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Tampa Bay sees protest of GOP tax proposals

Chanting “tax cuts will destroy us,” a group of citizens marched a block from MacDill Park to a Wells Fargo bank in downtown Tampa on Tuesday to protest the recently passed tax reform plan in the House and warn against approval of the Republican Senate’s tax reform plan that could be voted on next week.

While Democrats have criticized the proposals on a number of fronts, citizens who gathered in the protest held by Organize Now, a liberal group, focused on the potential deleterious effects in health care should the proposals come to fruition.

“I want to see tax fairness,” said Organize Now’s Debbie King. “I want to make sure that we don’t take tax breaks for corporations and pay for them with cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and other programs that regular everyday people rely on.”

The Senate Republican tax bill would force $25 billion in immediate cuts to Medicare, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That’s a move that can only be stopped with a bipartisan vote.

Republicans are working to get the bare minimum of 51 senators to pass the bill, perhaps as early as next week.

Speakers at the rally also said the tax bills could cut Medicaid, an argument that congressional Republicans insist is not the case.

“This plan is going to sacrifice retiree benefits and that money will go to the GOP tax cuts,” said Marina Welch, a former nurse. “Middle Class Americans rely on Medicaid for longterm services and support. Medicaid provides home and community based services that allow seniors to stay in their homes.”

The dispute about whether Medicaid is cut is contingent on whether the individual mandate to sign up for the Affordable Care Act is removed from the Senate tax bill.

Democrats say repealing the individual mandate would lower Medicaid spending. That’s because fewer people would sign up for insurance, according to the CBO. The change also would reduce spending on health-insurance subsidies.

“Where do you think the $300 billion is coming from?” said Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Is there a fairy that’s dropping it on the Senate?”

“There are no cuts to Medicaid,” replied Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. “There are no cuts to Medicare. Nobody is disqualified from insurance.”

At times the rally paralleled those from the past year defending the Affordable Care Act from being repealed by congressional Republicans.

Darlene Goodfellow, a self-employed real estate broker from Valrico, said while she made “significant investments” in health insurance over her life, she never filed a claim because the deductible made it partially useless. She ultimately went 21 years without seeing a doctor.

After recently signing up for Obamacare, she was diagnosed with glaucoma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type II diabetes. She said the most recent labs from her doctor now show that her health issues combined are “considered normal.”

Repealing the individual mandate from the ACA as part of the Senate tax plan would leave 13 million fewer Americans having health insurance. But it would save the federal government $338 billion in the next 10 years, according to the CBO.

The House tax bill does repeal the student loan interest deduction.

“The bill would also increase taxes on graduate students by roughly 400 percent under the GOP house plan,” said Isabel Hall, a 17-year-old senior at Hillsborough High School in Tampa. “Tuition labor that allows grad students to attend their college tuition free in exchange for working at that university will be taxed as employees. This kind of tax increase could make it financially impossible to earn a Ph.D in the U.S.”

The Senate may vote on its tax reform bill upon its return to Washington next week.

Hillsborough Democrats rally behind Jose Vazquez in HD 58 special election

Over the years, Democrat Jose Vazquez ran (and lost) several local elections, mostly without any organized support from the Hillsborough County Party.

But that is starting to change, as the Party is more energized than ever after Donald Trump‘s stunning election a year ago,

Local Democrats are now hoping to replicate the success they found in the Senate District 40 and St. Petersburg mayoral races this fall in the upcoming House District 58 special election.

Vazquez hasn’t always been an easy candidate to embrace. A Puerto Rican native with a thick English accent, he has an extensive criminal background history, including an infamous run for office as a write-in candidate in 2008 against Democratic incumbent Michael Scionti in the House District 48 race  — while still serving time in prison for a felony conviction of driving with a revoked or suspended license in May 2007.

Now on the campaign trail, Vazquez speaks about his arrest record, pivoting to use his past as a strong talking point for his support for restoring ex-felons voting rights, and the plight of poor and minorities in the criminal justice system.

“How many of you have been stopped for a bad light on your car or a cracked windshield? Or some other offense? Did you get a ticket? We’re you able to pay the fine?” Vazquez asked a crowd of fellow Democrats gathered at the Hillsborough County Children’s Board in Ybor City for the county’s Democratic Executive Committee meeting Monday night.

