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Judge Brian Iten holding fundraiser for retention campaign

Three years after his appointment to Florida’s Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court by Gov. Rick Scott, Judge Brian Iten is up for retention.

While nearly all judicial elections were decided without opposition, Iten is facing a challenge from Venice attorney Maria Ruhl to keep his seat in the circuit covering DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

In preparation for that contest, Iten is holding a fundraiser for his retention campaign in Sarasota on July 11. The event will be held at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, 7051 Wireless Court, starting at 5:30 p.m. Those looking to attend can send an RSVP to Patrick Duggan via pjduggan13@gmail.com or call him at 941-915-7455.

Hosting the event is Gold Coast Eagle’s owner, John Saputo, who also recently hosted a fundraiser supporting Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube’s bid for Congress. Outside of his political efforts, Saputo is a retired U.S. Marines colonel who has been nationally recognized for his philanthropic pursuits.

The event invite also lists a bevy of Republican pols backing Iten for a full six-year term, including Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight, Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, DeSoto County Sheriff James Potter, State Attorney Ed Brodsky and Bradenton Republican Rep. Jim Boyd.

Since Iten and Ruhl were the only candidates to make the ballot, the nonpartisan race will be decided in the Aug. 28 primary election.

As of May 31, Iten had raised $3,320 for his campaign and kicked in another $18,000 in candidate loans. He has $13,245 on hand in his campaign account. Ruhl, who filed May 1, has raised $25,650 and had $19,755 on hand.

The invitation is below.

Judge Iten Fundraiser Invite

Seminole firefighters back Berny Jacques for HD 66

Seminole Professional Firefighters announced Monday they were backing Republican attorney Berny Jacques in the race to replace term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern in House District 66.

“It is with immense pride that we announce our support for Berny Jacques for State Representative in the 2018 election. Mr. Jacques has expressed a love for District 66 that has our membership excited to stand behind his election campaign,” said Seminole Professional Firefighters Association President Jeremy Newton.

“He will be a champion for public safety, safe neighborhoods, safe and smart schools, guarding our liberties and working hard for a strong economy. We believe that he will safeguard his integrity as he fights for positive change and a high quality of life for our families and communities. We hope that you will join us in supporting and ultimately electing Mr. Berny Jacques for State Representative.”

The firefighter association joins retired Air Force Col. EJ Otero Seminole City Councilmember Roger Edelman, former Pinellas County School Board Member Glen Gilzean and Largo Commissioner and former police chief John Carroll, among others, in endorsing the Seminole attorney.

“This is a great honor,” Jacques said. “These firefighters make lots of sacrifices on behalf of our community, and deserve a representative who will look out for them and their families. I’m looking forward to fighting for our brave first responders in Tallahassee.”

Jacques, the first-in candidate for the western Pinellas-based House seat, faces Belleair Bluffs businessman Nick DiCeglie in the Republican primary. Also running for the seat is Seminole Democrat Alex Heeren.

Through May 31, Jacques was the fundraising leader in the three-way race with more than $175,000 raised and more than $120,000 banked between his campaign account and his political committee, Protect Pinellas.

DiCeglie, a small-business man and current chair of the Republican Party of Pinellas County, has raised more than $114,000 since joining the race in September and now has $81,311 on hand. Heeren has raised $23,259 and has $10,550 at the ready.

HD 66 includes part of Clearwater, Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores.

The district is safely Republican. In 2016, it voted plus-14 for Donald Trump. Ahern ran a few points ahead of the top of the ticket, scoring a 17-point win over Democratic challenger Lorena Grizzle.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Steve Cona

Steve Cona raised $32K in just 11 days for Hillsborough School Board bid

Tampa businessman Steve Cona is off to a fast start in the days since he launched his bid for the open District 1 seat on the Hillsborough School Board.

In his first campaign finance report, which will include transactions through June 22, sources close Cona’s campaign says he will report more than $32,000 raised. Assuming that money was raised and not loaned, that’s quite a tally for an 11-day stretch.

The Hillsborough native was the first candidate to enter the School Board race, putting in his paperwork the same day the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections announced it had accepted a resign-to-run letter from longtime School Board member Susan Valdes, who is now a candidate for House District 62.

Cona is the president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, a position he has held for five years. He and his wife, Audra, have two children enrolled in Hillsborough public schools. Though School Board races are nonpartisan, Cona is a Republican who once ran for Hillsborough County Commission.

He and two other candidates, Gil Machin and William Person, have qualified for the ballot. A fourth candidate, Aaron Komarek, failed to qualify ahead of the noon Friday deadline.

Person, a retired school district administrator, moved his campaign over from the District 6 race. He ran for the District 1 seat two years ago and came within 267 votes of defeating Valdes. Machin, a retired county social services administrator, appears to be a first-time candidate.

