innovation and economic development efforts surrounding the Tampa campus generate $400 million in statewide impact each year, sustain more than 3,000 jobs, and return more than $52 million in tax revenue to local, state and federal governments.

No announcements have been made as far as a search for Genshaft’s own successor.

Here is the text of the letter Genshaft sent to the USF community:

To the USF community, USF Board of Trustees and Florida Board of Governors:

The University of South Florida System is on a trajectory unlike ever before in its history. We are reaching milestones once reserved for universities twice our age. We are being recognized by everyone from local supporters to state leaders to national and global higher education stakeholders. We continue to make groundbreaking strides in research, student success, teaching and community impact. And we are coming together, for the good of our students, as one united, strong and dynamic university.

Because of this positive momentum, my family and I believe that this is the right time for me to step down from my post as President, effective July 1, 2019. It has been the honor of my professional career to be part of this journey since the year 2000.

USF is on the cusp of a new era because of the collective will and tenacity of the entire USF community. This year we were named a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, we were welcomed into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa national honor society, we surpassed our $1 billion goal for our Unstoppable campaign, we reached a record of $568 million in annual research expenditures and we admitted the most accomplished freshmen class in our university’s history. The USF System has transformed into a vibrant community, with millions of dollars in new residential, academic and research facilities, including our new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa. And I’m especially proud of the national recognition USF has received for our efforts to improve student success and close the graduation gap among students of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic status.

(Read about more of our accomplishments detailed in this year’s Fall Address).

All of us working together as a USF community – the students, faculty, staff, university administration, Board of Trustees, alumni, fans and supporters – is what made these achievements possible. It is this community that decided, together, to push the limits of our own potential. It is this community that will keep pushing forward as we reach greater heights of excellence.

I know that our leadership team, including our trustees, vice presidents and deans, will ensure that our strong momentum continues during the transition and beyond.

Nearly two decades ago, this university and this Tampa Bay community welcomed me, Steve and our sons into its family. The impact that this community has made on me and my family cannot be overstated, and we are deeply grateful. Thank you for your support and friendship.


Judy Genshaft
USF System President

Joe Henderson: David Straz may find he needs political skills to be Tampa Mayor

David Straz Jr. didn’t say anything wrong during the kickoff for his self-funded campaign to be Tampa’s Mayor. Give the billionaire philanthropist that much.

But as he outlined his platform in a one-minute, 52-second video, he didn’t say much that would get anyone excited either. There were a lot of platitudes and a bunch of real non-specific stuff, like this:

“We need a commonsense approach to protect our quality of life. That means focusing on people, not politics,” he said.

What exactly does that mean?

When is the last time anyone running for public office said, “You know what? We really need a whacked-out approach that will screw up everything that is good about our city. I’m going to focus on grabbing all the gold I can, and I can promise the people this: As long as you don’t ask too many questions, I won’t bother you again until it’s time to re-elect me.”

And, with all respect to Mr. Straz, if he is successful in winning, politics will be a skill he will have to master. He will have to work with people he may not like and cannot make them go away. As Mayor, he won’t wield the same authority as someone in charge of a large corporation.

A Mayor can’t just fire people because they disagree with him, no matter what “the big guy himself” (channeling my inner Ron DeSantis) in Washington would have people believe. I mean, Jeff Sessions still has a job. Robert Mueller still has a job.

Just sayin’.

Yes sir, Mr. Straz, politics are important in running a city.

David Straz, at age 75, has lived a successful life and has given back to his community. I mean, the musical Hamilton is coming next year to the terrific performing arts center in downtown Tampa that bears his name.

Drop the mic, sir.

It’s fine that he wants to choose public service, but the video bugged me on a couple of levels.

Start with the part where he said, “I am the only candidate for Mayor who has managed a large, complex institution anywhere close to the size of the city of Tampa.”

Well, he clearly is a successful businessman who built a chain of community banks in Wisconsin after sweeping floors and mowing lawns as a teenager to make some cash. He moved to Tampa in 1980, got married, sold his businesses, and started a charitable foundation.


