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Luis Viera files for re-election on Tampa City Council; Jim Davison could challenge


In 2016, Luis Viera defeated Jim Davison by just 65 votes to win Tampa City Council District 7.

Could there be a rematch in 2019?

“I haven’t decided,” Davison said Friday morning, the day after Viera officially filed for re-election.

In fall 2016, the two men engaged in an intense battle for the North Tampa seat, emerging as the two top candidates from an original field of six in the special election to succeed Lisa Montelione, who vacated her seat for a state House bid.

On Thursday, Davison spoke in front of the council, telling them he didn’t believe that the city needed to fund a new fire station in the district, specifically at County Line Road and Trout Creek Drive.

Viera disagrees with that notion, saying it goes directly to the challenges that New Tampa faces.

“You have more and more residential development out there in those neighborhoods,  and you need amenities, you need basic local government services like police and fire,” he says.

Viera is also proud about that $1.95 million was procured in lsat year’s budget for an expansion of the New Tampa Recreation Center in Tampa Palms, and $90,000 in funding for design and development of a  “sensory-friendly” park in the district.

Viera is a Democrat and an attorney. Davison is a Republican and an emergency room physician. Both live in the New Tampa Hunters Green neighborhood.

Viera is a former chair of the Hillsborough County Bar Association Diversity Committee and had chaired the City of Tampa Civil Service Board. He’s also the founder and President of Lawyers Autism Awareness Foundation and previously served on the Board of Tampa Bay Best Buddies, an organization which assists and advocates for people with special needs and developmental disabilities.

During his time on the Council, Viera helped found the North Tampa Veterans Association.

Davison co-founded the New Tampa Transportation Task Force and served on other transpiration committees, including the “Committee of 99,” which endorsed a sales tax to pay for transportation improvements.

In the primary, Davison won the most votes with 30 percent of the electorate. Viera was second with 22 percent.

Davison had been asked by officials with the Hillsborough County Republican Party to consider a run for the state House, as well as the District 7 contest, he said.

Although he hasn’t decided, Davison is actually more focused on working on a transportation plan.

“I haven’t burned any bridges,” he said. “I’m still talking to people who want to raise money for me, but I haven’t given the go-ahead.”

Viera is one of three incumbents on the Council seeking re-election in 2019, along with Charlie Miranda in District 2 and Guido Maniscalco in District 6. The remaining five Council members are term-limited.


John Dingfelder first to file for City Council District 3 race

John Dingfelder, who served on the Tampa City Council from 2003-2010, wants back in; he filed Friday as a candidate for the citywide District 3 race.

The seat is currently held by Council Chair Yolie Capin, who is term-limited in 2019.

The news is no surprise, as Dingfelder told Florida Politics last summer that he was definitely going to run again in 2019, with the only question being which seat he would seek.

During his earlier reign in office, the 61-year-old Dingfelder represented the South Tampa District 4 seat. He had seriously considered running for that seat this time but instead will run in District 3, one of three citywide seats on the seven-member board.

Since leaving the Council in 2010 (where he was unsuccessful in vying for a Hillsborough County Commission seat), Dingfelder spent most of his time in his full-time job as an attorney, including a stint representing the ACLU when Tampa hosted the 2012 Republican National Convention.

He’s also been involved in some real estate transactions and served as an alternate on the city’s Variance Review Board.

Observers will recall that Dingfelder represented a progressive wing of the council during the aughts that also included Mary Mulhern and Linda Saul-Sena. On several crucial votes during the Pam Iorio era, the trio could not find a fourth council member to back their proposals.

The city elections in Tampa are March 2019.


Sally Boynton Brown visits Tampa, miffing some Democrats

Former Florida Democratic Party president Sally Boynton Brown is in Tampa Thursday night to lead a “progressive message trailing” session.

Some Hillsborough Democrats aren’t happy about Brown coming to town.

The former executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party was hired in April 2017 by then-FDP chair Stephen Bittel to replace longtime President Scott Arceneaux.

But Boynton Brown’s tenure ended unceremoniously last November, days after Bittel resigned when POLITICO reported he had been accused of inappropriate and demeaning behavior toward women.