The special election for the District 1 School Board seat will be on the 2018 ballot alongside the regularly scheduled elections for District 2, District 4 and District 6.

District 1 covers northwestern Hillsborough, including part of Tampa and the communities of Egypt Lake, Keystone, Leto, Town ‘n’ Country and Westchase. The winner of the nonpartisan election will serve out the remainder of Valdes’ term, which runs through 2020.

Dave Eggers, Pat Gerard re-elected to Pinellas Commission

Incumbent Pinellas County Commissioners Dave Eggers and Pat Gerard were re-elected Friday after no opponents qualified for the ballot ahead of the noon Friday deadline.

Gerard, a Democrat, was elected to the District 2 commission seat in 2014. Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell filed to challenge Gerard in May 2017 and raised more than $75,000 for her campaign before calling it quits last month to serve out the remainder of her term on the Clearwater City Council, which runs through 2020.

Gerard raised more than $125,000 for her re-election campaign and had more than $100,000 on hand as of her most recent campaign finance report.

Eggers, a Republican, was also first elected in 2014. He never faced a challenger in his bid for a second term in District 4. The lack of threat kept his campaign account bare — he had raised a little over $8,000 as of May 31 and had $7,000 banked.

Though District 2 and District 4 won’t be on the 2018 ballot, the District 6 seat will.

Four candidates have qualified for the seat that had been held by Republican Commissioner John Morroni since 2000. Morroni died last month at the age of 63.

Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters has held the fundraising lead in the District 6 contest since she declared for the seat last year. Also qualifying for the seat are term-limited Republican Rep. Larry Ahern, Republican businesswoman Barb Haselden and Democrat Amy Kedron.

Email insights: Rick Kriseman hits Andrew Gillum over ‘smear campaign’

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman slammed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in an email Friday for “using dirty Republican tricks and tactics” to smear primary rival Gwen Graham.

The email, sent out by Graham’s campaign, is the latest round of drama relating to Collective SuperPAC. It’s connected to The Collective, a national group that supports African-American political candidates.

The so-called “dark money” super PAC has been running ads for weeks across the state slamming the former Congresswoman for being a moderate, or even a Republican sympathizer.

Now that a new round of ads is rolling out in the Tampa Bay area, Kriseman said he’d had enough.

“It is disappointing to see an out-of-state secret money super PAC come into our city and attack a fellow progressive Democrat,” Kriseman said. “After 20 years of one-party Republican rule in Tallahassee and with Donald Trump in the White House, Democrats must stand as a united front to win back our state in November.

“St. Petersburg Democrats will reject smear campaigns. They want something to vote for — not against. We have many strong candidates running in this Democratic primary and we won’t win back our state by using dirty Republican tricks and tactics. We must be better than them and show Florida voters a new path forward to end the status quo in Tallahassee.”

The second-term St. Pete mayor joins a chorus of Democrats who have blasted Gillum over The Collective’s targeting of Graham, including Jacksonville DemocratsRuth’s List and three former Florida Democratic Party chairs, among others.

Gillum, for the most part, has remained silent on the third-party group’s smears. He also was slow in issuing a denouncement — from his campaign, not himself — after Sunshine State News writer and Gillum supporter Leslie Wimes called Graham a “skank.”

Gillum and Graham are running for the Democratic nomination alongside Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. The primary election is Aug. 28.

Update: More Tampa Bay-area Democrats are standing in Graham’s corner.

On Friday afternoon state Sen. Darryl Rouson, St. Petersburg City Councilor Darden Rice and Tampa City Councilor Mike Suarez joined Kriseman in admonishing Gillum for the third-party ads.

“I strongly condemn all ad hominem attacks against Gwen Graham or any of our Democratic candidates for Governor. I urge all candidates to refrain from hiding behind dark money committees that hide their donors and expenditures. We don’t need this type of politics in Pinellas or Hillsborough Counties or anywhere in Florida,” Rouson said.

Rice said she was “outraged to see Andrew Gillum’s negative Super PAC ad try to smear Gwen Graham’s progressive record. On the first day of her campaign for Congress, in conservative Panama City, Gwen Graham stood up for LGBTQ Floridians and supported marriage equality.”

Suarez, who is running to succeed Bob Buckhorn as Tampa Mayor, added that “the same day Gwen Graham was uniting Democrats against Donald Trump’s anti-refugee policies, Andrew Gillum’s Super PAC was purchasing ad time to attack her. That says everything Florida Democrats need to know about this race.”

In addition to more quotes from Tampa Bay pols, the Graham campaign cited a PolitiFact post debunking The Collective’s claim that voted “against President Obama 52 percent of the time” during her one term in the U.S. House

Tony Mowry

Tony Mowry now the lone Democrat in HD 74

Tony Mowry is now the only Democrat running in House District 74 after Yves Junior Chery failed to qualify for the ballot by the noon Friday deadline.

The Venice attorney and Air Force reservist is now set to face off against the winner of a Republican primary between James Buchanan, the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, and North Port Vice Mayor Linda Yates. The seat is currently held by second-term Republican Rep. Julio Gonzalez, who is running for Congress.

In a Friday email, Mowry’s campaign celebrated the “clear path to November” and touted the candidate as “a stronger Democratic candidate than this seat has ever seen before.”

“My district is ready to unify behind a leader that reflects their values. I look forward to having the privilege to serve this community and bring our common values to Tallahassee,” Mowry said.

While his path is indeed devoid of a primary challenge, it’s less clear if his claim that the Sarasota County-based district will be “a prime battleground district during the midterm elections” is on the money.

The HD 74 electorate is 44 percent Republican and 27 percent Democrat, and it would take a serious blue wave-colored vision to find encouragement in the election results since the district was redrawn in 2012.

No Democrat ran in the 2012 or 2014 race, and in 2016 Gonzalez destroyed Democrat Manny Lopez 63-37 percent as Donald Trump carried the district with 60 percent of the vote.

Still, Mowry’s claim that he’s a “stronger” Democrat is very much true when it comes to campaign fundraising.

After less than two months in the race, he had amassed nearly $25,000 for his campaign and had $18,500 in the bank — that’s three times more than Lopez brought in during his 10 months as a candidate in the 2016 cycle.

By comparison, Buchanan raised $39,510 for his campaign and had $31,625 banked through three reporting cycles. Yates has raised $4,187 and has $3,136 on hand through an equal amount of time.

James Buchanan opens new political committee

Aspiring lawmaker James Buchanan launched a political committee Thursday to support his bid to succeed exiting Rep. Julio Gonzalez in House District 74.

The committee, Buchanan For Florida, is chaired by the Venice Republican. Former Sarasota County Republican Party chair Eric Robinson is listed as the committee’s treasurer.

The PAC is the first for Buchanan, who was the Republican nominee in the special election for House District 72 earlier this year, losing by 7 points to now-Democratic Rep. Margaret Good.

He raised more than $350,000 for his special election run, all of it through his campaign account. Still, Good trounced him on the fundraising trail, mainly since her committee, New Day Florida, reeled in $188,900 from a handful of donors in the lead-up to the Feb. 14 special.

That fundraising was made possible because committee accounts don’t have the same strict contribution limits as campaign accounts, which only allow individual donors to give up to $1,000 per election.

The committee filing may indicate Buchanan will get some backup in his primary contest against North Port Vice-Mayor Linda Yates.

As of May 31, he had raised $39,510 for his campaign with all but two of his donors sending in max checks. Some of the names on his campaign finance reports, such as HCA, have deep pockets and would likely chip in more cash if they had a venue to do so.

Also running for the seat are Democrats Yves Junior Chery and Tony Mowry as well as unaffiliated candidate Robert Samuel Kaplan.

HD 74 covers southern Sarasota County and carries a hefty Republican advantage. The district voted 60-37 in favor of President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. By comparison, HD 72 voted only voted plus-4 Trump.

Fentrice Driskell

Fentrice Driskell gets Ruth’s List seal of approval

Tampa Democrat Fentrice Driskell announced Thursday that Ruth’s List Florida is backing her campaign to unseat Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison in Hillsborough-based House District 63.

“Fentrice is an attorney and a dynamic community leader in Tampa who supports gender equality, women’s reproductive rights, and investing in education to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Pamela Goodman, executive director of Ruth’s List Florida. “The Ruth’s List community — now tens of thousands of members strong — is excited to support her candidacy.”

The Democrat-aligned org bills itself as “the state’s only resource dedicated to recruiting and aiding Democratic women candidates.” Since 2008 it has notched 72 Election Day victories and raised more than $4 million to support women seeking state or local offices.

“I am grateful for the grassroots support Ruth’s List Florida provides Democratic women in Florida,” Driskell said. “I’m proud to accept the endorsement of Ruth’s List and its tens of thousands of members and supporters who believe like I do, that we need more women’s voices in the Florida Legislature who will focus on the things that really matter: investing in our public schools and our communities, expanding access to health care and affordable housing for hard-working families, growing Florida’s economy and supporting our small businesses, and taking care of our seniors and veterans.”

The Harvard- and Georgetown-educated Tampa lawyer filed for HD 63 in early February. She is the only candidate challenging Harrison in the fall. As of May 31, she had raised more than $95,000 for her campaign and had $76,600 on hand. That’s about a third of Harrison’s $225,000 on-hand tally.

The district covers part of Hillsborough County, including portions of northern Tampa and the communities of Lutz, Pebble Creek, Lake Magdalene and Carrollwood. Democrats make up about 39 percent of the swing seat’s electorate, while Republicans hold a 32 percent share.

HD 63 is a perennial target for both major parties.

Harrison served in the House from 2010 to 2012, when former Democratic Rep. Mark Danish beat him by about 700 votes to flip the newly redrawn HD 63 despite raising less than $20,000 for his campaign compared to nearly $300,000 for Harrison.

Harrison reclaimed the seat in the 2014 cycle with a 5-point win over Danish, and in 2016 he emerged victorious in a tough re-election battle against Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. His sub-2-point victory came as Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the seat by double digits.

Aakash Patel

Aakash Patel lands endorsement from Trey Traviesa

Hillsborough County Commission candidate Aakash Patel snagged a nod former Republican Rep. Trey Traviesa Thursday, making for three endorsements in the past week.

“I met Aakash Patel while he was a student at Florida State University working in Student Government and a member of the Seminole Torchbearers, an organization which acknowledges and encourages leaders at FSU to continue their exceptional service through leadership in the community,” Traviesa said.

“I know that Aakash will uphold these leadership standards when he serves on the Hillsborough County Commission. I look forward to his implementation of conservative principles on the Commission to improve our economy, our tourist industry and education opportunities for our children. I am pleased to endorse Aakash Patel in his race for County Commission.”

The endorsement from Traviesa, who represented South Tampa in the House from 2004 to 2008, follows a pair of high-profile backers announced by the Patel campaign over the past week. On Friday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced his support for the Republican businessman. Attorney General Pam Bondi did the same Tuesday.

“It is an honor to have the support of such an inspirational leader and friend, Trey Traviesa. He has long served our community and I look forward to working with him when I serve on the Hillsborough County Commission,” Patel said.

Patel, who runs business consulting firm Elevate Inc., is running for the countywide District 7 seat currently held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

Before entering that race, Patel was a candidate for the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Sandy Murman, who was expected to resign her seat early and make her own run in District 7.

After a year in the District 1 race, Patel raised $351,149 for his campaign and another $109,525 for his political committee, Elevate Tampa. He had more than $270,000 of that money in the bank on May 31.

He is one of ten candidates vying for the open seat, though only Republican attorney Todd Marks — also a former District 1 candidate — and Democrat Kimberly Overman have posted any substantive fundraising numbers.

Also running are Democrats Ray ChiaramonteCharles Davis IIIMark NashCorey Reynolds and Sky White as well as Republican Cherie Denham and Green Party candidate Kim O’Connor.

Only Chiaramonte, Patel and White had qualified for the ballot as of early Thursday afternoon. The qualifying deadline is noon Friday.

The District 7 seat will be on the 2018 ballot alongside Districts 2, 4 and 5, all three of which feature an incumbent Republican running for re-election.

Las Vegas woman says Jaguars player assaulted her at Lutz mansion

A Las Vegas woman is accusing Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus of a sexual assault from January 2017.

In a civil lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Adrianna Cravin, 37, says she was at AJA Channelside nightclub early last year when a man approached her and invited her to the “VIP section,” where she met Dareus and others. After a couple of hours, Dareus invited her to a party at a mansion he was renting in Lutz

She accepted the invitation and once at the party — which purportedly featured a DJ, a dozen strippers, cocaine, marijuana and other NFL players — Cravin said she gravitated toward the kitchen, where the man who introduced her to Dareus made her a drink she insinuates was drugged.

She says she remembers Dareus groping her in the kitchen and telling him to stop, but at some point, she “blacked out.” The lawsuit says Cravin awoke the next morning next to an unclothed Dareus and “began to immediately realize that there had been sexual physical acts upon her person.” She then “hurriedly straightened her clothes and ran frantically out of the room.”

Cravin is seeking monetary damages for the alleged assault. She did not report the incident to law enforcement at the time, nor did she visit a doctor in the days following the alleged sexual assault.

Dareus’ attorneys seized on those facts in a motion to throw out Cravin’s complaint. They say her three filing — the original, and two amended versions — are “replete with typographical errors, factual inconsistencies and incorrect statements of law, and fails to allege facts necessary to satisfy the required elements of the two claims brought against Mr. Dareus—assault and battery.”

According to online records from the Las Vegas Justice Court, Cravin was cited in 2003 for soliciting prostitution and in 2007 for DUI.

Dareus’ history includes a couple of arrests as well. In 2014 he was arrested for felony drug possession in Alabama, and for reckless driving and reckless endangerment in New York stemming from a car race. He has also been benched multiple times during his NFL career for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

The Buffalo Bills drafted 28-year-old player third overall in the 2011 NFL draft. In 2017, he was traded to the Jaguars.

The filing is below.

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