But other candidates, including former Police Chief Jane Castor, have run large, complex institutions too. Try being a gay female in charge of a metropolitan police department. Castor did so admirably.

He also said:

“I’m a proven job creator, and I believe our city government, colleges and universities, and the business community must work together to create jobs in Tampa. That means encouraging start-ups, growing existing small businesses, recruiting Fortune 500 companies, and attracting high-paying jobs.”

Well, that’s kind of already being done.

Two-term Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been doing pretty much everything that Straz said needs to be done. The city’s downtown looks nothing like it did when he took office. He has recruited big companies, supported small business expansion, and tried hard to bring high-tech jobs here.

I know, it’s early.

Platitudes rule.

The Tampa mayoral election isn’t until March 2019, and it is being starved of oxygen now by the statewide elections – especially the Governor’s race. In pushing so hard, maybe David Straz has been told he needs to introduce himself to get some name recognition.

Fair enough.

But as we go along, I hope we hear some more specifics.

This is a job that is accountable to the people. And the people are in charge.

Neighbors sue St. Petersburg, Bezu owners over condo tower approval

Don’t reserve that unit in the Bezu condo building just yet. Neighbors around the proposed St. Petersburg development filed suit to stop the project from rising up from the ground.

The St. Petersburg Development Review Commission in September approved the 19-story tower adjacent to the Flori de Leon Apartments, and a divided City Council at a meeting earlier this month narrowly let the decision stand, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

Now, plaintiffs William Hermann, Suzanne Marks, Kelly Lee Frederick and Jack Rice filed a lawsuit against the City of St. Petersburg and property owners The Driven Ziggy asserting the proposal violated the law and won approval in error.

Driven Ziggy owns the site but First and Fourth Development is expected to develop the project should the approval survive the court challenge.

A new lawsuit says the approval should be tossed and the developers should return to the city and have to prove the plan meets the “correct burden of proof” to move forward.

Developers plan to build the Bezu project on land at the corner of 4th Avenue North and First Street North in Downtown St. Peterburg, on a site normally large enough for just two single-family homes.

Hermann, who for the past 63 years has lived in the Flori de Leon apartments next door, rallied opposition to the proposal earlier this year. The city approval process ultimately culminated in a 4-4 City Council vote on whether to negate the DRC approval, short of the required super-majority.

Marks also lives in the Flori de Leon apartments, while McFrederick and Rice, who are married, live in the Spanish Palms Condominiums, another neighboring community to the Bezu site.

Over the lengthy approval process, developers for Bezu scaled the project down from a 288-foot tower to about 180 feet and also cut out plans for nine units beyond the 20 approved.

Still, the plan as approved towered over the adjacent Flori de Leon apartments, which stand seven stories high.

Gus Bilirakis puts honor, safety and Cuban sandwich on line for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis picked a high-stakes fight with a high-ranking member of House leadership—on whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the New Orleans Saints this Sunday.

The Tarpon Springs Republican on Friday afternoon challenged Majority Whip Steve Scalise to a duel, a prelude to the NFL season opening game between his home team and that of the Louisiana Republican. By days’ end, the men had been photographed in the halls of the U.S. House of Representatives bearing fists at one another.

But the mere physical posturing seemed to satiate Bilirakis’ thirst for violence. Quickly the men laid down their arms—really just lowered them to their sides—and instead the House colleagues agreed to a wager of food goods.

Should the Saints march to victory Sunday, Bilirakis will gift a Tarpon Springs sponge and deliver a Cuban sandwich from Trinity café Havana Dreamers to Scalise. In the event the Bucs pull an upset, Scalise promised to cook up homemade gumbo—though left it unclear whether it would be of the Creole or Cajun variety.

Bilirakis now hopefully awaits a helping of Southern cuisine, optimistic the Bucs will post a victory.

“I am a loyal believer,” said the six-term Congressman. “I know from personal experience that the less flashy, behind the scenes work-horse is constantly under-estimated.  I think this is a case where the underdog comes out on top.”

Playing the role of football analyst, he predicted Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will lead the Tampa Bay team to win this first game of the season. He also continued to bring up the use of armaments to settle sporting disputes.

