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Law enforcement lines up behind Ed Hooper for SD 16

Ed Hooper received two key law enforcement endorsements, as both the Florida Police Benevolent Association and Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association are supporting his bid for Florida Senate.

Hooper, a retired fire Lieutenant who served on the Clearwater City Council before spending eight years in the Florida House, is seeking to replace term-limited Republican Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16.

“As a State Representative, Hooper was a go-to lawmaker that law enforcement could rely on,” said Florida PBA President Matt Puckett in a statement Monday. We proudly endorse Ed Hooper for the state Senate and look forward to continue working with him.”

“The Sun Coast PBA is proud to endorse Ed Hooper for Florida Senate District 16,” said George Lofton, Sun Coast PBA president. “As a fellow first responder and legislator, he has shown the proven leadership that is critically needed for our community. Ed has earned the respect and the trust of the men and women who wear a badge and risk their lives for their respective communities.”

“My proudest endorsements are having the men and women of public safety supporting my candidacy,” Hooper responded. “The work they do every day keeps us safe from harm.”

The PBA represents law enforcement employees at the municipal, county and state levels.

A native of North Carolina, Hooper moved to Clearwater in 1972 and attended St. Petersburg Junior College where he studied fire science and emergency medicine studies. Hooper retired from the Clearwater Fire Department after 24 years of service. He previously served on the Clearwater City Council and eight years in the Florida House before being term-limited in 2014.

Hooper, who currently spends his time as a consultant, has a long history of involvement in the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Pinellas, and the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

SD 16 includes northern Pinellas County and southwestern Pasco County.

Recently, Hooper received endorsements from state Sens. Latvala, Jeff Brandes and Dana Young, Sheriffs Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County and Chris Nocco of Pasco County, as well as the entire Oldsmar City Council, and Florida Professional Firefighters.

Jesse Nevel protesting Paul Congemi ‘go back to Africa’ rant at rally Tuesday

Jesse Nevel

St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel is organizing a “major public event” this week in response to racially charged statements made by fellow candidate Paul Congemi.

During a recent mayoral debate, Congemi berated supporters of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, telling them to “go back to Africa.” Nevel – the Uhuru-backed candidate – has responded by announcing he will hold a “St. Pete Rally for Racial Justice and Reparations” Tuesday in the city’s downtown Williams Park.

The event begins 6:30 p.m.

During a question at a mayoral forum about opportunities for youths, Congemi went on a bizarre rant leveled against Nevel: “You and your people, you talk about reparations … The reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations … Your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama.”

Congemi continued: “My advice to you, my advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour from Tampa airport. Go back to Africa, go back to Africa.”

Video of Congemi’s comments went viral with millions of views worldwide and was picked up by international media including The Washington Post, USA TODAY, Russia Today, Teen Vogue, BET, Essence magazine and others.

According to Nevel, Congemi’s tirade has “raised concern for local government and community leaders about the city’s reputation before the eyes of the world.”

“We want the world to see, Congemi does not speak for St. Petersburg,” Nevel said in a statement.

Nevel, whose campaign theme is “Unity Through Reparations,” is running on a platform that St. Petersburg’s $500 million budget has “ample room to redirect resources to economically uplift and develop the black community.” He also suggests using funds from the Penny for Pinellas infrastructure sales tax, as well as calling for a “reparations tax” on major corporations.

The committee to elect Eritha “Akile” Cainion for St. Petersburg City Council is co-sponsoring the event. Ebony magazine recently profiled Cainion, a 20-year-old black activist running in the crowded District 6 race.

Nevel has also invited incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and former two-term Mayor Rick Baker, who is also running for his old job, to speak at the rally.

 

Former POW honored ahead of 100th birthday

Randall Edwards turns 100 on Sunday.

Think you’ve had a bad day from which you might not recover emotionally?

Randall Edwards had almost three-and-a-half years of them in a Japanese slave labor camp then went on to finish his naval career and another as an electrical engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Sunday, he will turn 100 years old.