Bittel resigned November 16, the same day the story hit the internet.

Boynton Brown initially suggested she would stay with the party, but soon came under criticism during the following weekend for defending Bittel. Two former staffers also accused her of “enabling” Bittel’s misconduct toward women in the workplace, as reported by Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics.

In a letter to party members, Boynton Brown said she had never experienced the behavior ascribed to Bittel in the POLITICO story and said she was treated as a “full-partner.”
“In my experience, Chairman Bittel has been refreshingly open to feedback, given by myself and others, about his conversational style and modified his approached when he learned that others found it off-putting,” Brown wrote to party members.

At the time, two women told Florida Politics they were upset reading Brown’s letter because she put the responsibility on victims to come forward, even though as a top staffer, she knew about the misconduct and did nothing about it.

“She is trying to cover her ass (with the letter),” one woman told Ceballos. “And it is disgusting.”

Immediately after Boynton Brown’s resignation, some Florida Democrats argued that it was wrong that she had to go; the invitation for  Thursday night shows she still has supporters in the party.

While the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee is not an official sponsor of the event, Party Chair Ione Townsend said that Boynton Brown has “tremendous grassroots” support for work during her short tenure at the FDP.

Townsend said election victories of Miami state Sen. Annette Taddeo and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was indicative of Boynton Brown’s competence within the Party and “people recognize that.”

Others disagree.

“Miss Boynton Brown has her supporters and her detractors, including strong advocates in the ‘Me Too’ movement,” said Hillsborough County Democratic State Committeewoman Alma Gonzalez. “As a result of that division of feelings toward her, I think it’s currently in the best interest of the Florida Democratic Party to move beyond this moment.”

Another longtime Hillsborough County Democrat — who wished to remain anonymous — was incredulous that party members were calling on Boynton Brown for consulting advice.

“She saw all this sexual harassment sh*t that went on day after day after day at the Florida Democratic Party with Stephen Bittel, and to invite her down is mind-boggling,” one man said, adding that this was a gift to the GOP in the wake of Donald Trump.

“Twenty million people in Florida and this is who you have to teach you strategy?”

Sponsoring Thursday night’s event was the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Tampa Bay, the South Tampa Democrats, the Pasco Democratic Executive Committee and Plant City Democrats.

“I know you’ve heard (criticism) from a couple of Democrats, but that’s not a widely held position,” Townsend added.

Guns on the minds of Tampa high schoolers registering to vote

With the horrific Broward County school shooting fresh on their minds, hundreds of King High School students in Tampa registered (or pre-registered) to vote Wednesday for the upcoming midterm elections.

Twice a year, Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer takes staff members to every high school in the county to register students 18 years old or older, as well as pre-registering 16 and 17 year-olds.

Pre-registering is the process of collecting relevant information from the prospective voter, who will then be sent a notice once he or she turns 18. They are then officially registered to vote.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been the driving force in renewed calls for gun-control measures following the February 14 massacre where former student Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and wounded over a dozen more.

Soon afterward, thousands of students and their families traveled to Tallahassee, hoping to persuade state lawmakers to enact gun safety measures; student protests against gun violence have also sprung up throughout the state, including one held Friday afternoon in Tampa.

At King High, students weighed in on guns and the opportunity to participate in the American electoral system.

“I would like a candidate who would focus on more gun control,” says 18-year-old senior Brabianne Banatta, who believed it’s more suitable for a teacher to possess a Taser than a gun that fires bullets.

As for arming teachers, “it’s not really a good environment,” Banatta said. “You never know what the person is feeling or what they’re going through … stress can also be a factor, too.”

Kishana Stephens turns 18 on May 22. She pre-registered Wednesday as a Democrat. A native of Jamaica who only became a U.S. citizen in 2012, Stephens is very excited to participate in the electoral process.

Acknowledging the power of the Second Amendment, Stephens supports a ban on assault rifles.

“Nobody should be able to have certain weapons,” she said, agreeing with moving the age to buy a gun to 21 (a proposal currently floating in the Florida Legislature).

