Tampa Bay Archives - Page 7 of 118 - Florida Politics

Joe Wicker becomes first Republican to file for Ross Spano’s HD 59 seat

Businessman and Iraq War veteran Joe Wicker is running for the House District 59 seat.

The Republican’s entrance into the race comes a day after current HD 59 occupant Republican Ross Spano announced his bid for Attorney General.

“Trust in government is at an all-time low and voters are looking for leaders with a demonstrated history of service to their country and community to help restore faith in the political process,” Wicker said Friday.

“I’m looking forward to having a conversation with voters about how we can continue to grow Florida’s economy and improve our education system, while at the same time addressing critical needs in healthcare and transportation,” he added. “As a small business owner and healthcare professional, I know firsthand just how important it is that we address the rising costs of care for Floridians and increase the affordability and accessibility of every Floridian.”

An Atlanta native, Wicker was called to active duty in 2002 with the U.S. Army and subsequently served two deployments in Iraq as a Tank Platoon Leader in 2003 and an advisor to the Iraqi Security Forces during the 2007 surge.

He later was recruited to work in Tampa. Wicker currently lives in Brandon, where he owns Home Helpers Home Health, an agency servicing the needs of seniors so they can remain independent in their home.

Wicker first ran for political office in 2012, when he lost to Spano by just two points in the Republican primary.

At the time Spano said he was “elated” to come out on top in a nail biter for the seat, which encompasses virtually all of the Brandon area — including Valrico, Dover, Seffner, Riverview, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.

With Spano trying his hand at higher office, the path to the Legislature is likely much easier for Wicker, who proved in that election that he knows how to raise a little money – he brought in $79,234 for his primary effort – and that he was likeable enough on the trail to get some votes. He received 3,222 in that bid, just 175 fewer than Spano.

So far, Wicker is the only candidate filed for HD 59.

Janet Cruz first to react to Stephen Bittel accusations

Janet Cruz was one of the first Democrats to respond on Friday to a POLITICO Florida report that Florida Democratic Party chairman Stephen Bittel has created a hostile workplace environment for women through constant inappropriate comments and suggestions.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Stephen Bittel. He’s always been kind and respectful to me,” the Democratic House Minority Leader wrote in a text Friday morning. “No woman should be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and I encourage women to be courageous and speak up. My office is open, and a safe place.”

While the women told POLITICO that they were never touched inappropriately, they said Bittel’s suggestive remarks, invitations to go on his private plane and even his possession of a breast-shaped stress squeeze-ball kept at his desk made them uncomfortable.

Bittel, a millionaire Coconut Grove developer who was just elected to serve as party chair in January, apologized for his behavior and did not deny the accounts of the women who talked to POLITICO Florida.

“Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community, and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry,” Bittel said.

Since Cruz’s response, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham and Philip Levine have all released statements saying that Bittel needs to resign.

This is the second time that Bittel has had to apologize for his actions since becoming party chairman, and the second time that Florida Democrats have had to defend him.

At the FDP’s Leadership Blue Gala in Hollywood in June, Bittel angered members of his own party for racially-tinged remarks made backstage at the party’s most prominent annual fundraising event.

“I know Stephen Bittel, and I have never, ever thought of him or known him to be a racist,” Cruz said in July. “I think perhaps he might be elitist, but I have never known him to be a racist, so I was really sad that was the focus of the press and the focus of the attention.”

The Bittel story follows national fallout on sexual harassment that has dominated the media landscape over the past six weeks, initially sparked by the New York Times and New Yorker revelations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

The story hit home in Tallahassee after it was revealed last month that South Florida Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens engaged in an extramarital affair, resulting in his resignation.

Two weeks ago, POLITICO Florida reported anonymous allegations by several women that Clearwater state Senator and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala acted inappropriately around them. Latvala denies the charges, and now faces two Florida Senate complaints about sexual harassment.

UPDATE: On Friday morning, Bittel announced he is resigning following reports that he created a hostile work environment for women by “belittling” them in front of male staffers and making suggestive remarks.