Friends, family and officials gathered in Lakeland on Saturday for his birthday party.

Edwards joined the Navy in 1935 after growing up and going to school in “one room school houses all over we Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and Montana,” the son of an itinerant father.

He was the flag Radioman for the American Asiatic fleet when the Japanese struck the Philippines Dec. 8, 1941. The fleet later left for Australia during the Japanese five-month siege of the islands.

Edwards stayed behind on the crew of the submarine tender, USS Canopus, which the crew disguised as an abandoned vessel.

“We hid in the woods during the day and at night came back and refueled and restocked the subs, even made them ice cream,” he said.

“They went off to sink Jap ships up the coast, but the damned firing pins on the torpedoes wouldn’t fire,” in a stern brusque voice of a veteran military man.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur left the islands for Australia under presidential orders. Once the inevitable seemed imminent Edwards and the crew scuttled the Canopus on April 10, 1942, and swam to Corregidor.

As fleet Radioman, he translated the secret messages from Naval headquarters.

“The last one I translated was ‘We can’t come to help you,’” he said.

On May 6, 1942, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright surrendered all troops in the Philippines to the Japanese.

Don’t mention the names of Wainwright or MacArthur to his father, son Dr. James Edwards said.

Since he was on Corregidor at the time of surrender, Edwards said, he was not a part of the infamous Bataan Death march. Instead, he and other prisoners were sent to a prison camp in Manchuria and forced into slave labor for the MKK Corp. which became the Mitsubishi Tool Works.

In 2015, Mitsubishi Materials Corp. sent representatives to the United States to apologize. The Wiesenthal Center reported that it was the only one of dozens of Japanese companies that used prisoner of war slave labor to apologize.

“Dad said on Aug. 1 (1945) he looked out and saw the Japanese commandant walking around outside the wire in the kill zone. He found an American colonel sitting at his desk in the compound,” said his son James.

Randall Edwards said the American prisoners in Manchuria had been freed by the OSS (the forerunner the CIA) and Russian soldiers, who were as brutal to the Japanese guards as they had been to the prisoners.

But bad days were yet to be over for the Navy Radioman, his son added.

“The Victory Ship transporting prisoners back to freedom hit a mine,” James Edwards said.

Edwards said when freed he wasn’t letting anything stop him from a full life.

“I said to myself I am going to cut a path a hundred miles wide across the country; get married, go to school have a life.”

Receiving a Silver Star and other commendations, Edwards retired from the Navy with the rank of warrant officer in 1955. He entered the University of Florida receiving an engineering degree. He then worked for the nuclear research facility at Oak Ridge until the 1970s.

But it didn’t stop there; the Veterans Administration trained him to be an advocate for veterans who had been prisoners of war. Edwards had helped many former POWs to get benefits they were entitled to but didn’t know how to receive.

After presentations from a congressman’s representative and a letter from the Secretary of The Navy by a Navy lieutenant, Edwards said to the crowd, “I would like to welcome you to my second-century birthday party which will be on July 22, 2117.”

Jack Latvala has added $225,000 of committee cash so far in July

Possible gubernatorial candidate and Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala has brought in plenty of cash this month, according to a ledger of contributions available on his committee’s website.

The Senate Appropriations Chair has raised $225,000 so far in July through his political committee, “Florida Leadership Committee,” with the single largest contribution clocking in at $50,000 from Destin-based Sterling Diversified, LLC.

Donors at the $25,000 level included The Vestcor Companies and the FTBA Transportation PAC, while another seven groups chipped in $10,000 a piece.

The unofficial tally, which runs through July 20, also shows just shy of $60,000 in expenditures this month.

The top costs for FLC were a $10,000 payment to the Whitson Group for research, $8,300 to Champion Consultants for strategy consulting and $6,400 for event tickets through Orlando Event Center Enterprises.

FLC finished June with about $3.55 million on hand according to its most recent finance report, and through the first three weeks of July that total has grown to about $3.7 million.