“We have the right to bear arms,” said 18-year-old Cody Tom. “(But) if people are going to use it for the wrong reasons, I think it should be way stricter than who’s currently able to obtain these weapons.”

Tom believes that teenage youth do have the ability to change the future “with everything that’s going on.” But other issues deserve attention, he said, like the ongoing conflict in Syria.

“There are people dying there every day,” Tom said. “It doesn’t get half the attention as when something happens on our own soil.”

On May 1, Hamza Elalami turns 18. A registered independent, he predicts that “the kids” will start voting for Democrats because “the Republicans don’t really believe in gun control.”

Latimer says King High has consistently been one of the most active high schools in the county in getting students registered or preregistered. His staff made presentations before two different groups of over a hundred students gathered in the school auditorium, handing out tablets for those already 18 years old.

Getting such students registered or pre-registered has never been an issue, Latimer says. It’s getting them to vote. That’s because, in Hillsborough, the bloc of 18-25 years old is the second largest group of voters, trailing only the group aged 66 years and older.

However, on average, the 18-to-25-year-old group votes less than 10 percent of the time. Whether that changes in this midterm election year will be known shortly after November 6.

Gus Bilirakis defends 2013 opposition to Violence Against Women’s Act

Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis is facing heat over a five-year-old vote against the Violence Against Women’s Act.

Since 1994, Congress has taken every opportunity to reauthorize the Act, which provides protections for victims of domestic violence. However, in 2013, several congressional Republicans pushed back hard against reauthorization — a group that included Bilirakis. 

The legislation funds rape crisis centers and hotlines and community violence prevention programs. It also helps victims evicted from their homes because of domestic violence or stalking and offers legal aid for survivors of domestic violence.

Now, in a fundraising email this week, Democrat Chris Hunter, who is running for Florida’s 12th Congressional District, attacks Bilirakis for his opposition five years ago.

“He voted against extending safety protections even though the Violence Against Women Act enjoyed support from people in both parties,” writes Hunter, a former federal prosecutor. “Violence does not discriminate and neither should Congress. Voting to deny safety protections was shameful.”

Bilirakis’ deputy chief of staff Summer-Star Robertson explains his 2013 “no” vote: He was advocating a clean reauthorization of the original Violence Against Women Act and voted in favor of a substitute amendment to the Senate version sponsored by Michigan Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

That version also ensured protecting women from abusive and dangerous situations while offering proper support to victims and prosecution of offenders to the fullest extent of the law, Robertson added.

Nevertheless, she said Bilirakis couldn’t support the final passage of the Senate version because it contained new provisions “that he believed could have negative consequences … Specifically, the final version of the bill diverted a large amount of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs without any substantial proof or coherent argument that such a transfer would lead to more convictions or greater protections for women.

“Having been a state appropriator, he strongly believes state policymakers should have retained the discretion and flexibility to determine how those funds could best be utilized to meet the needs of women in their states in the most effective manner possible.

“Additionally, he had significant Constitutional concerns about newly added language in the final bill granting tribal courts criminal jurisdiction over cases involving non-Indians.”

Also in opposition was Florida Republican Marco Rubio, one of just 22 U.S. Senators who also voted in 2013 against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women’s Act.

Rubio’s stated opposition echoed Bilirakis; he disagreed with how the bill shifted funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs and took power out of state hands. Rubio also opposed a provision allowing Native American tribal governments greater jurisdiction in abuse cases, giving tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Native American men.

Hunter is one of four Democrats in the CD 12 contest this year; the others are Robert Tager, Matthew Thomas, and Stephen Perenich.

Last-hour effort to delay USF System consolidation fails

Ever since legislation calling for consolidating the University of South Florida System was unveiled in mid-January, officials from the St. Petersburg community have raised serious objections.

The bill, sponsored by Estero Republican Ray Rodrigues (HB 423), would make USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee operate separately from the main campus in Tampa under its own accreditation. USFSP received accreditation in 2006 and USFSM followed suit in 2011, creating the USF System.

As the bill was introduced in the House Education Committee Tuesday afternoon, two Pinellas lawmakers introduced amendments that would improve the fate of USFSP.