Jeff Brandes returns from China with new adopted daughter

While sexual harassment allegations and rumors continued to swirl around Tallahassee, one legislator watched the show while completing a personal international deal.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, his wife Natalie and their eldest daughter Charlotte, whom they call “Lottie,” spent the past week in the sprawling port city of Guangzhou – outside Hong Kong – wrapping up the year-long adoption of a new daughter.

The trip was their first time in China since they began the adoption process.

“You meet them on a Monday, you go back to the consulate on a Tuesday, they ask if you still want this child,” Brandes said, back in the Capitol Wednesday. “You promise not to abandon her and everything else. Then it’s about a week-long process.”

Elizabeth, “Lizzie,” is the fourth child for the couple married just over a decade. Elizabeth, 8, is the first they’ve adopted.

The couple has two sons, Colin and Conor, ages 6 and 4.

Brandes, known for pushing legislation about new technologies, said he was able to follow the latest Capitol intrigue via tweets and admitted: “it was a good week to be away.”

“I walked in the lunchroom today, I said, `Sorry guys I’ve been gone a week. Anything happen while I was gone?’,” Brandes joked Wednesday before an Appropriations Committee.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Republican Chris Licata exits HD 69 primary, Jeremy Bailie and Raymond Blacklidge remain

Republican Chris Licata announced Thursday that he would withdraw from the three-way primary race to replace HD 69 Rep. Kathleen Peters, who is not seeking re-election in 2018.

“Having recently completed eight-years in the Navy, I returned home to the Tampa Bay region to continue a life in service to my fellow citizens. Service to others and to my community was first nurtured through my education at Admiral Farragut Academy and further refined through my time in the Navy,” Licata wrote in a Thursday email.

“When I entered my name in the race for the Florida House of Representatives, I did so in this spirit of service. However recent developments have lead me to believe that this is not the best way to serve at this time; thus I will be submitting my withdrawal as a candidate for public office to the Florida Division of Election in the coming weeks,” he continued.

Licata thanked his supporters for backing his campaign over the past few months and said he would continue being “very involved” with the Republican Party of Pinellas County and Pinellas County Young Republicans.

Licata was running against Jeremy Bailie and Raymond Blacklidge in the Republican Primary. He initially filed to run in HD 62 at the end of July, a left-leaning seat held by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, but he sent a letter to the Florida Division of Elections in August switching his campaign over to HD 69, where he said “his roots run deep.”

Licata’s campaign failed to gain traction when it came to fundraising, however. Through four months he raised $645 and lent his campaign $1,000.

Blacklidge, a veteran insurance executive, was the first-in candidate and is the current leader in the money race. He has brought in over $70,000 so far, including $5,500 in loans. Heading into November he had about $50,000 on hand.

Bailie, who filed in September, has raised $22,309 through his first two months in the race and had $21,261in the bank on Oct. 31.

Also running is Democrat Jennifer Necole Webb, who entered the race at the beginning of the month. She challenged Peters in 2016 and lost by 13 points on Election Day.

HD 69 has a Republican lean, though voter registrations between the two major parties are relatively close.

Peters won her 2012 contest against Democrat Josh Shulman 52-48, and her elections since have had even greater margins — she won 58-52 in 2014 and took 57 percent of the vote in 2016.

Earlier this year, Peters announced she would not seek a fourth term for the Pinellas County seat and would instead run for county commission, citing an “assault on home rule” from Tallahassee.

Ross Spano announcement opens HD 59 seat in 2018

Dover House Republican Ross Spano is throwing his hat into the ring for Attorney General, making his House District 59 open next year.

The eastern Hillsborough County seat is one in which Democrats hoping for a wave election in 2018 think they might be able to flip — with the right candidate, of course.

Last year, Spano defeated attorney Rena Frazier by eight points, 54-46 percent, a disappointment officials with the Florida Democratic Party, who thought they had a legitimate chance of capturing the seat and put financial resources into that campaign.

Frazier did not respond to a request for comment from Florida Politics, but it’s unlikely she would leave her role as chief of policy and communications under Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren.