The next deadline for finance reports, covering all of July, is Aug. 10.

Latvala said earlier this month that he would formally announce whether he is running for governor on Aug. 16.

If he put his hat in the ring, one of his Republican Primary opponents would be Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has more than $10 million socked away in his own committee, “Florida Grown.”

As Pasco County sinkhole widens, some are determined to stay put

The Florida sinkhole that swallowed two homes last week isn’t getting any deeper, but it’s getting wider, officials said Wednesday — and one resident who’s back home after being evacuated is vowing to stay unless the hole consumes her house.

“I’m apprehensive, a little nervous,” said Patty Camunas, 57, whose family lives near the sinkhole.

But she added, “Where are you going to go? There are sinkholes all over Florida. Unless something happens that the sinkhole takes my house, I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”

Camunas was at work Friday morning when the sinkhole swallowed one house about 200 feet behind hers. Her husband and daughter were home when officials told them to evacuate. They were allowed to return Saturday but decided to give it an additional 24 hours. On Sunday, they returned.

“The only thing we lost is the food from the power being shut off,” she said.

Now, she said, the main commotion on her cul-de-sac is from curious people driving to the neighborhood to take selfies with the sinkhole in the background.

During a news conference Wednesday, officials in Pasco County — a suburban area north of Tampa — said that because of the sinkhole’s growth, residents of two additional homes in the neighborhood have been warned they may need to evacuate. They were told to gather their possessions in preparation of leaving, said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County’s assistant administrator for public safety.

Five homes near the sinkhole already had been evacuated.

“This is not a time for panic. We have somebody out here monitoring this sinkhole, monitoring the expansion. We will let people know in plenty of time that they need to get their stuff together and be ready to go,” Guthrie said. “When we say, ‘Now is the time to leave.’ It’s time to leave. It’s not time to pack things up.”

The edges of the sinkhole are caving in because there’s no support for the sandy soil as it dries out, officials said.

It’s now about 235 feet (72 meters) wide, about 10 feet (3 meters) wider than it was several days ago. It remains 50 feet (15 meters) deep.

As the water in the sinkhole recedes, the sand on the right-angled banks can’t support the weight of the ground and it’s giving away. Engineers believe the solution lies in quickly getting dirt into the area to create a sloping bank that can keep the edges of the sinkhole from falling in, Guthrie said.

“We’re working to that end right now,” Guthrie said.

Engineers hope to start bringing in dirt and removing debris over the weekend, or early next week.

None of 20 water wells tested came back positive for E. coli, but water samples from 17 of the wells will be re-tested for any signs of contamination. Greg Crumpton, a local health official, said elements found in water from those wells may be the result of improper maintenance by homeowners, but health officials want to make sure it’s not from the sinkhole.

Pasco County’s risk manager has told officials that the response to the sinkhole could cost at least $1.5 million but it will be likely much more, Guthrie said.

For Camunas, a lifelong Florida resident who built her home in Pasco in 1982, sinkholes are part of life. She’d heard about a sinkhole in years past in another part of her subdivision.

Florida is highly prone to naturally occurring sinkholes because there are caverns below ground of limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water.

Acidic rain can, over time, eat away the limestone and natural caverns that lie under much of the state, causing sinkholes. Both extremely dry weather and very wet weather can trigger sinkholes. State geologists generally consider March-September “sinkhole season” because that’s when the state receives most of its rainfall.

In 2013 in Florida, a 37-year-old man was killed when a hole opened up underneath his bedroom. That sinkhole, which garnered international headlines, opened in Hillsborough County, about an hour south of the sinkhole that swallowed two homes this month.

Engineering experts said it was too dangerous to retrieve the man’s body, so they demolished the home and filled the hole with gravel.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jack Latvala to hold roundtable on opioid crisis

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala will head to a college campus in Lake Worth next month for a roundtable discussion on the opioid epidemic.