St. Petersburg Democrat Ben Diamond‘s amendment was the more dramatic measure, effectively putting consolidation efforts on hold for another year.

It would appoint a study committee, comprised of students, faculty members and administrators from all three USF campuses, as well as members of the business community, to study consolidation of the separate campuses. They would then write a report and submit it to the Legislature before the 2019 session begins.

“My concern with what we’re doing … is that there hasn’t been the community discussion in Pinellas County yet as to this consolidation,” Diamond said. “I’m concerned that we’re rushing into this before we have a chance to hear from our community.”

Diamond then read off a host of local groups he said were extremely concerned about consolidation, namely the Pinellas County Commission, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and the Pinellas County Economic Development Agency.

The St. Petersburg Democrat said he personally had several questions he believed needed additional vetting: What are the admission standards at each university? How will consolidation affect the curriculum? How is the governance structure changed if they are not separately accredited institutions?

But Rodrigues rejected his gambit, saying he believed that USF Tampa was on the verge of making “preeminence,” the state designation that rewards Florida’s top universities with millions of dollars. Such a delay would prevent Manatee-Sarasota and USFSP from enjoying the bounties of that achievement.

“All students that get a degree that says USF will be benefitting from that preeminence,” Rodrigues told the committee. “If we delay, then the money that is going to come to the University of South Florida would be invested in Tampa, because those would be the only students that have contributed to the metrics that have made them preeminent.”

Rodrigues added that USF System President Judy Genshaft and the state’s Board of Governors support his bill.

While the Diamond amendment went down to defeat (with Pinellas Republicans Chris Latvala and Larry Ahern voting no), Rodrigues did encourage the committee to back  Ahern’s amendment that would make USFSP and USFSM official USF campuses and not universities by 2020.

It also requires the USF board of trustees to publish a “biennial regional impact report,” which would get into the specifics of how USF is funding programs across its three counties.

That accountability report will also have to include statistics about research and infrastructure, student access to new degree programs and any changes in how students are performing and enrolling, among other things.

Newly elected Sarasota County Democrat Margaret Good asked what the harm was in delaying the implementation of the consolidation for another year to allow for a study to be conducted.

Rodrigues stuck to his previously declared bottom line: USF was approaching preeminence, and it’d be a shame if the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee universities couldn’t share in the money that comes with that distinction.

Ray Pilon planning return to House District 72

Former Rep. Ray Pilon is planning a return to the Legislature, but it isn’t due to the seismic shakeup caused by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s announcement that he won’t run for re-election.

The Sarasota Republican said in an email to Florida Politics that he plans to file for House District 72, the seat he held before running for state Senate in 2016.

Republican Alex Miller took over HD 72 when Pilon left, but stepped down after less than a year in office. Earlier this month, Democrat Margaret Good bested Republican James Buchanan in the special election to replace Miller.

Since HD 72 is held by a Democrat, it hasn’t been as ripe for speculation after Rooney’s bombshell announcement.

Nearly every other officeholder in the Sarasota area has been pegged as a potential candidate for Florida’s 17th Congressional District, or at the very least Sen. Greg Steube’s SD 23, which is opening up due to his own aspirations for Rooney’s seat.

Pilon had even been floated as a possible candidate for CD 17, but HD 72 it is.

When Pilon files, he’ll join Good, Libertarian Alison Foxall and Republican Alexandra Coe in the race.

Coe filed for the HD 72 special election, but failed to qualify for the ballot.

Pilon ran up the score in past elections to HD 72, but it remains to be seen whether the so-called “blue wave” that pushed Good past Buchanan will be present come November.

Pilon beat Democrat Greg Para with 58 percent of the vote in 2014, and in 2012 he defeated Democrat Liz Alpert 54-46. In 2010 he scored a 3-point victory over Democrat Keith Fitzgerald in the old House District 69.

Neither Good nor Foxall have filed campaign finance reports for the 2018 race due to the special election cycle, though Good was able to pull in plenty of money in that contest.

She had nearly $75,000 on hand in her campaign account and $28,124 in her political committee days before the election.

Final campaign finance reports from the special election are due in May.