Another Democratic possibility is Gail Gottlieb, an attorney who had worked at many public policy positions in Washington D.C.

Gottlieb narrowly lost to Spano in 2012, 51 percent to 49 percent. She currently lives in D.C. but returns to Brandon often.

Joe Wicker

Gottlieb told Florida Politics that “one can’t help but think about” running again, adding she also thinks some other qualified candidates could compete.

Hillsborough County schoolteacher Naze Sahebzamani lost to Frazier in the HD 59 Democratic primary. She did not return a request for comment.

On the GOP side, a top candidate mentioned is Joe Wicker, a businessman and veteran who lost to Spano by just 2 points in the HD 59 Republican primary in 2012.

Colton Curry, the son of East Hillsborough conservative activist Clif Curry, is reportedly considering a candidacy. Another name floating around Republican circles is David Wilson, a real estate and home building professional.

House District 59 encompasses Brandon, Riverview, Valrico, Clair Mel and Progress Village in eastern Hillsborough County.

Tampa Family Health Centers providing health care to displaced Puerto Ricans

In the weeks since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, knocking out power, killing hundreds and leaving many without homes, Tampa Family Health Centers has stepped up to provide medical care to the thousands of Puerto Ricans who fled to the Sunshine State.

“At Tampa Family, it is our philosophy that everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, regardless of their ability to pay,” TFHC CEO Charles Bottoms said. “We are committed to supporting our brothers and sisters from Puerto Rico and welcome them to our centers.  We are here to help those seeking aid with medical treatment.”

The health center network includes 15 locations in Hillsborough County, and while TFHC asks for an ID and insurance card from prospective patients, it will not turn away those who show up without insurance.

“When a disaster like Hurricane Maria strikes U.S. Territory and surrounding countries, we become one community and it is TFHC’s goal to provide for the community as much as we can,” Bottoms said.  “We want to make sure that those arriving in Hillsborough County know we are here and that they can come to one of our centers and get the care they deserve.”

Those seeking medical care can find information on TFHC’s locations through their website. All locations are open Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM, while three locations have extended hours and Saturday appointments available.

Patients can book an appointment online or by calling TFHC at (813) 397-5300.

Ben Diamond endorses Gwen Graham for Governor

The field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates could keep growing, but St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond announced Thursday that he’s backing former Congresswoman Gwen Graham in the primary race to take over for Gov. Rick Scott.

“Gwen Graham has shown she is not afraid to take on the special interests or status quo. Gwen understands that hardworking Floridians should not have to pay investor-owned utilities for nuclear power plants that are never built or for fracking exploration,” Diamond said in a press release from the Graham campaign. “As governor, Gwen will stand with Florida’s families over Tallahassee special interests.”

Graham last week came out against utility companies putting the financial burden of their ventures on ratepayers through nuclear cost recovery fees and fracking exploration.

“For 20 years, the Republican politicians in Tallahassee have turned a blind eye to the Public Service Commission and utility companies as they’ve taxed seniors, small business owners and families. That ends when I’m elected governor,” she said.

Diamond also applauded Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, for her support of Florida Forever and other environmental programs.

“For too long, leaders in Tallahassee have ignored the will of the voters by refusing to fully fund Florida Forever. Gwen will listen. She will continue the legacy and leadership of her father in working to conserve Florida’s lands and protect Florida’s water supply for our children and grandchildren. As governor, I know Gwen will fully support Florida Forever and be a good steward of our environment.”

Florida voters in 2014 overwhelmingly backed the Florida Forever ballot amendment, dedicating more money for Florida Future — only to see meager appropriations in the three years since.

A senate bill filed for the 2018 Legislative Session seeking to commit the Sunshine State to spending $100 million a year on land acquisition and preservation through the Florida Forever Trust Fund cleared its first committee stop last week.

Graham called Diamond a “true leader” and said she was “proud to have his support.”

“Working with Floridians across this state, we will end the special-interest stranglehold on our government. We will fight to conserve our land and protect our clean water for generations to come,” she said.

Graham is currently in a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination for governor. She faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who entered the race on Nov. 1.