Vazquez explained that just two months after arriving in the U.S. from Puerto Rico in 1999, he was ticketed for a non-moving vehicle violation. He couldn’t afford to pay the fine (he was making just $7.25 an hour while working at Tampa International Airport).

Also, Vazquez was homeless at the time and thus never received notice that his license was suspended for nonpayment of the fine.

Although he received several other moving violations, Vazquez says he never received notices since he was homeless, and thus labeled a habitual traffic offender. His driver’s license was then suspended for five years, and Vazquez started using a scooter for his transportation. But even that went sour after he was arrested for a law (since rescinded) that all vehicles powered with gasoline required a driver’s license to operate.

“I have been a victim of a system that was and is still today stacked against minorities,” he said. “People who have limited financial resources and often have to make tough choices between paying fines, paying rent, putting food on the table, paying an electric bill, or hiring an attorney.”

He also told the room full of Democrats that while he was also arrested on a domestic violence charge, a charge ultimately dismissed.

Party regulars certainly accept his story — some even say that they are embarrassed over earlier failures to support him in previous races. In 2012, Vazquez ran against Republican Dan Raulerson in HD 58 without any support from the Hillsborough DEC.

In fact, the HCDEC removed any mention of Vasquez from its website in the lead-up to that election, prompting Vazquez to call on then-Party chair Chris Mitchell to resign (he didn’t).

Despite that, Vazquez still took 42 percent of the vote in losing to Raulerson, whose resignation from that same seat this summer (due to health issues) has created the need for this special election, scheduled Dec. 19.

“This is a man who was beat down by the Democratic Party,” said Hillsborough County state committeeman Ross Patterson. “He has worked and worked and worked for our party, even though we didn’t work for him.”

As a write-in candidate, Vazquez then took on Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn as his only opposition in what was otherwise a coronation for the Tampa leader, who garnered 96 percent in his re-election back in March 2015.

Vazquez, 43, is the father of six children, one with a disability. In his speech Monday night, he talked about defending the disabled, the LGBTA community, expanding Medicaid and working on improving public education.

“Unlike most of our nation’s elected officials, I’m familiar with what it is like to struggle, what it’s like to live on the margins, paycheck to paycheck, day-to-day,” he said. “Too often we elect officials who have no real understanding on what life is like across the tracks, what life is like on ‘the other side of town.'”

The crowd bought into his message — literally.

Former DEC Chair Michael Steinberg introduced Vazquez to the crowd by saying that if everyone in attendance (about 100 people) contributed $5 to his campaign, he would match that to get Vazquez $1,000 out of the evening.

He later announced Vazquez had raised $1,015.

Donna Fore, head of the East Hillsborough County Democratic Club, said her group had recently donated $500 to Vazquez campaign, and she encouraged other clubs to follow suit.

Patterson reminded the crowd that there are actually more registered Democrats in HD 58 than Republicans, even though the GOP had dominated control of the seat for several years.

Dover businessman Lawrence McClure is the Republican candidate, and there are two other players in the mix: Libertarian Bryan Zemina and Ahmed Saadaldin, who is with the Green Party (but officially non-party-affiliated) and is, by far, the most progressive candidate in the race.

Nat’l Republicans take another whack at Charlie Crist over tax reform bill

Like most House Democrats, St. Petersburg Congressman Charlie Crist voted against the GOP tax reform bill that passed last Thursday.

The House’s tax overhaul reduces the number of individual tax brackets, cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and curbs other tax breaks and deductions.

The plan, in total, would lower taxes on all income groups on average in 2019, but the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that some Americans would eventually see tax increases.

Democrats are depicting the bill as a tax cut for wealthy Americans and corporations, with middle-class families footing the bill — an issue they say they’ll be happy to run against Republicans next year.

The National Republican Congressional Committee thinks the public will side with Republicans, and they’re targeting 25 Democrats who they believe are in vulnerable districts in new 15-second digital ads that are running on Facebook.

Crist defeated Republican David Jolly by 3.8 points in 2016. Jolly says he’ll decide by January if he’ll challenge Crist again in 2018.

A new digital ad that began airing Friday depicts the former Florida governor as out of touch with his voters.

A similar ad is being run against Orlando area Democrat Stephanie Murphy.

“If anyone is looking for Stephanie Murphy or Charlie Crist — they were last seen bowing to their party bosses instead of providing essential tax relief for the people who need it most: the middle-class,” said NRCC spokesperson Maddie Anderson. “It’s a shame Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist couldn’t be a part of historic tax reform simply because of their unwavering allegiance to Nancy Pelosi.”