The Clearwater Republican Senator and possible gubernatorial candidate was invited to come to Palm Beach County by Senate colleague and Delray Beach Democrat Kevin Rader, as well as Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.

“Opioid abuse is a crisis facing our entire state,” Latvala said in a statement. “It’s costing lives and money. In fact, Florida hospital charges related to the heroin epidemic top $4 million a day. But the crisis seems to be affecting Palm Beach County more than many other parts of the state with more than 300 opioid overdoses in Palm Beach County already this year.”

The roundtable will be held at the Lake Worth campus of Palm Beach State College from 9:30 am to noon on Aug. 8, a week before the longtime lawmaker plans to announce whether he will run for governor.

“I want to get this done before that so it doesn’t get tied up in politics,” Latvala said. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with the governor’s race.”

Rader has been pushing for the Legislature to address the opioid epidemic, most recently during the special Legislative Session where he told his fellow senators that the epidemic “affects every person in the state of Florida. They know someone – their family member, a friend. It is devastating our communities and we must do something and act next session.”

In May, Republican Gov. Rick Scott declared the opioid epidemic a statewide public health emergency. Along with the declaration, Scott ordered state Surgeon General Celeste Philip to keep orders of overdose reversal drug Naloxone coming into the state so Florida first responders could have easier access to the life-saving drug.

Opioids were the direct cause of 2,538 deaths in Florida in 2015, and were a contributing factor in an additional 1,358 deaths.

Mayoral candidate tells black residents to ‘go back to Africa’

St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Paul Congemi let loose a racially charged diatribe at a candidate forum Tuesday night.

Congemi’s spiel came shortly after Uhuru-backed Jesse Nevel responded to a question about recreational development and youth opportunities by saying he was committed to “reparations” for St. Pete’s black community, which he said had suffered under the current administration.

“Mr. Nevel you and your people talk about reparations. The reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations,” Congemi said to Nevel. “Your reparations, your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama.  My advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour from Tampa airport. Go back to Africa. Go back to Africa. Go back!”

Nevel’s campaign is backed by the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, which believes reparations can begin to mend racial inequality. Nevel has also highlighted other racially tinged issues, including gentrification and police violence against minorities. His campaign slogan: “Unity Through Reparations.”

Congemi told The Washington Post that Nevel and the group that backs him lack real solutions and are “unhappy about the whole system in America.”

Conversely, he said, he has “nothing against African-Americans who are doing their best here in America.”

Congemi’s comments didn’t play well with the crowd or the other candidates. In a video of the episode, you can hear one woman telling Congemi to “get out of here,” which caused him to pause. Another attendee yelled out that he was a “non-factor” in the race.

The second statement is likely true of the third-time mayoral candidate, who goes by the nickname “The Truth.” He garnered less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote in both his 2009 and 2013 runs for mayor.

Congemi told The Post he was a lifelong Democrat who switched allegiances after then-President Barack Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage.

Now, he’s a Republican and a Trump supporter.

Congemi, a perennial mayoral candidate, has a colorful background in the St. Petersburg area.

In 2009, he was banned from a St. Petersburg KFC, during one of his frequent bids for mayor, after police were called when he got into a shouting match with employees over delays with his food.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Congemi told officers at the scene: “Don’t touch me. I am running for mayor, and once I get elected you will be fired.”

Later, Congemi said at a forum that firing the officers would not have been an abuse of power, but “justice.”

In early 2017, Congemi was in trouble again — this time arrested for felony elder abuse when his 87-year-old mother was admitted to intensive care for bed sores so bad that doctors could see bone, according to a police report obtained by the Times. Charges were ultimately dropped.

Describing that arrest, Congemi defended his actions, saying his mother with switching providers and had only been without home health care for a day and a half. He had posted $10,000 bail.

“I want the people of St. Petersburg to know that I’m not dropping out,” Congemi told reporters at the time.

In addition to Congemi and Nevel, current Mayor Rick Kriseman, former Mayor Rick Baker, Anthony Cates and Theresa Lassiter participated in the forum.