Graham has raised about $4 million for her campaign, putting her behind only Levine among Democratic candidates. Looming on the horizon is the possible entry of Orlando attorney John Morgan, who told Florida Politics Thursday he would decide whether to run in the first quarter of next year.

Old tensions about Cuba resurface at Tampa City Council meeting

A recent trip to Cuba by Tampa City Council Chair Yolie Capin and Councilman Harry Cohen was just the latest by members of the political establishment who have worked for nearly a decade to set up closer relations between the city and the Communist island.

Former Councilwoman Mary Mulhern first visited Cuba as part of a delegation of local business leaders in 2009, and she boarded the first direct flight from Tampa to Havana in 2011 after the Obama administration opened up travel to other U.S. airports beyond Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

Although not nearly as controversial as a decade ago, such trips are still not necessarily universally embraced in Tampa, which houses a huge Cuban-American population, including exiles of the Fidel Castro regime.

After former President Barack Obama made history in 2014 when he announced a full resumption of relations with Cuba, council members rallied to seek a Cuban embassy in Tampa.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn did not endorse the move, saying he always remained loyal to those exiles.

Those tensions came to light at a presentation Thursday when Councilman Mike Suarez, a Cuban-American who never fully embraced the outreach, asked Capin if any members of the delegation had reached out to Cuban dissidents, referring to how former Congressman Jim Davis had done so during a trip in 2006.

Capin said they had not, but appreciated the question.

“Our president just went to China and Vietnam,” Capin said. “He did not ask to see any dissidents.”

“I’m not challenging you at all,” Suarez replied.

Capin had made six trips to Cuba, and she said the issue of meeting dissidents had never come up a single time.

Tampa’s current U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, made her first trip to Cuba in 2013, meeting dissidents at that time. Upon her return, she became the first member of Florida’s congressional delegation to call for the end of the U.S. economic embargo to the island.

Officials Capin met in Cuba asked for “mutual respect for different ideologies,” and dispelled the perception that the country was in “chaos” following Hurricane Irma.

Chambers of Commerce for Tampa and St. Petersburg are considering attending the annual International Trade Fair there, she said.

“In my estimation, Tampa stands to gain thousands and thousands of jobs and transforms us into the global city that we want to be.”

While the local delegation visited the island nation, Donald Trump blamed Cuba for the mysterious attacks that sickened American diplomats there and prompted the abrupt withdrawal of United States embassy staff from Havana.

Cohen said that comment created certain a “chill” on the trip, which he deemed “unfortunate.”

“The international situation I think more than anything, more than anything else, was made clear to us that was going to affect our own region’s ability to engage with the future of Cuba,” Cohen added.

He did say that the Florida Aquarium will continue its partnership with the National Aquarium of Cuba, where it is nurturing and tracking coral reefs in Cuba to learn how to save reefs in Florida better.

Last week, the Trump administration rolled back some of the diplomatic thaw enacted by the Obama administration.

Travelers who visit Cuba under “people to people” guidelines must now book a tour only with an official U.S. group; a member of that team must go with them on the trip.

The administration also issued a list of more than 100 businesses, including 84 hotels, where American travelers cannot go.

Earlier in the council discussion, Luis Viera, another Cuban-American member of the board whose family members are exiles, said he supports Capin and Cohen’s visit as part of what he calls “principled engagement” with Cuba.

He challenged his colleagues to have a dialogue with Cuban-exiles about the relations with the country.

“I think that this would behoove us as council members on this if that’s something that is going to be continued as a policy is to engage members of that community,” he said, “because in the city of Tampa that community is a very large part of our city in terms of the social fabric, cultural fabric, etc.”

Capin said that was an excellent idea.

Two members of the audience questioned the council members visit.

“I have family in Cuba, I want to see a change in Cuba,” said Rafael Pizo, who complained that his family in Cuba still cannot buy aspirin, which had nothing to do with an economic embargo. “This is a tactic by the regime to keep the people down.”

Another unidentified Cuban exile, who spoke in Spanish (with an English translator), said the council was wasting its time trying to do business with the current regime.