Ross Spano backs Joe Wicker as his successor in House District 59

Less than a week after declaring a run for Attorney General next year, Dover Republican Ross Spano has already selected the man he hopes will succeed him in Florida’s House District 59.

It’s Joe Wicker, the Brandon businessman and Iraq War veteran who finished a close second to Spano for the seat in the 2012 GOP primary in HD 59.

“I’ve had the pleasure to represent District 59 for three terms and I can think of no better candidate to serve our community next than Joe Wicker. Joe is a common-sense conservative and patriot to our nation,” said Spano. “As a small-business owner, Joe knows exactly how we can grow Florida’s economy and provide prosperity for all. As a combat veteran, Joe will continue the work of previous legislators in making Florida the most veteran-friendly state in the country. I am proud to endorse my friend, Joe Wicker, for State Representative and he has my full support.”

“My wife and I are blessed to call Representative Spano and his wife friends. They are truly committed to serving our community and have dedicated themselves to public service,” Wicker said. “During his time in the legislature, Representative Spano has tackled big issues that will have a positive, lasting impact on our state for decades to come. He leaves very big shoes to fill, but I am honored by his support and trust and look forward the work ahead in this campaign.”

Speaking Sunday at the Hillsborough County Republican Party Lincoln Day BBQ, Wicker warned of a Democratic Party takeover of the Brandon area in 2018, saying it was important to keep the HD 59 seat conservative.

“A lot of people are moving here and that’s great,” Wicker said. “A lot of people, we don’t want their politics. There’s a lot of leftists that are moving to town. It’s changing the district.”

Wicker announced his candidacy Friday, becoming the first member of either major party to declare their candidacy for the seat, which encompasses most Brandon, as well as Valrico, Dover, Seffner, Riverview, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.

 

Tax break proposed for standby generators

A Senate Republican on Monday proposed providing a property-tax exemption for permanently installed generators used to provide power when electricity goes out.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, of St. Petersburg, filed a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 974) that would ask voters next year to approve the tax exemption.

He also proposed a bill (SB 976) that would carry out the constitutional amendment. Both measures are filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January.

Under the proposals, the value of permanent generators would not be considered in determining the taxable values of properties.

The proposals come amid heavy attention on efforts by Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration to require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators that could keep buildings cool.

The issue stems from the deaths of residents of a Broward County nursing home whose air conditioning was knocked out by Hurricane Irma.

Assessing why the Tampa Bay Rowdies aren’t moving to MLS in this round of expansion

Multiple reports have surfaced showing the Tampa Bay Rowdies will be shut out in this round of MLS expansion.

Several factors are contributing to the Rowdies miss this time, when two new teams will be added. However, the Rowdies remain in contention for the next two teams, which will be announced in 2018.

According to the reports, this year’s two selections will come from Sacramento, Cincinnati and Nashville. The announcement of two new MLS franchises should take place next month.

Sacramento an established front runner

The Sacramento Republic, a Rowdies’ USL rival, has long been an established frontrunner in terms of MLS viability. Sitting in a top 20 TV market both in overall and Hispanic households, the club has been one of the few at the lower division level of North American soccer to consistently draw over 10,000 fans per game.

The ownership squabbles that threatened to derail the city’s chances earlier this year have been resolved and now the California city sits as a clear option for MLS expansion.

Nashville has surged and is a “hot” city that MLS has logical interest in

Sometimes timing and fortune play a bigger role in this process than anything else.

Nashville is currently enjoying its day in the sun as an emerging center of culture and of soccer fandom. Supporter-owned Nashville FC was successful in the amateur ranks of American soccer, prompting USL, the co-second division in North America, to award the city a franchise.

But before that team has even kicked a ball in USL, the city could be awarded an MLS team.

This summer’s US Men’s National Team match against Panama in the CONCACAF Gold Cup drew over 40,000 fans and an International Champions Cup match between English giants Manchester City FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC drew over 60,000 fans.

Unfortunately for the Tampa Bay area, comparable attendances aren’t on display. The US Men’s team played a Gold Cup match days later in Tampa which drew only 25,000 fans and the International Champions Cup opted to hold games in Orlando and Miami instead of Tampa. (It should be noted the International Champions Cup is run by a marketing company owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — therefore all but guaranteeing Miami gets high-profile matches.)