Baker was the next candidate to speak after Congemi and he quickly condemned his racially-tinged remarks.

The primary is set for Aug. 29, and if no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters will be held in November.

Ed Hooper endorsed by Florida Professional Firefighters

Ed Hooper has received the endorsement of Florida’s Professional Firefighters.

The organization announced during its 73rd annual convention in Sarasota this week it was backing Hooper, a Clearwater Republican, in his Senate District 16 race in 2018. In a statement, Jim Tolley, the organization’s president and CEO, said it was honored to have worked with Hooper during his time in the Florida House and looked forward to the “same relationship in the Florida Senate.”

“We are excited to have a firefighter in the Florida Senate. Your 24-year career in the fire service, as well as your service on the Clearwater City Council, gives you unique insight into the needs of today’s fire service,” said Tolley. “We believe that you will continue to faithfully serve the citizens of Florida as a Florida Senator. Likewise, your leadership will serve the interests of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the men and women who have made the protection of life and property their life’s work.”

Hooper is vying to replace Sen. Jack Latvala in the Florida Senate in 2018. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, can’t run for re-election because of term limits.

Trulieve opening medical marijuana dispensary in St. Pete

Medical marijuana dispensary chain Trulieve announced it will open up its first dispensary in St. Petersburg Wednesday.

“We have a large and rapidly growing patient base in the Tampa Bay area and we’re thrilled to expand our service to them,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers. “We will be opening more dispensaries throughout the remainder of this year.”

The new location, situated on 4th Street North in the Riviera Bay area, marks the company’s ninth dispensary in the Sunshine State.

The company will officially open its doors in St. Pete after a press conference and guided tour of the dispensary Wednesday morning.

Trulieve opened its Clearwater location last year and opened for business in Tampa in January. The company also has dispensaries in Edgewater, Jacksonville, Miami, Pensacola, Tallahassee and Lady Lake.

The dispensary will carry an assortment of low- and high-THC products with various delivery methods including capsules, vaporizers, and tinctures.

Among Trulieve’s products is a Cannatol-based rescue nasal spray that can quickly stop seizures if taken at the onset.

In order to receive marijuana-based products from the dispensary, customers will have to produce a Medical Marijuana Use Identification Card from Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

To apply for the ID, patients must be Florida residents and need to be added to a state registry of qualifying patients by a physician.

J.D. Alexander opts out of Senate race

JD Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican who wielded great influence in the Florida Legislature for four years in the Florida House and 10 years in the Senate, said he has decided not to run for his old Senate seat again.

But he hasn’t endorsed anyone in that race yet.

“ A part of me wanted to run but I sat down on the July the Fourth week and decided the personal costs are too high for my family and business,” he said Sunday.

During his time in the Senate, Alexander, as head of the Senate Appropriations Committee basically created Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland over the initial objections of University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft and Tampa area senators.

His political tenaciousness has not let up since he left office in  2012.

He recently was credited by Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey with traveling to Tallahassee this year and getting funding for the Polk State College campus in Lake Wales restored. He was also praised for keeping a close eye on issues affecting  Polk County, particularly in the southern portion, which was part of his old district. Despite not running for the office again, it is likely Alexander will still have influence in some Senate matters.

When he reached term limits for his Senate District 26 seat, he was replaced by Denise Grimsley who had chaired the House Appropriations Committee at the time he headed the Senate committee.

Grimsley is now running for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, leaving the seat for Senate District 26 vacant in the 2018 elections.

Alexander has endorsed Grimsley for the Cabinet post. His cousin former Rep. Baxter Troutman, a Winter Haven Republican, also has opened a campaign for the post. Both men are grandsons of the late citrus magnate and one time gubernatorial candidate Ben Hill Griffin Jr. and have clashed over politics and business interests in the past.

He also has endorsed current Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam who is running for governor next year.

But so far Alexander has not endorsed in the Senate race. Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican is the only one to have officially announced although at least one other Republican House member is rumored to be considering it.

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