“What business can we expect with this regime, they don’t even pay their allies and they pay no debts?” he asked. “To give them our money that we need in our communities for our roads, for our sick, for our social economic programs, we need our money here in our town, not in Cuba, they have nothing to offer us.”

Joe Henderson: Kick in pants to St. Pete’s MLS hope?

According to Sports Illustrated, St. Petersburg is not among the finalists for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. The magazine said sources were saying that the league will add two franchises from among three cities: Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati.

In a separate story on Yahoo, St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay ranked only seventh from a list of 12 interested cities.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After a lot of initial enthusiasm, St. Pete’s chances seemed to be slipping. But still, that’s a kick in the … pants.

This is something we could have seen coming, though – starting with the age-old problem facing St. Petersburg and professional sports. Not enough people show up at the games.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies of the United Soccer League drew crowds that averaged 5,894 for 16 home games this season at Al Lang Stadium in beautiful downtown St. Pete.

That ranked well behind USL members Cincinnati (21,199) and Sacramento (11,569).

Plus, Cincinnati’s average attendance was more than 3,000 above the stadium capacity Rowdies owner Bill Edwards made in his MLS expansion pitch. He said he would pay for an $80 million expansion of Al Lang Stadium to 18,000 seats, plus the estimated $150 million fee for the team.

Even if the team sold out every game at that capacity though, it would rank only 16th out of the current 22 franchises in MLS.

Sounds like MLS wants a bigger barn.

There is another problem that St. Pete sports perpetually run up against: location.

Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays have complained that their chronic attendance woes can be partly explained by the fact Tropicana Field is located far from the center of the market. And in competing for a soccer franchise, St. Pete may be a victim of other forces within Florida.

MLS already has a team in Orlando, and it’s a virtual lock that Miami soon will have one too. Expanding to St. Pete might seem like overkill to the league.

Assuming St. Pete is shut out of the expansion derby, there is another possibility, though.

If Edwards doesn’t sour on MLS, he might try to buy and move another team. The Columbus Crew are considering a move to Austin, Texas. Maybe some other owner would be willing to listen to a pitch from Edwards.

It’s a long shot, but maybe Edwards will feel it’s worth a try. I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t, though. He was already putting up a lot of money, and the league seems to be saying it would have taken a lot more.

Tom Lee in no rush to declare CFO candidacy

Tom Lee’s new timetable to officially announce he is running to be Florida’s Chief Financial Officer is that he has no timetable.

While telling Florida Politics he remains “absolutely committed” to running for the 2018 Republican nomination for CFO, Lee, a Republican state Senator from Thonotosassa, said there is no rush to sign paperwork and officially declare his candidacy

“I had a practical conversation about all this with my campaign staff and we don’t see a lot of urgency to jump into the race at this moment,” he said. “Unless I resign from the Senate and leave the Constitution Revision Commission, I can’t devote full time to campaigning.

“The good news is that this is a down-ballot race and there won’t be much focus on it until the primary itself.”

Incumbent Jimmy Patronis, who was appointed earlier this year to the CFO post by Gov. Rick Scott after Jeff Atwater resigned to accept the job as CFO at Florida Atlantic University, has announced he will run for a full four-year term. That would set what could be a bruising Republican primary battle with Lee, who lost in 2006 to Democrat Alex Sink in the general election for CFO.

Lee said in August that he expected to formally announce his bid within a few months, but decided that his other requirements in Tallahassee take up too much time for now. He said he will continue to interview potential members of a campaign staff, including a communications chief. Fund-raising efforts also will continue. According to state records, his political committee The Conservative took in $211,000 in October, giving Lee’s campaign $2.28 million in the bank.

That sum would put Lee in the top spot if he were to declare, though Patronis is raising money at a fast pace.

Patronis added $431,100 to his political committee, Treasure Florida, last month and has now raised $653,850 since opening the account in August.

The only other major candidate, Margate Democrat Jeremy Ring, has about $193,000 on hand in his campaign account and another $135,723 on hand in his political committee, Florida Action Fund, for a combined total of $328,723.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons