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Todd Marks

Todd Marks stands with Hillsborough NAACP after death threats

Tampa attorney Todd Marks, a candidate for Hillsborough County Commission, said he was standing in solidarity with the county NAACP chapter in the wake of a death threat it received for its opposition to the transit sales tax slated for the general election ballot.

The death threat came in via a letter, postmarked from St. Petersburg, to chapter President Yvette Lewis. The threats were levied against all African Americans, including Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum.

The author of the letter threatened to “gather up you n******* friends and family and put them on a bus to Miami. Make sure that lying cheating corrupt piece of garbage Andrew Gillum gets a front seat, that way if the bus crashes he’ll be sure to go through the windshield … get hurt or worse.

The letter referenced the NAACP’s opposition to the ballot referendum that would add a penny sales tax in Hillsborough to fund transportation infrastructure projects. The referendum is sponsored by political committee “All for Transportation” and has received wide support from business interests in the Tampa Bay area.

Soon after News Channel 8 reported on the letter, Marks issued a statement condemning it.

“The Tampa NAACP exercised its First Amendment rights and as a result has received a hate filled letter intended to intimidate the group into silence. There is no place for racism and intolerance in our society,” Marks said. “I stand in solidarity with the NAACP and condemn this reprehensible act of cowardice and strongly support their rights to engage in the political discourse surrounding important issues facing our county.

“In the wake of senseless shootings and violence in our communities across America, we must all unite and condemn hateful rhetoric. We must show a united front against such heinous acts when anyone among us is attacked. We need more civil discourse, not less. I stand with organizations like the Tampa NAACP and will fight with them for the best interests of every neighborhood in Hillsborough County,” Marks concluded.

Marks is running for the countywide District 7 commission seat currently held by exiting Commissioner Al Higginbotham. He faces Democrat Kimberly Overman and Green Party candidate Kim O’Connor in Tuesday’s general election.

The District 2, 4, 5 and 7 seats will all be on the Nov. 6 ballot, alongside other county government seats including sheriff and four school board districts.

Former President Barack Obama gives a shout-out to David Jolly

Former President Barack Obama gave a shout out to a former foe during a campaign rally in Miami Friday. He mentioned former Republican Congressman David Jolly who recently announced he voted for Andrew Gillum for Florida Governor.

“He said the reason’s simple, it’s because I’ve served with Ron DeSantis,” Obama said. “That should tell you something. Let me tell you something, somebody that had served with me in my party voted for the other guy, I’d feel bad.”

Jolly ditched the Republican Party earlier this month, instead registering with no party affiliation. He became disenfranchised with the Republican Party after President Donald Trump was elected and has been a frequent critic, appearing regularly on MSNBC.

“I don’t imagine Congressman Jolly and Mayor Gillum agree on a lot, but maybe they, just like all of us, agree that there are some things bigger than politics,” Obama said, campaigning for Gillum.

Gillum faces Trump-aligned DeSantis in the race to succeed current Governor Rick Scott. Democrats nationwide are rallying behind Gillum, who represents a new and growing sect of the Democratic Party that is more diverse and more progressive.

If elected, Gillum would be the first African-American Governor in Florida.

A nod from former President Obama is a huge win for Gillum. Locally, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman pulled out a victory over former Mayor Rick Baker, a surge that happened after Obama publicly endorsed him.

President Trump has endorsed DeSantis and frequently tweets in his support as well as tweets attacking Gillum for what conservatives describe as “radical socialism.”

Obama appeared in Miami Friday campaigning also for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. Nelson is facing a tough challenge from Governor Scott. While Democrats try to unseat incumbent Republicans to flip the Senate, they’re grasping on to Nelson just to keep that seat.

This is the most credible challenge Nelson has had since he was first elected in 2000.

Former NAACP head sues Hillsborough chapter

Former Hillsborough County NAACP head Bennie Small Jr. is suing the civil rights group and its current president over procedural votes he says violated the organization’s rules.

The Hillsborough County chapter of the NAACP is named in the suit along with current president Yvette Lewis. Small is the immediate past president of the group and the president of the small general contracting company Small Construction Service.

The lawsuit claims that on Oct. 20, the Hillsborough chapter met at the 34th Street Church of God to nominate members for an election scheduled for Nov. 10.

But Small alleges the group did not give 30-days notice for the Oct. 20th meeting, which led to only six people attending. The group did not have a quorum for the subsequent vote for nominees.

Small isn’t seeking any monetary relief or asking for anything for himself, rather for the NAACP to postpone any election until proper notice is given to members.

It’s not clear why Small filed the lawsuit, and he did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit comes as the Hillsborough NAACP is the subject of other prominent headlines. The group received a hate-filled letter with racial slurs and threats. Police are investigating its origins.

That letter, addressed to Lewis, targeted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

The Hillsborough NAACP also recently penned its own letter, rejecting the All For Transportation plan. Lewis explained the group worried there wouldn’t be adequate representation of the African-American community on the oversight committee that would be established to make sure the $280 million raised annually would be spent appropriately.

The group also alleged the money would be spent disproportionately on downtown projects and would not go enough toward predominantly black communities.

Losing that endorsement was a hit for the campaign that will need support from the black community to get voter approval on the 1 percent sales tax increase.

The campaign counters the NAACP’s claims pointing to language in the referendum that allocates equal parts of the money to the cities of Plant City, Temple Terrace and Tampa as well as Hillsborough County to ensure projects are appropriate in their communities.

Jennifer Webb

Jennifer Webb looks poised to topple Ray Blacklidge; here’s why

Florida’s House District 69 is one of several throughout the state Democrats are hoping to flip. The Pinellas County district is currently held by Republican Kathleen Peters, but she’s leaving office to run for the Pinellas County Commission.

Open seats, particularly those held by moderate politicians like Peters, are ripe for the minority party to take over.

It looks like Jennifer Webb could do just that.

The most recent poll shows the Democrat a solid 15 points ahead of her opponent, Republican Ray Blacklidge. That is a steep hill to climb.

But there’s a catch.

That poll was conducted in late September, which gave Republicans more than a month to start dumping money into ad buys and direct mail to bolster their guy.

Their efforts have been bloody.

An outside group put up a television ad warning voters not to get caught “in the Jennifer Webb” and made several false claims about where she is getting campaign contributions and her campaign platform.

Mail piece after mail piece slamming Webb for accepting campaign contributions from special interests tie her to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two Washington lawmakers loathed by conservatives.

The mail pieces paint Webb as “a radical socialist” and they lump her into policies presented by other candidates by loosely tying them to shared campaign donors. The accusations range from Webb wanting to raise taxes by “billions of dollars,” something she’s never proposed, to wanting to gut school choice options for parents. Webb does support scaling back charter school funding that comes at the expense of traditional public schools, but she has not said she wants to get rid of them entirely.

While those messages resonate with conservative voters, the outside groups funding them, including the Republican Party of Florida, might not be doing Blacklidge any favors.

Negative ads turn voters off and especially close to the election, after weeks of seeing political attacks at every commercial break, it becomes ad nauseum.

It also might be a tact targeting the wrong voters. The “radical socialist” argument is only really effective among conservatives, and within that sect, typically older conservatives. But political insiders this election know the presence or absence of a “blue wave” is going to come down to independent voters and young people – two groups least likely to be swayed by attack ads and extremist claims.

There’s also the issue of optics. Women are pounding the campaign trail with the momentum of the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements that has fired up a nation to lift women into more positions of power, including political leadership.

Non-profit organizations like Emily’s List are spending more money than ever on political races and that money is funneling down to women. Blacklidge is outspending Webb, but it’s not by much – a rarity within partisan matchups nationwide that finds Republicans far outspending their Democratic opponents.

With all that considered, Webb seems poised to pop the champagne Tuesday. But this is Florida, and, as all political junkies know, never say never.

Kathleen Peters to focus on mental health issues if elected Pinellas commissioner

Like any favored candidate, Kathleen Peters is feeling confident with her campaign for Pinellas County Commission, but she’s not taking any chances.

“We’ll be knocking on doors right up until Monday evening,” Peters said. “We’re also beefing up some of our social media and reaching folks there.”

Peters said her campaign has a couple of digital ads going out on social media between now and Election Day. Those ads will target the entire district and are not targeting a particular demographic or party, she said.

Peters is running for the District 6 seat covering Pinellas Park, Seminole and most of the county’s southwestern shoreline including Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach. If elected, she would replace Jay Beyrouti who was appointed to the seat after former County Commissioner John Morroni passed away earlier this year.

Peters faces Democrat Amy Kedron and is widely expected to win handily against her opponent. Peters has raised nearly $240,000 as of last week while Kedron has pulled in less than $40,000.

Peters also has an advantage with name recognition. She’s currently the Florida House District 69 Representative and formerly served as Mayor of South Pasadena.

She said if elected, she’d continue working on one of her top priorities in the Florida House, which was improving mental health care.

Peters wants to establish a receiving facility for individuals apprehended under the Marchman Act. That act allows law enforcement and first responders to commit individuals who present a danger to themselves or others based on substance abuse.

Currently Marchman intake is more criminalized and centers more on removing drunken homeless individuals from the street than curbing addiction. The only place to send those people is to the Pinellas County jail.

Peters wants to implement something more like Hillsborough County, where Marchman recipients are taken to a specialized receiving facility where they are monitored by medical professionals and sent home with social services and a plan for counseling.

“There’s a big return on investment,” Peters said. “It’s less expensive to put them in there than to put them in jail.”

And if people are getting treatment for substance abuse rather than just being sent right back to the street, there’s a better chance individuals won’t wind up back in the facility again.

Funding such a program would likely require both local and state funding. Peters hopes eventually the state and county will have more financial resources for mental health and substance abuse if they’re successful with a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

Pinellas County entered into a lawsuit with the state of Florida to recover costs associated with fighting the state’s opioid epidemic. If that’s successful, it could be a future revenue stream for new programs.

“But that could be a very, very far way off,” Peters said. “If it happens, I just hope we’ll use that money to enhance funding, not replace the funding we already have.”

Phil Hornback

Phil Hornback confident he can oust Lawrence McClure in HD 58

Phil Hornback and his wife, Sara, left teaching to become a Realtor because, he said, of the low pay low pay to educators in Florida. They both still have no health insurance since leaving teaching.

Hornback said he is more concerned about the others in House District 58 who have low paying jobs and no health insurance. The Seffner resident who refers to himself as a “Blue Collar Democrat” has been running for the seat since May.

He was a mason and owned a masonry business for 20 years before selling it and going to college for bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. He has been endorsed by unions and local teacher groups.

A lot of people have written off Hornback, except Hornback.

He said he and his staff have worked through all the cities within the district and rural areas and visited black, Hispanic and Muslim communities and gatherings as well.

Friday, the campaign had scheduled visits to 200 homes along with other locations to knock on doors or to visit.

“Our face-to-face is going to pull us through,” he said.

He is running against incumbent Lawrence McClure, who was elected to District 58 in a special election Dec. 1, 2107, receiving 54 Percent of the vote in a four-way race against a Democrat, Libertarian and an independent.

McClure replaced Republican Rep. Dan Raulerson, who retired for health reasons on Aug. 15, 2017.

He had earlier defeated Yvonne Fry in the Republican Primary in a controversial campaign in which Fry charged that she was a victim of false campaign attack ads.

Hornback said he has not seen any negative ads against him from the McClure campaign.

McClure was seated in time for the 2018 session of the Florida House and served as a member of the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee and the Ways & Means Committee.

He has a much larger campaign war chest than Hornback, but not as much as many incumbents, likely because many big contributors believe he is the likely winner.

McClure had $84,464 banked to Hornback’s $22,082 at the end of the Nov. 1 campaign finance reporting period.

Hornback’s staff complained that the newspaper of record for the area had written little about the race, mentioning neither Hornback or McClure, possibly because of a foregone conclusion of how this highly conservative and Republican district may go for the incumbent.

But the Hornback camp is reporting what other Democratic candidates in races where the state party has not targeted them for help, that early voting turnout among registered Democrats is up.

The campaign, basing its calculations on the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s “Early Voting Dashboard” believe Democrats are turning out in early voting in District 58 at a far greater pace than years past.

“Every day we are only about 200 or up to 300 less than Republican early votes and in a conservative district, that bodes well once independents and those going to the precincts are counted,” Hornback said.

Youth early voting in two precincts abutting the University of South Florida has doubled over the turnout in 2016, an aide said.

HD 58 covers eastern Hillsborough County, running from Temple Terrace to Plant City. It is a rural and suburban mix.

Red tide

Florida tees up another $3 million for red tide relief in Pinellas County

Gov. Rick Scott directed another $3 million to Pinellas County for red tide relief Thursday, bringing the total so far for Pinellas to $6.3 million.

The funding comes from the Florida Department of Environment Protection’s red tide emergency fund.

Scott is infusing another $3 million into that fund to make sure other Florida counties can access relief as the need arises.

“As our coastal communities continue to combat red tide, we are taking action to ensure they have the resources they need. In total, we have provided more than $20 million to respond to this year’s red tide, including funding for cleanup efforts, additional scientific testing, and marketing through VISIT FLORIDA,” Scott said.

Of the total statewide funding, $16.3 million has gone to individual communities for relief efforts. Another $2.2 million paid for research and new technologies to mitigate red tide. That includes expanding the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Ozone Treatment System.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received $1.2 million for redfish hatchery recovery.

The state allocated $500,000 to Visit Florida for an emergency grant program to help local tourism boards affected by red tide.

Coastal businesses in areas where beaches have been compromised due to contaminated water, dead fish and toxic air have seen a drastic decline in business and are reporting substantial financial losses. So far more than 50 people in Pinellas County have either been temporarily or permanently laid off as a result.

“DEP is proud to continue to partner with local communities to help them address the impacts of red tide. Thanks to Gov. Scott’s leadership, we’ve been able to provide $13.4 million in grants to local communities throughout Florida, helping to minimize the impacts from red tide.”

Those funds include the $6.3 million for Pinellas County as well as $1.5 million for Sarasota County. Manatee County received $750,000.

WWE superstar Titus O’Neil backs Hillsborough transportation initiative

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) star Titus O’Neil is backing the Hillsborough County transportation initiative on the November 6 ballot. O’Neil, who is a Hillsborough County resident, released a 1-minute video Thursday urging voters who haven’t already done so to vote yes on the All For Transportation referendum.

“This initiative will fund road and transportation improvements in every part of Hillsborough County. You know just as well as I do that traffic can be terrible and it’s only getting worse,” O’Neil said.

He also cautioned voters not to miss the referendum. It’s located on the last page of a long ballot and supporters are afraid voters will skip down ballot races like this one and turn in an incomplete ballot.

O’Neil is also a former professional football player and alumni of the University of Florida where he also played football.

All For Transportation would increase Hillsborough County’s sales tax from 7 to 8 percent and would raise about $280 million annually for both transportation and transit improvements throughout the county.

Of the funds raised, 54 percent would go to road and traffic congestion relief projects, 45 percent would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for transit enhancements and 1 percent would be used on oversight to ensure the funds are appropriately allocated.

O’Neil joins a long list of groups and individuals who are endorsing the plan.

Creative Loafing, a Tampa Bay area alternative weekly newspaper, endorsed the plan this week. It’s also backed by the Tampa Bay area business community including the Greater Tampa, Upper Tampa Bay and South Tampa chambers of commerce. All three Tampa Bay area professional sports teams and the New York Yankees have put financial resources into the campaign.

It’s also got backing from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the Tampa Bay Times and Visit Tampa Bay.

The opposition group, No Tax for Tracks, came into the campaign late, but has been posting billboards opposing the tax throughout the county. The signs claim the tax is a $16 billion tax – a number that varies based on where you’re reading it. All For Transportation estimate would raise about $9 billion over its 30-year life. No Tax for Tracks has posted opposing material claiming the tax would cost $15 billion and, at the high end, $18 million.

Chris Latvala’s not expecting to ‘shellack’ his opponent

State Rep. Chris Latvala is not taking any chances, but feels good about his re-election campaign. 

“We’re working hard and we have been for months,” Latvala said. “This is considered a swing district so I’ve never taken anything for granted.”

Latvala’s House District 67 encompasses north Pinellas, including parts of Clearwater. The Republican incumbent is running against Democrat political newcomer Dawn Douglas, a reading teacher at Oak Grove Middle School.

Latvala has three things going for him. He’s the incumbent, which makes bouncing him from his seat a difficult feat, and he has broad name recognition from his own political service as well as from his father, former Sen. Jack Latvala.

But those two advantages could be upended in a contentious midterm cycle in which Republicans who would have otherwise been safe bets for easy victories are facing credible challenges.

Midterm election cycles typically serve as a referendum on the party in power in Washington, which is making some Republican seats vulnerable.

And Latvala having the same name as his father could also be an issue. Jack Latvala resigned from office last year amid sexual misconduct allegations. A criminal investigation against him was later dropped.

That’s not a great association in the era of #MeToo.

But Latvala’s prime advantage comes with dollar signs. He’s raised nearly more than $900,000 between his campaign and associated political committee, Suncoast Better Government Committee. Douglas has raised less than $5,300 in her campaign through Oct. 19.

Latvala’s district is split almost exactly in thirds between Republicans, Democrats and independent or no-party-affiliated voters.

Latvala said he’s knocked on more than 35,000 doors in the district and is targeting voters who have not yet voted and who could be swayed to the polls in his favor.

“I’m feeling confident,” he said. “But it’s not going to be a double-digit shellacking.”

While Latvala says he’s working hard on his campaign, he’s also been on three bills he plans to file during the 2019 Legislative Session if re-elected.

One is a bill he filed this year that didn’t gain traction. It would extend health care coverage for retired firefighters who develop cancer as a result of their work. It’s a bill Latvala said he will continue to file until it passes.

Another is Erin’s Law, a measure that would provide robust training in public schools on how to educate students on the dangers of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The idea is to give children the knowledge of what is and is not appropriate behavior so they can report abuse instead of waiting for years until they realize the actions against them are wrong.

The third bill is in response to the death of Jordan Belliveau, the 2-year-old girl who was found dead after a search in Largo, which Latvala’s district includes. Belliveau appears to have been failed by Florida’s child welfare system by being returned to her mother’s custody.

Latvala’s legislation would do a number of things to improve that system including funding for more caseworkers so they don’t have an overburdened caseload and better resources for intensive reunification, which would include frequent check-ins by caseworkers to ensure child safety.

It would also include training for anyone involved in child welfare to learn how to identify possible brain injuries in children that could go otherwise unnoticed.

“I guess I just figure, if I work hard at my job, the campaign will just take care of itself,” Latvala said.

Jennifer Webb

HD 69 voters face yet another onslaught of anti-Jennifer Webb attack mailers

Outside groups continue an onslaught of attack ads against Democrat Jennifer Webb as she faces Ray Blacklidge in Florida House District 69.

This week alone, two direct mail pieces hit voters mailboxes accusing Webb of supporting anti-school choice policies and tying her to Bernie Sanders.

One mailer features a photo of Webb on a red background with blazing bright yellow lettering that accuses her of lying and personal attacks.

“Why is liberal, radical Jennifer Webb lying about Ray Blacklidge and attacking him personally? Because Jennifer Webb doesn’t want you to know the truth about her support for socialist policies and efforts to raise your taxes by billions,” the piece reads.

It goes on to say Webb’s campaign is funded by “special interests seeking to raise taxes by billions,” is supported by a group pushing for minimum wage increases for prison inmates, is supported and funded by group’s backing “the social agenda of Bernie Sanders and “embraces job-killing, socialist policies.”

The piece makes no reference to support its claim that she has lied or attacked her opponent. Both candidates agreed early in their campaigns to avoid negative attacks and steer clear of this year’s political vitriol.

But outside groups in recent weeks have sent several attack mailers to voters and funded an attack ad on television. The same mailer that condemns Webb for personal attacks is an attack on her.

The Republican Party of Florida paid for the mailer. Its claims are rooted in partisan campaign trends this election cycle weaponizing the word “socialism” and using Bernie Sanders as a symbol of radical politics.

Webb supports Andrew Gillum for governor. The Democratic candidate received an endorsement from Sanders. Gillum is pushing an education platform that includes raising corporate income tax to fund a $1 billion plan to raise teacher salaries and increase per-pupil spending.

Democratic groups helping to fund Gillum’s campaign are also cutting checks to Webb, which loosely ties her to claims that Gillum supports the Dream Defenders, a civil rights group conservatives refer to as “radical.” That group wants prison inmates compensated fairly for work performed. Those inmates currently receive a pittance for work ranging from janitorial services to electrical work.

Another mailer funded by the group Florida Federation for Children, a pro-charter school organization, claims special interests “that put our children’s safety at risk” are funneling cash into Webb’s campaign.

That claim is based on Democratic opposition to the school safety bill passed earlier this year that raised the age limit for owning a firearm from 18 to 21 and provided more money for mental health and school safety. Many Democrats were critical of the bill because it didn’t go as far as banning military-style assault weapons.

The mail piece also blasts Webb for financial ties to groups that oppose school choice programs like charter schools and voucher programs.

Many of the group’s cutting checks to her campaign are vocally opposed to inequitable state spending on charter schools. Such schools are for-profit but funded with state tax dollars. Charter schools educate about 10 percent of Florida’s school children.

“That’s why parents and teachers need to say no to Jennifer Webb’s special interest backers and yes to school safety for our kids,” the mailer reads.

Webb’s campaign platform on education calls for innovation and accountability in education. She stands against the 2017 House Bill 7069 that forces public school districts to share construction money with charter schools. Most of Florida’s school districts and teachers opposed that bill.

Webb and Blacklidge are running to replace Republican Kathleen Peters, who is leaving state office to run for the Pinellas County Commission. She leads Blacklidge by double digits, according to a recent poll.

The district covers mid- and south-Pinellas beaches, Seminole and west St. Petersburg.

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