‘Manners’ time: Republican John Houman still running for SD 20

With Thonotosassa Republican state Sen. Tom Lee widely expected to leave his Senate District 20 seat in Hillsborough County sometime after the Legislative Session ends to run for Chief Financial Officer, who will take his place?

Tampa’s Shawn Harrison and Zephryhills’ Danny Burgess are two names that have been floated. But there’s already a Republican in the race: John Houman.

You may know him by his nickname: “Mr. Manners.”

Houman ran two years ago as a Republican in the heavily Democratic Senate District 19, where he received over 55,000 votes before losing to Democrat Darryl Rouson by 63-37 percent.

After that drubbing, he came back and filed in January 2017 for the SD 20 seat, where he has raised no money despite being an official candidate for the past year.

Houman writes on his website that for most folks, manners “means no f–ting or picking your nose.”

But “manner’s [sic] are the way we interact with each other,” he writes. “The way we communicate with the people around us about our feeling on interpersonal relationship’s [sic].”

Houman says that he believes in “decriminalizing non-violent crimes,” says he’s pro-life, believes in government oversight, and calls for changing the legal drinking age in Florida to 18, but for active-duty service members only.

“If you’re brave enough to serve your country, your [sic] man or woman enough to drink in Florida!” he writes.

Pinellas County clerk endorses Nick DiCeglie for HD 66

Republican Nick DiCeglie announced Monday that Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Ken Burke has endorsed his campaign for House District 66.

“Nick has all the qualities to make for an outstanding legislator,” Burke said. “He is a leader in his community and church. He is a good father and husband. He is the owner of a successful business.

“All of these attributes are needed to make the right decisions for the future of Florida. Our State needs independent thinkers like Nick to serve in the Florida Legislature. It is my honor to be counted among his supporters.”

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

“I’m honored to have the support of Ken Burke,” DiCeglie said in a press release. “Ken is a well-respected leader within our party and to many throughout Pinellas County. I appreciate his guidance and look forward to working together on policies that protect our conservative values for the future of our community and our state.”

Through the end of January, Jacques held the fundraising lead with nearly $108,000 on hand between his campaign account and political committee, Protect Pinellas.

DiCeglie, who runs Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company Solar Sanitation, had about $64,000 on hand in his campaign account through the same date.

Also running for the seat are Democrat Alex Heeren and Reform Party candidate Paul Bachmann.

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

House advances proposed Water Street Tampa special district

On Monday, a House committee advanced Hillsborough County’s proposal to create a special district for funding some features of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development in the city’s Channelside neighborhood.

The House Government Accountability Committee unanimously approved HB 1393 that creates the Water Street Tampa Improvement District. Advancing the proposal are Strategic Property Partners and Cascade Investments. Tampa Republican Jamie Grant is sponsoring the bill.

Water Street Tampa has become one of the most eagerly awaited private developments in Tampa ever. At completion, it will represent 9 million square feet and include the first new office towers created in Tampa in nearly 25 years as well as retail, educational and entertainment space.

The special improvement district allows an appointed board to levy special assessments on commercial properties. The five-member board could also levy a millage rate up to one mil — $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“The special district would consist largely one entity owning all of the property, having the ability with a board approval vote to levy an assessment only on commercial tenants, with an expressed exclusion of any residential tenant,” Grant told the committee.

When the bill came before the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation last November in Plant City, state Sen. Dana Young said that the developers of Water Street Tampa could use the taxes they levy to “install and operate and maintain upscale amenities and infrastructure within the district that are far above and beyond what the city of Tampa would be able to do.”

Young, a Tampa Republican, added that they would be able to do so at no cost to city taxpayers.

Amenities could include bus shelters, enhanced landscapes and bike paths.

Taxpayer money has been previously used to help pay for fixing infrastructure in the area around the development.

Tampa’s City Council voted in January 2015 for $30 million to reimburse Strategic Property Partners for realigning roads, adding sidewalks, improving drainage and burying power cables in Channelside. Half of the funds came from Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), which allows property taxes to be reinvested into the area they came from; the rest came from Hillsborough County’s share of those taxes by way of an agreement with the city.

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