The success of FC Cincinnati in attracting fans

The biggest success story in domestic soccer in recent years has been the interest generated by recent start-up FC Cincinnati (FCC).

The Rowdies got the best of FCC on the field this year, eliminating the Ohio-based second year club from the USL Cup Playoffs. However, FCC is averaging close to 20,000 fans a game, a remarkable number for a lower division team.

The Cincinnati market is not one MLS was particularly interested in prior to the team’s marketing success. It would be one of the smallest in MLS and prior to the on-field start of this team in 2016, the market had very little history of success in the sport.

But FCC has surged to the front of the expansion line drawing crowds far bigger than anyone else in the lower divisions.

Questions about stadium plan

One former MLS general manager who had a new stadium built during his tenure told me earlier this past week that he felt the Rowdies stadium plan was “naive” and a “non-starter.”

This former GM who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity praised Rowdies owner Bill Edwards for doing what he could with Al Lang Stadium but felt the ground would simply be too small (a capacity under 19,000) and that the configuration was not “soccer-specific” enough to thwart Tampa Bay’s hopes.

The Rowdies are limited in what they can do in a congested downtown. But it is worth noting the vista provided of Tampa Bay from the stadium would perhaps represent the best TV images of a facility from the league.

St. Pete instead of Tampa

While MLS constantly talks about the need to find its teams playing in or close to downtown, some speculation has begun to surface that playing in a secondary city, which the Rowdies do and would continue to do in MLS, hurts the club’s bid.

While on the surface this might be true, much of the Tampa Bay Area’s media is housed in Pinellas. While St Petersburg is a longer drive than Tampa for many of the fans who’d flock to an MLS team, it is still in market.

Proximity to Orlando and Miami

Orlando has one of the most successful MLS clubs in terms of local interest. Miami remains a market that is being essentially gifted a team outside of the normal expansion process.

But geography didn’t help the Rowdies bid. MLS’ thinking probably should change on this as local rivalries and traveling fans are what make professional soccer around the globe much more like US college sports than North American pro sports.

A Tampa Bay-Orlando rivalry which is a holdover from the lower division days of Orlando City SC would instantly be one of the biggest MLS rivalries and a triangular “derby” including Miami also would be an instant hit.

Tampa Bay has missed out on this round of expansion but Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards remains committed to moving the team up to MLS. Considering the three solid bids described above likely represent three of the four new MLS expansion teams, the Rowdies will need to beat the rest of the competition.

Working in the Rowdies favor is a larger TV market, larger established fan base and deeper historical legacy than any of the other serious bids that could take the fourth spot.

So, not all is lost yet for Rowdies fans.

Ruta Jouniari hopes grassroots support will propel her House District 72 bid

It’s fair to say that a considerable number of people on the political left are emboldened (and embracing party politics) since the stunning election of President Donald Trump.

That’s certainly the case with Sarasota businesswoman and activist Ruta Jouniari.

Like a lot of people she knows, the 50-year-old House District 72 candidate was frustrated by “stagnation” in government.

“It’s the same bureaucrats, the same people who are paid by the big companies who are sitting there,” she laments.

“I think the rest of the country has just been neglected and left behind, and I think that we just need a voice,” she says in a recent phone interview, adding that she hopes to give that voice to the voters in HD 72, which became an open seat after incumbent Alex Miller announced in September that she was bailing out of her job, less than a year after the voters in the northern Sarasota district elected her.

Jouniari is one of two Democrats competing in the Dec. 5 primary. Also running is Sarasota attorney Margaret Good, who has the backing of the Florida Democratic Party establishment and is dominating in fundraising. The first campaign report turned in by Good showed her raising ten times more money that her opponent with $87,000 to Jouniari’s $7,400.

Yet Jouniari isn’t fazed by the discrepancy, believing she can win by relying on small donations and grassroots outreach.

“I really don’t see the need to raise $100,000 or $200,000 or $300,00 for a position that pays $29,00 a year,” she said.

Jouniari also says that unlike Good, she won’t take money from developers, claiming it’s a “direct conflict of interest.”

“She has a different stance on that,” Jouriari says of her opponent.

That’s nonsense, maintains the Good campaign.

“The act of Ruta making false statements about Margaret is getting pretty old,” replies Kevin Lata, Good’s campaign manager.

“This is a grassroots campaign. We’ve received over 300 contributions to people all across the district. To suggest anything otherwise is absurd. We were endorsed by the Sierra Club because they believe that we’re the best on environmental issues and on conservation issues.”

Jouniari and Good originally were “co-endorsed” by the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, but that was later rescinded after Good acknowledged that, unlike Jouniari, she doesn’t support immediately raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Jouniari supports such a hike, as well as a single-payer “Medicare for all” health care plan espoused by national Democrats like Bernie Sanders.

On Friday, Jouniari was endorsed by the National Nurses Union, and she’s also endorsed by the local Stonewall and State LGBTA Caucus, State Democratic Progressive Caucus, Progressive Sarasota and Stand Up 4 Democracy.

Not having been involved with party politics to any significance previously, Jouniari said she was surprised to see such a division between progressives and more mainstream Democrats, but believes it’s ultimately a healthy process for the party.

While Jouniari’s main source of income is from an international staffing company that works with the federal government to place veterans in jobs, she also co-founded a nonprofit medical clinic that provides free health care to people in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

Earlier this week, Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch wrote a blistering piece saying Jouniari campaign materials such as T-shirts and mailers had “no corresponding financial records of expenditures listed either in her political committee or campaign account.”

Jouniari labels the report “fake news.”

The due date to report campaign expenditures was October 19, she says the campaign T-shirts in question weren’t printed out until the end of October and will be in the next financial report due Dec. 1.

“It was a little disheartening to see somebody do that without actually reaching out and contacting somebody to let us answer that,” she says.

The winner of the Good-Jouniari Democratic primary will advance to the general election on Feb. 13 against Republican James Buchanan and Libertarian Alison Foxall.

(Next week, Florida Politics profiles Margaret Good).

Neil Combee mentions familiar name defending Josie Tomkow

Outgoing state House member Neil Combee invoked a familiar statewide officeholder in an op-ed he submitted to the The Ledger, defending fellow Republican Josie Tomkow’s candidacy for the District 39 seat Combee is set to vacate next week.

Combee is exiting the House Nov. 24 to start a new job as Florida’s State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Tomkow was the first candidate to file for the impending special election, and quickly earned Combee’s endorsement, though most reports of her candidacy latched on to her being 22 years old.

Combee doesn’t think that’s right.

“Although I am aware she is young by time’s standard, I don’t think age should ever preclude someone from entering public service,” he wrote. “You can never be too old, or too young to want to give back to your community and help your neighbors.”

Combee then weaved a tale that many in the Polk County-based district might find a little familiar:

“Twenty-six years ago, Polk County voters sent what was then one of the youngest people ever elected to the Florida Legislature. He was 22. His accomplishments are well known.

“He rose up in leadership, defending conservative issues and values, leaving an enormous and lasting impact on everything from property rights to insurance regulation.

“When his service was done he came home and, at the age of just 26, Polk County sent him to the United States Congress. There too he was the youngest person during his tenure to serve and he quickly rose up to become a leader.”

That, of course, refers to Agriculture Commissioner and GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, now 43.

Combee’s point was clear: “We here in Polk County have always sent leaders to the Legislature – leaders like Adam Putnam. We look beyond age and I hope we will do that yet again.”

Combee even noted his own youth when Polk County voters elected him to the county commission at 28, and echoed the sentiments from his resignation letter that there “is no greater privilege than having your neighbors send you to be their voice.”

The Auburndale Republican then reiterated his support for Tomkow.

“Now, as an older, wiser man, I can tell you I am endorsing Josie Tomkow because she is the best person for the job, period. She has the energy and passion to serve. She has the knowledge and experience to get things done for our community and her neighbors. She is the right person at the right time.”

Gov. Rick Scott has not yet announced special election dates to replace Combee, and Tomkow is currently the only candidate filed to run in the district.

HD 39 covers parts of Osceola and Polk counties, including Polk City, Auburndale, and the outskirts of Kissimmee at its eastern border and northern Lakeland along the district’s southwestern edge.

Combee’s full letter is below.

Vern Buchanan opposes Trump administration allowing elephant ‘trophies’

Vern Buchanan is displeased with the Trump administration’s decision to lift the ban on importing elephant trophies from Africa, saying the world’s largest land mammal is a threatened species facing extinction.

“We should not encourage the hunting and slaughter of these magnificent creatures,” the Sarasota Republican congressman said Friday. “We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”

The administration is reversing an Obama-era ban on bringing to the U.S. the heads of elephants killed in two African countries.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials announced they have determined that hunting African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild,” the standard that determines whether to allow imports of parts — known as trophies — of the animals.

Buchanan isn’t the only conservative Trump supporter disagreeing with the president.  Radio and TV personality Laura Ingraham tweeted Thursday that she didn’t understand the decision either.

Along with Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, Buchanan co-chairs the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, and the two men released a statement in opposition to the Trump Administration’s decision to reverse the ban on elephant “trophy” imports:

“African elephants are a threatened species and face extinction in our lifetime. As part of the international effort to reverse this trend, we strongly support the ban on imports of elephant “trophies” from Zambia and Zimbabwe. We are deeply disappointed by reports that there are plans to remove this ban, and as co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, we are united in our effort to maintain the existing ban.”

Buchanan has a strong animal rights record in Congress, so strong that he was named Legislator of the Year by the Humane Society last year.

He’s previously urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore a database of animal cruelty information that the department removed suddenly and without notice. He has also introduced the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, bipartisan legislation that permanently bans the transport of horses to slaughterhouses in Mexico to be sold around the world.

 

Tensions high among blacks, police as Seminole Heights manhunt continues

With four unresolved murders in the past six weeks, tensions in Southeast Seminole Heights have never been higher.

Among some black residents, there’s even more anxiety, with many complaining about increased surveillance in the community — and that was before the Tampa Police Department announced earlier this week that the chief suspect is a black male.

That served as a backdrop Thursday night when Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan addressed the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP at the Seminole Heights Branch Library.

Dugan acknowledged his department is, in fact, convinced the suspect has only killed two of the four people shot in the neighborhood since October 9.

“We believe that this person definitely murdered Ben Mitchell and Ronald Felton,” he said, referring to the first and fourth persons killed in the still-unresolved killing spree. “We’re not sure enough to say that he was able to murder Monica Hoffa and Anthony Naiboa, so it could be someone else who murdered those two.”

Undeniably, police presence in the neighborhood is higher, and arrests have spiked — 150 in the area in the last month. That’s up from 56 in October 2016, and 126 in October 2015. Motorists are now being pulled over for making rolling stops, a move that Dugan admitted normally the TPD  wouldn’t be so aggressive about.

These aren’t normal times, however.

Dugan said the decision to cite motorists for failing to make a complete stop in Seminole Heights came from him.

“We want to know who you are. We’ve got four dead people. How many bodies gotta stack up? … so we are stopping everyone.”

In addition to TPD officers in Seminole Heights, there are also law enforcement officers from the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department, the St. Petersburg Police Department, and now the Florida Highway Patrol in the neighborhood, courtesy of Gov. Rick Scott.

The chief also defended what some have labeled heavy-handed tactics such as officers clad in SWAT gear and holding long guns knocking on doors and asking residents if they can search their homes. He said residents have “every right to say no,” but he said the circumstances demanded such actions.

“This person is a coldblooded killer and we’re trying to catch them, and there is no doubt in my mind that cops are not exempt from his bloodthirst,” Dugan said.

Activist Connie Burton asked Dugan if he would consider changing the profile of the suspected killer, questioning if the suspect might have had military service or be a rogue cop?

Dugan appeared pained to pontificate broadly, especially with so many scrutinizing his every word. He confessed that it had crossed his mind that the suspect might have law enforcement training.

There were some raw feelings in the room, going back to 2015 when the TPD policy on citing black bicyclists for citations became the subject of a Tampa Bay Times series known colloquially as “Biking While Black.”

The uproar in the community led the department to call on the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to study the issue. A year later, they produced an 82-page report showing the policy was not discriminatory, but also ineffective.

Neither Tampa police nor Mayor Bob Buckhorn apologized for the now discarded policy, a slight that still stings in the community. While Dugan wasn’t in charge at the time, he was part of the force and was pressed on the issue Thursday by activist Jarvis El-Amin.

“We thought we were doing the right thing,” said Dugan. “We weren’t targeting African-Americans. We were targeting people doing violations on their bicycles. Afterward, when we sat down and looked at the numbers, clearly we were stopping mostly African-Americans.”

Former Police Chief Jane Castor pushed back strongly against the Times story after its publication, and Dugan appeared to still have problems with the story himself.

The chief added that there were murder suspects who escaped on bikes and another story of a young black man throwing a box containing an automatic rifle into a bush.

“Why was that not part of the story? I don’t know.”

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