“With the weapons on both sides of the ball looking healthy, my belief is that the Tampa Bay Bucs will surprise the naysayers,” Bilirakis said. “I can’t wait to taste some of my friend, Steve’s, spicy Gumbo when I return to D.C.”

Scalise for his part has thus far failed to make mention of the dispute on his own social media channels, instead obsessing over immigration policy, jobs reports and other non-sports related trivia.

The New Orleans Advocate reports Scalise last year wagered a bucket of Popeye’s fried chicken with North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson when the Saints faced the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs. That bet, he won.

Alas, oddsmakers give Scalise the better chance on Sunday as well, with OddsShark predicting an 18-point win for the Saints, who host the game on their own turf. That may mean Havana Dreamers needs to figure out how to extend delivery service pretty quick.

David Straz outlines plan for Tampa’s future in new campaign video

Businessman and philanthropist David Straz put out a new campaign video Thursday outlining his vision for Tampa’s future as his campaign to take over as mayor gets fully underway.

In the two-minute video, Straz focuses on the city’s economy and doubles down on his experience as the only candidate in the crowded race “who has managed a large complex institution anywhere close to the size of the City of Tampa.”

“I’m David Straz. Since I announced my candidacy for Mayor, people have been asking me about my priorities,” he says in the video. “Here they are: Manage the budget with common sense and integrity. Grow the economy by creating jobs. And create a blueprint for Tampa’s future.

“As Mayor, I will focus on effective management of the city and its billion-dollar budget. We need a common-sense approach to protect our quality of life. That means focusing on people … not politics,” he continues.

Straz, a retired banker, expounds on his three-point plan later in the video, saying he’s a “proven job creator” who aims to foster business growth and lure new companies to Tampa. Toward the end of his policy outline, Straz says he wants to hear from his fellow Tampans on their priorities for Tampa’s future.

“I want to hear specific ideas from you on how we can protect and improve the quality of life in your neighborhood, keep our families safe and protect our environment,” he says. “As we go forward, I intend to listen to you as I develop a common-sense blueprint for Tampa’s future… a blueprint that reflects the hopes and dreams of the people of Tampa.”

The new video comes as Straz’ campaign, which has had ads on TV since mid-July, is set to hold an official kickoff event Friday evening at the El Circulo Cubano.

Straz is running in a crowded field of candidates looking to succeed two-term Mayor Bob Buckhorn next year. Also running for the seat are former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, City Councilman Harry Cohen, Sam Gibbons, Michael Hazard, LaVaughn King, businessman Topher Morrison, City Councilman Mike Suarez and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

Though there’s six months to go before the March city election, Straz has already pumped more than $1.5 million into his campaign and has spent $484,000 thus far. In both fundraising and spending he leads all other candidates combined, though Castor, Cohen and Turanchick have all raised well over six figures for their campaigns.

The mayoral election is March 5, 2019. The new mayor will take office on April 1, 2019.

Straz’ video is below.

Hillsborough transit tax referendum clears state audit

A referendum that would add a penny sales tax to fund transportation improvements in Hillsborough County has cleared a mandatory audit conducted by the state Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

Hillsborough County posted the results of the audit on their website Thursday, which were required to be completed and made available to the public by the end of the day on Thursday. Under a new state law, audits are required for a schools referendum and are backing up the citizen-led All for Transportation activist group. Analysts from the McConnell & Jones accounting firm spent four days in Tampa, reviewing reports and interviewing more than 10 school managers.

In the audit, OPPAGA gave good scores to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the county “have sufficient policies and procedures in place” to address the requirements in state law and that the ability to “ensure the newly acquired surtax dollars are appropriately spent” on transportation projects.

Additionally, the audit noted that Hillsborough County administrators handled the half-cent Community Investment Tax well and that it’s “not unreasonable” to expect the same results with the transit tax. HART was also singled out for how its administered past grants, with auditors saying the transit authority “is prepared to take reasonable and timely actions to implement new services and projects.”

The report also noted that the department has 78 vacancies, “with limited effort to fill these positions primarily due to lack of funding,” and “due to the volume of vacancies in this department, the team is currently not performing preventative maintenance on a proactive basis, which is leading to increased deferred maintenance.”

If successful in November, the OPPAGA audit would only be the first of many as the referendum would require an independent audit each year and put in place an independent oversight committee to make sure funds are spent transparently and appropriately.

The sales tax referendum made the ballot in late July by taking advantage of the seldom-used citizen’s charter amendment process.

The initiative has been heavily supported by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, businessman and philanthropist Frank Morsani and Charles  Sykes of Sykes Enterprises, each of whom pitched in $150,000 to the political committee backing the referendum, All for Transportation, in order to jump-start the eleventh-hour petition drive.

The petition drive also required grassroots support from numerous volunteers to gather the required 49,000 petition signatures, which were delivered to the to the Supervisor of Elections office just ahead of the deadline.

Recent weeks have also seen business groups including the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Downtown Partnership endorse the referendum. All for Transportation has also started ramping up its efforts to get the word out to voters by opening up a Tampa office and educating volunteers on how they can help out.

If passed, the penny-per-dollar sales tax would be in effect for 30 years starting in 2019. It’s estimated that would bring in $280 million per year to fund transportation initiatives in the county.

The money raised by the sales tax would be split between HART, which would get 45 percent of the funds, and local governments in the county, which would divvy up the other 55 percent for road maintenance and projects tackling traffic congestion.

Cruz - FRSCC TV ad

New ad hits Janet Cruz over past property tax blunder

A new ad paid for by a committee charged with maintaining the Republican majority in the state Senate is hitting House Minority Leader and Senate District 18 candidate Janet Cruz for claiming homestead exemptions on multiple properties a decade ago.

The ad, titled “Lower Taxes,” notes that even though the Tampa Democrat, who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Dana Young, slipped up on paying all of her own property taxes, she voted against a 2017 bill to increase the homestead exemption for all Floridians.

“What do you call a career politician who wants you to pay higher taxes while she plays less? Janet Cruz,” the ad’s narrator says. “Janet Cruz voted against increasing your homestead exemption but was caught red-handed illegally claiming two exemptions for herself.

“Her second exemption? This multimillion dollar bayfront mansion,” the ad says while showing a picture of the property. “For five years, Cruz cheated on over $32,000 in taxes then voted to up yours. The Janet Cruz tax plan: You pay more. She pays less.”

The ad disclosure states it was paid for by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, a political committee chaired by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano that supports Republican state Senate candidates.

Cruz indeed claimed multiple homestead exemptions from 2004 through 2008, leading the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser to place a $32,000 lien for back taxes on an Empedrado Street home she purchased in 1983. As noted in a 2010 Tampa Tribune article, Cruz had been living in a San Miguel Street home owned by her husband while her then 29-year-old son was living in the Empedrado home.

Florida law only allows property owners to claim homestead exemptions on their permanent residence or the permanent residence of a dependent. Currently, Floridians are exempt from paying taxes other than school district levies on up to $75,000 of the value of their home, depending on its assessed value.

That article also quotes an attorney for the property appraiser’s office as saying Cruz “brought it forward” rather than the appraiser’s office discovering the improper homestead exemption and added that the double exemption didn’t appear to be an intentional violation of state law. In another article, published in 2010, Cruz said she would pay the taxes rather than appeal the lien in court.

“I have always operated within what I thought was my obligation as a taxpayer. As soon as this was brought to my attention, I immediately contacted the Property Appraiser’s Office and went through the proper channels to remedy this situation,” she said in a 2010 statement. “I will certainly do what any responsible citizen would do and pay what I am obligated to pay.”

The ad comes as Cruz is set to release her first TV spot, which details her back story and her reasons for running for the northwestern Hillsborough Senate seat. Young released her first ad of the 2018 election cycle, which pitched her as a problem solver in a time of partisan fighting, in late July.

SD 18 is one of the Florida Democratic Party’s top targets for a flip in the fall and, as evidenced by FRSCC’s new ad, Florida Republicans are going to be aggressively defending the seat.

The district covers much of Tampa and has a close partisan split in voter registrations. SD 18 voted plus-6 for Hillary Clinton two years ago while at the same time electing Young with a plurality of the vote in a four-way race between her, Democratic nominee Bob Buesing and NPA candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove.

Only Cruz and Young will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Janet Cruz TV ad

Janet Cruz says she ‘understands the odds’ in first SD 18 ad

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is introducing herself to Senate District 18 voters with a TV ad covering her background and her vision for the Tampa-based district if she’s elected over incumbent Republican Sen. Dana Young in the fall.

The 30-second ad, titled “Odds,” is shot in black and white and features the Tampa Democrat recounting the story of her humble upbringing before saying she’ll look out for everyday people if she moves up from the state House to the state Senate.

“When you’re the daughter of a single mother who worked in a factory, your odds of success aren’t high, and when you become a mom at 16 they get worse,” Cruz says in the ad. “I’m Janet Cruz, and odds didn’t define me — I did.

“I finished high school, graduated college, opened a successful healthcare business and now I’m running for state Senate because I understand the odds for all of us and I will always work to put them in our favor,” she says.

Her campaign said the ad is backed up by a six-figure media buy and will start airing on broadcast and cable next week.

FCC filings show media buys for Tampa’s ABC and NBC affiliates, which are scheduled to start running the ads on Sept. 10. Those filings indicate the advertisements were paid for by the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Florida Democratic Party’s state Senate campaign arm.

Cruz expanded on her background in a press release announcing the ad buy, adding that she turned the challenging moments in her life into opportunities.

“I am running for state senate because too many families have the decks stacked against them because the powerful insiders and well-connected continue to deprive our schools of needed funding, deny access to quality healthcare and do little to protect our children from senseless gun violence,” Cruz said.

“While my opponent attacks, I am asking voters for their trust. I believe that no matter the challenge we face – if we stand together – the odds against us won’t define us in Tampa. We will,” she concluded.

SD 18 is one of the Florida Democratic Party’s top targets for a flip this fall and has a close partisan split — the northwestern Hillsborough district, which covers much of Tampa, voted plus-6 for Hillary Clinton two years ago while at the same time electing Young with a plurality of the vote.

Cruz’ ad will hit the airwaves about seven weeks after Young released her first ad of the 2018 election cycle, which pitched her as a problem solver in a time of partisan fighting.

Neither Cruz nor Young faced a challenger in the primary. Unlike two years ago, when four candidates made the Election Day ballot, the two women will be the only choices when voters mark their ballots for the Nov. 6 general election.

Cruz’ ad is below.

Dana Young and Jackie Toledo holding joint fundraiser Thursday night

State Sen. Dana Young and state Rep. Jackie Toledo, both Tampa Republicans, are teaming up for a joint campaign fundraiser Thursday night.

The reception will be held on the Yacht StarShip, which docks at 603 Channelside Drive in Tampa, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Those looking to snag a boarding pass can send an RSVP to Kristin Lamb via Kristin@FLFStrategies.com or 850-339-5354.

The host committee for the fundraiser features more than a dozen names, including Yacht StarShip captain Troy Manthey and fellow maritime industry veteran John C. Timmel, who discovered the American Victory and helped bring it down to Tampa. Also on the list are George Howell III of Holland & Knight and Jan Gorrie of Ballard Partners.

Young was elected to Senate District 18 in 2016 and is running for re-election in the fall against House Minority Leader Janet Cruz. Early polling shows the two women in a close race, though Young had a threefold fundraising advantage over Cruz as of Aug. 23.

Toledo succeeded Young in Hillsborough County’s House District 60 two years ago and is up against Democrat Debra Bellanti in the fall. To date, Toledo has raised nearly $225,000 for her re-election bid and has $135,000 on hand while Bellanti has cleared $39,000 and has $30,700 in the bank.

SD 18 is one of the Florida Democratic Party’s top targets for a flip this fall and has a close partisan split — it voted plus-6 for Hillary Clinton two years ago. HD 60, however, went narrowly for Trump as Toledo scored a 14-point win over 2016 Democratic nominee David Singer.

The general election is Nov. 6. The fundraiser invitation is below.

Dana Young & Jackie Toledo fundraiser 9.6.2018

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