Bob Buckhorn Archives - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: No tax for tracks, or anything else in Hillsborough

No tax for tracks. No tax for anything.

What else is new?

The grumpy demographic in Hillsborough County has weighed in on the All For Transportation referendum and guess what? They’re agin’ it!

I know you’re shocked.

The first mailer appeared in my mailbox Monday. The old “No Tax For Tracks” group reformed about three weeks ago to fight the Nov. 6 referendum to raise the sales tax by a penny for transportation needs.

It was predictable.

It was adorned with a picture of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Both men heavily support the referendum, so they were trolled with the label of Bob “Billions” Buckhorn and Jeff “Vision” Vinik.

Ouch. That hurts.

They didn’t mention the more than 77,000 people who signed petitions to get this issue on the ballot because a majority of the county commissioners couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

But the punch line was a sentence that flat-out said a rail system would be part of the tax plan, along with an out-of-left-field jab that said tax money would be used “to finance another billionaire’s stadium.”

I guess they mean the Tampa Bay Rays. And where did they draw the connection between the stadium and the referendum? The mailer doesn’t say. All it screams is TAX!!!!!

Oh, and TRACKS!!!!!!

“This tax increase is unnecessary as Hillsborough County commissioners re-prioritized $800 million of existing revenue for transportation funding over 10 years that, along with our existing gas taxes, funds needed maintenance and safety issues,” Karen Jaroch, co-founder of the Hillsborough tea party and a former member of the county’s bus board, told the Tampa Bay Times.

That money is a spit in the bucket for the transportation needs now, let alone what will it be like in 10 years.

If approved, the tax is estimated to generate about $280 million a year for 30 years, although that figure likely will grow because the county is growing rapidly and that means more people – and cars – on a road system that can’t handle what it already has.

More than half the money is targeted for congestion relief in the form of road repairs, smart traffic signals, sidewalks, and other upgrades.

About 45 percent of the money would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for expanded rapid bus service and possibly, yes, some sort of rail system.

The notion that a rail system might be years down the road (so to speak) sets opponents’ collective hair on fire. Their answer is to build more roads, including an expansion of toll roads, and, um … THOSE AREN’T FREE.

A long-range Florida Department of Transportation study estimates that it could cost $7,448,544.36 for a single mile of new four-lane urban roadway with bike lanes. You never hear the “No Tax” hounds barking about that.

Junk like this has kept Hillsborough stuck in the slow lane for years because these people, tea party types mostly, have a phobia against rail and are determined to apply it to any new transportation idea.

They have gotten away with it because lawmakers, Republicans mostly on the County Commission, are scared that the next mailer will be about them.

So, we sit, as Tampa’s traffic situation grows worse by the day and the “No Tax” crowd celebrates the malaise.

Mind you, as usual, No Tax For Tracks supporters offer no solution. They never do.

They just scream no, and they keep repeating it and throwing out juvenile insults against anyone who tries to say they are wrong.

They may be over the edge of their skis trying to turn Buckhorn and Vinik into bogeymen though.

If Buckhorn wasn’t term-limited, I doubt he would even have an opponent if he wanted to run for a third term as Tampa’s Mayor. And Vinik’s “vision” that the mailer mocks will result in a completely rebuilt Channel District after decades of floundering.

No one likes paying taxes but it’s part of the deal to pay for things that benefit the public. People have identified our lack of decent transportation as a major issue and it won’t get better by screaming “NO!”

Bob Buckhorn goes all-in with ‘All for Transportation’ plan

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is going all-in for the All For Transportation plan, which seeks to raise sales tax 1 percent to fund transit and transportation improvements.

“The lack of investment in our core transportation infrastructure has reached a crisis point,” Buckhorn said in his endorsement Wednesday. “We need funding for projects that reduce congestion, make our streets safer and provide new and reliable transit options for people to get to and from work.”

The All For Transportation plan would raise $280 million annually. Of that, 45 percent would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for enhancements to Hillsborough County’s existing bus service and for new transit options.

One percent would fund oversight on how revenue is spent while the rest would go to the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City for road and bridge projects including new roads, pothole repair, repaving, traffic congestion relief as well as pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

The referendum would raise about $9 billion over its 30-year life.

Money raised cannot fund new highways, however; those projects that are typically funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Buckhorn joins a long list of endorsements from community leaders that includes Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen, Charlie Miranda, Mike Suarez, Yolie Capin and Guido Maniscalco in addition to Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller and Florida State Senator Darryl Rouson.

Several local chambers of commerce have also backed the plan including the Greater Tampa, Upper Tampa Bay and South Tampa Chambers and the local tourism arm, Visit Tampa Bay.

Through a recent op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik also endorsed the plan. 

All three local major league sports teams, the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Lightning, each contributed $100,000 to the campaign in favor of Hillsborough County Referendum No. 2. The teams noted transportation was a vital part of ensuring the quality of life for employees and provide better options for fans attending games.

David Straz comes out with four early endorsements for Tampa Mayor

Tampa philanthropist David Straz nabbed four endorsements from a business group and three workers unions, the Tampa Mayoral candidate announced Monday.

The Northwest Florida Chapter of Black Women in Construction, United Food and Commercial Workers 1625, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 487, District 925 and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 123 have all offered their nod to Straz, whose name graces downtown Tampa’s performing arts center.

“I’ve been meeting with groups across the city, and I’m humbled to receive the early endorsements of these organizations,” Straz said. “When I meet with these groups, I speak from the heart about my desire to make Tampa a better, stronger place to live, start and run a business and raise a family.”

The four groups cited Straz’s work ethic and character as two of the defining reasons they chose to back him in the crowded mayor’s race.

“David Straz has a commitment to the people of Tampa that is unsurpassed and inspiring. Job creation and growth along with citywide improvements in areas where the residents need it most are a few of the priorities David communicated to us. We feel that David Straz has the experience, work ethic and vision needed to move Tampa forward,” said Todd Vega, business manager of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 123.

Straz has poured more than $1.5 million into his own campaign coffers and has spent a decent chunk of that on television ad buys introducing himself to voters as more than just a philanthropist.

The introduction to voters on issues will be a crucial endeavor for Straz who admittedly voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

The city of Tampa has historically favored Democratic mayoral candidates. Straz joined the Democratic Party in late April after announcing he was running to succeed incumbent Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He’s also since said he regrets voting for Trump and would not do so again.

Former Hillsborough Democratic Party Executive Director Mark Hanisee is running Straz’s campaign. Hanisee left his post with the local party to take the job with Straz.

Though Hanisee is a well known skilled fundraiser — he started with the Hillsborough party to raise funds after being voted out of office in Pinellas County — Straz has said he won’t accept contributions more than $500. As of the most recent campaign finance filings, Straz has held true to that promise.

Straz prides himself as a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” sort of candidate having built his fortune in the banking industry.

“We know David Straz will be a tremendous leader and steward of the working class. We offer our full endorsement and support to David Straz because of his honest character and incredible vision for the City of Tampa,” said Jim Junecko, business agent for IUOE Local 487.

At age 75, Straz also lacks the future political ambition other younger candidates in the race might have.

“We were very impressed with David Straz because he loves the City of Tampa and is not using the mayor’s office as a steppingstone to higher office,” Ed Chambers, president of UFCW Local 1625 said.

Straz will take on former Tampa Chief of Police Jane Castor, Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, small business coach Topher Morrison and community activist LaVaughn King.

As I-4 mayors endorse him, Andrew Gillum pledges interest in mass transit

The three mayors of major Interstate 4 cities came together in Orlando Thursday to endorse Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s bid for Governor because they’re all Democrats, they’re all mayors, and they all want to see more investment in mass transit.

As Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman gathered with Gillum and his running mate Chris King beneath the seemingly never-ending I-4 construction in downtown Orlando, Gillum pledged he, too, wants what those three mayors have pushed for, to see trains running between their cities.

It’s an issue that unites Dyer, Buckhorn and Kriseman: a train that does not unite their cities.  Gov. Rick Scott canceled the planned Orlando-to-Tampa Bay high-speed rail system in his first year in office when he turned down $2 billion in federal stimulus funding.

Gillum got on board.

“They know as well as I do that when Barack Obama tried to send us more than $2 billion for high-speed rail, what did our current governor say? He said no. Can you imagine the number of people who could have gone to work, the jobs that could have been created across the I-4 corridor?” Gillum said. “We, instead of building more lane miles, could have moved thousands of people a day across the I-4 corridor to go to work, to play, to see friends, and to grow the economy of the central part of Florida.

“It’s my belief we deserve a governor who is going to act in the interest of all the people in the state of Florida, and it would have been in the best interest of the people of our state to build high-speed rail in this corridor,” Gillum said.

The press conference led the mayors to discuss the reasons they believe mayors would make good governors, notably that they work close to the citizens, that, as Kriseman suggested, they have no place to hide, and that they are, virtually by job description, problem solvers, and that they are more likely to collaborate and fight for local control. They also shared the basic Democratic tenants on such things as gun law reform, LGBTQ equality measures, Medicaid expansion, and dramatically increased spending in public education, as well as their own records of business development.

As election politics has increasingly divided Americans among several lines, not the least of which being between city people and those of small towns and rural areas, Buckhorn stated the case for cities like Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Orlando leading the state’s future, with progressive residents and progressive visions.

“It’s the cities of Florida that have pulled this state out of the recession,” Buckhorn said. “It’s the cities where the jobs are being created, where entrepreneurs are going, where high-tech is growing and being funded, where young people are flocking. It is the cities of Florida that are making a difference in this state. And what matters to us is we have a partner in the Governor’s office.”

They also took a couple of quick shots at Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who Kriseman accused of showing no interest in mass transit.

“The big city mayors all agree that the more connected we all are, the stronger we all are,” Kriseman said. “Now Ron DeSantis has a different view. He said he is skeptical of state investment in mass transit, and that we need to work on expanding our roadways. That’s not exactly visionary, and that’s not what Florida needs.

The press conference outside of Orlando’s Amway Center was occasionally disrupted by Republican protesters shouting anti-Gillum chants and once by Orlando-area conservative activist Jacob Engels shouting at Gillum about one of his former staffer’s offensive remarks. Kriseman, Buckhorn, Dyer, and Gillum took turns both welcoming the protesters and suggesting they were part of a problem of divisive politics that Democrats seek to overcome.

“The other side is mastering in politics of division, of hatred, of derisiveness, and what we are majoring in is politics of the future, politics of the people, politics that put the regular working-day people ahead of everybody else,” Gillum said. “Not the high-paid interests, not the special interests, not even paid protesters.”

The first Tampa mayoral debate: Five take-aways

Candidates to replace Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn next year. Six of eight candidates running to succeed the two-term mayor faced off in the election’s first debate Wednesday night at Hillsborough Community College. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce hosted the debate and Politifact Executive Director Aaron Shockman moderated.

Attendees included former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, business consultant Topher Morrison and community activist LaVaughn King.

Not in attendance were Michael Anthony Hazard and David Straz.

The little over one-hour debate touched on several key issues facing Tampa in the coming years including a looming budget deficit and how to manage the budget shortfall, but here are five take-aways that didn’t include a degree in accounting.

Transportation is the top issue – No matter what the question was, transportation somehow managed to creep into the answer.

All six candidates fundamentally agreed that transportation in Hillsborough County and Tampa is bad and getting worse and they all acknowledged the transportation system is woefully under-funded.

Most of the candidates support the All for Transportation referendum before voters this November that would raise about $280 million a year – $9 billion over 30 years – to fund both transportation and transit enhancements.

Turanchik was the lone dissent on that referendum. He said he might vote for it, but has serious concerns. He’s worried future leadership in Tampa and Hillsborough County could taint the referendum’s intent. Under the referendum, no specific projects are proposed. Rather, it creates a framework for how to spend the money and lets individual municipalities and the county decide how to use the funds. It guarantees 55 percent for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, but most of the rest is fair game.

“When there is a big pot of money and it’s not earmarked, special interests come in and gobble it up,” Turanchik said.

Morrison also expressed some concern over the plan noting there are solutions that might not necessarily require raising taxes, but he said it’s a good start and plans to vote in favor of it.

King said transportation is fundamental in supporting his No. 1 priority, the arts. He said if the city boosts its arts community it could be a citywide revenue generator that could fund transportation over the long haul.

The rest of the candidates support All for Transportation even if acknowledging the plan wasn’t perfect because, as they all surmised – no plan is.

A new Rays stadium was a close second – Where transportation dominated candidates’ talking points, a new Major League Baseball stadium in Ybor City wasn’t far behind. There was broad consensus on one thing – taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for paying for it.

But candidates offered a range of opinions on whether or not to build it and, if so, how to pay for it. The most innovative solution came from Morrison who managed to weave transportation into his answer.

“Hyperloop. It can get [to and from] Orlando in ten minutes. How many think that sounds a little more attractive [than an hour train ride,]” Morrison said.

He was referencing the private company All Aboard Florida’s plans to build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando along Interstate 4. That trip would take about an hour. Hyperloop is a magnetic levitation tube that could make the trip in ten minutes by traveling at the speed of sound.

Morrison said that line could terminate at a new baseball stadium, turning it into a transportation hub that could then draw down state and federal transportation funding. Morrison admitted he wasn’t sure if that was an option, but said “it’s worth looking into.”

There’s another catch to Morrison’s stadium funding plan – Hyperloop might be way too far off to consider as a solution for today’s needs. Companies are testing the technology in Europe and in the Western U.S. and commercial routes are in the works, but there aren’t currently any proofs of concept to hedge any bets.

Castor said the Tampa Bay area “is too big to lose the Rays” and that the team simply won’t work in St. Petersburg.

“But the public is not going to pay for that stadium,” she said. “If the private dollars are in it than we’ll build the most palatial stadium the world has ever seen.”

Suarez and Turanchik both criticized the Tampa Bay Rays for lacking transparency in the stadium process.

“You don’t play poker with somebody you don’t what kind of hand they have,” Suarez said. “We need them to come forward and tell us how much money they’re going to put up.”

Turanchik gave one assurance.

“I know the difference between a bad deal and a good deal,” he said. “I’m careful with your money.”

No one candidate came away the “winner” – No one underperformed, but no one outperformed either. Each candidate displayed strengths that will likely be honed over the next several months of campaigning.

Castor’s experience as Tampa Police Chief shone in her answers. She was diplomatic and spoke with clarity and assertion. But she was also cautious. Many of her answers were vague and left broad room for interpretation.

Suarez and Morrison dominated the Buckhorn swagger game (the current mayor loves his swagger.) Suarez cracked jokes and drew laughter several times from the audience. His speaking style was conversational and relatable.

Morrison was similar, though a little less ‘grab a drink at the local bar’ conversational. He casually leaned on the table in front of him and showed careful consideration of his opponents ideas. He engaged with the audience by not just talking to them, but by talking with them.

That engagement showed. Even as the underdog, Morrison drew the most amount of applause.

Turanchik showed up with his own style of mayoral charm. He displayed confidence and used his experience as a Hillsborough County Commissioner and former mayoral candidate to show he has the policy chops necessary in an elected leader. But his confidence could come off to some as arrogance.

King asserted himself well into a race few even know he’s running. He came across as well-spoken and was particularly well-received when he spoke about under-represented parts of the city like West and East Tampa. But his campaign platform being so tightly wound around the arts seems too narrow and he often took issues mostly unrelated and used them to circle back to expanding arts and culture.

Meanwhile, Cohen did a good job of distancing himself from Harry Cohen the City Council member and Harry Cohen the Mayor. He was sharp on the issues and had well-thought out answers to anything thrown at him. And he wasn’t afraid to follow up with a little spunk, which brings us to the next take-away …

Harry Cohen nabbed the night’s best zinger – Cohen blasted Turanchik towards the end of the debate. Throughout the course of the evening Turanchik criticized the transportation referendum, opposed a 41-mile regional bus route between St. Pete and Wesley Chapel and spoke negatively about a new baseball stadium.

“I hear so much negativity up on this stage tonight,” Cohen lamented. “We gotta keep an open mind and we’ve got to keep ourselves open to new ideas and we have to embrace ideas that don’t just come from us. If the community has an interest in having a baseball stadium we should make it happen.”

Tampa has no brand identity, apparently – Bucking the traditional 1-2 minute introductory statements at the start of debates, Wednesday night’s debate instead opened with each candidate answering the question, what is Tampa’s brand identity?

Cue the crickets.

Turanchik said when he mentions Tampa to people who don’t live here their response is usually “that’s where Mons Venus is.”

“OK, but that’s not the brand we are thinking about,” he said.

Morrison agreed the knee jerk answer is cigars and strippers.

Each candidate did have a vision for what they want the city’s brand to be.

For Mike Suarez that’s diversity. For King, robust arts and culture. Turanchik – innovation.

“I don’t know what our brand is, but I can tell you this, people love living here,” Cohen said. “They love the relative affordability. They love the opportunities that exist in this growing and vibrant community.”

Castor said whatever the city is known for, it needs a strong leader to forge that path and to keep Tampa as a “big city with a small town feel.”

Tampa couldn’t beat St. Pete, so it’s bought it

Imagine moving to St. Petersburg in 2018.

You’d be forgiven to think that this — the incredible mix of living, working, and playing — has always been this way.

That there are always cranes in the sky marking the future arrival of some luxurious development. That there seems to be a craft brewery on every corner. That so many restaurants are opening an owners’ most pressing problem is finding enough cooks and waiters to staff them.

But as anyone who has lived in the town once known as St. Petersburg but now casually referred to as the ‘burg, it has most decidedly not always been this way.

Beach Drive was a misnomer more appropriately designated “Crappy Motel Drive.” Proper citizens did not stroll along Central Avenue unless they did not mind being propositioned by a lady of the night. The Vinoy, a crown jewel of downtown St. Petersburg, sat shuddered while the homeless employed the space currently occupied by Marchand’s as a makeshift indoor volleyball court.

While there is some debate about when the first renaissance of St. Pete began — was it when the Vinoy reopened or when the city decided to build a baseball stadium? — there’s no doubt that the city has gone through not one, not two, but at least three booming periods of development. The only factors slowing down growth were the Great Recession of 2008 and the not-so-great tenure of former Mayor Bill Foster of about the same period.

If there is one consistency throughout this entire quarter-century run, it has been Tampa’s envy of St. Petersburg. That place on the other side of the bridge, once designated America’s next great city, has spent the last three decades sending delegations to St. Pete to “learn” what made St. Pete so great while Tampa continued to struggle.

None other than Patrick Manteiga, one of Tampa’s most prominent boosters, wrote in a column published at about the same time of his daughter’s wedding about how he saw 10,000 people walking around downtown St. Pete for no other reason than what was usually there — museums, the Saturday Morning Market, and dog-friendly restaurants.

To draw visitors, St. Pete did not need a sports team or a special event.

In other words, St. Pete did not build it, and they still came.

Tampa’s fortunes began to turn under the back-to-back mayorships of Pam Iorio and Bob Buckhorn. The former filled a lot of potholesfixed a lot of sewers and other such mundane things (that City Hall is supposed to do), laying the groundwork for the swagger Buckhorn has brought to the city.

Yet despite all of the best efforts of Buckhorn and other Tampanians … despite all the ground ceded by neo-regionalists, including the newspaper that changed its name in an attempt to sell more Sports Authority ads in Hernando County … despite the losing campaign of Rick Baker, St. Pete’s most ardent defender … despite all of this and more, St. Pete was still the Athens to Tampa’s Sparta.

Until this year.

2018 will go down in regional history as the year the Tampa-St. Pete rivalry finally ended and not in a way anyone could have foretold when Dick Greco and David Fischer were mayors of their respective cities.

The truth is Tampa could not beat St. Pete. So it bought it. Or acquired it. However you want to say it.

Consider the most recent developments:

— The USF St. Pete campus reintegrated into the mother campus in Tampa.

— The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club purchased by Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Bryan Glazer.

— The Tampa Bay Rowdies sold by last-man-standing-up-for-St. Pete Bill Edwards to the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays, who salivate about moving to Ybor City the way a graduated high school senior can’t wait to move to a college dorm.

These are the big, headline-grabbing stories. Undoubtedly, there are countless smaller stories in which Tampa money bought St. Pete resources.

All that’s left of an independent St. Pete is Jeff Vinik purchasing Sundial and Richard Gonzmart opening a restaurant in the Grand Central District.

Face it, St. Pete, this was the year Tampa came over to St. Pete’s house and grabbed its remote control.

We’ve been owned.

Believe it or not, I, for one, welcome our Tampa overlords.

If you travel enough to visit other mid-major American metropolises, you quickly realize how far the Tampa Bay region is in categories that don’t include “days of sunshine” in their criteria.

We need the Viniks, Glazers and Gonzmarts to do more business and to invest in St. Petersburg.

Them doing so is probably the best way to make sure St. Pete’s renaissance continues.

Let the games begin: Tampa Chamber hosting first mayoral debate of the season

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Tampa Mayoral debate Wednesday at the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry campus. The event starts at 6:45 p.m. with networking open at 5:30 p.m.

Confirmed candidates include former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, Tampa City Council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, attorney and Cross Bay Ferry champion Ed Turanchik, small business consultant Topher Morrison and community activist LaVaughn King.

Candidates David Straz and Michael Anthony Hazard did not confirm their attendance. Neither candidate has publicly campaigned since filing to run for the 2019 race.

Aaron Sharockman, executive director of PolitiFact, will serve as moderator.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s Catalyst Committee, composed of young professionals throughout the area, is submitting questions for the candidates.

Topics will likely include two Hillsborough County sales tax referendums the Chamber endorsed — the All for Transportation 1 percent ask and the Hillsborough County Schools one-half percent proposal.

Other hot topics in Tampa that are likely to come up include the possibility of a new baseball stadium in Ybor City. The Tampa Bay Rays chose the Ybor site near downtown as its top pick for a new ballpark that could cost up to $900 million.

A new mayor will also play an integral role in the $1 billion Strategic Property Partners’ Water Street Tampa development controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC, which is Bill Gates’ investment fund.

Of all of the filed candidates, Straz has by far the most cash on hand for the election. He’s raised more than $1.5 million, but all but $24,000 came from personal contributions to the campaign and an $800,000 loan to the campaign from his own accounts.

Behind him is Castor who has raised $173,000 and Turanchik with $157,000. Cohen raised just under $92,000 while Morrison brought in $56,000 so far. Suarez has raised $37,000 so far. King hasn’t raised any funds and Hazard has raised less than $300.

Those fundraising totals are as of the most recent campaign finance reporting deadline that passed at the end of August.

The winner will replace term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The election is March 5.

Janet Cruz TV ad

Bob Buckhorn stars in Janet Cruz TV ad

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is the center of the latest Janet Cruz television ad that will be featured on broadcast and cable channels throughout the coming weeks.

The ad launched Tuesday. It shows the two-term mayor in black and white, standing in a bare room.

My friend Janet Cruz embodies what it means to be a Tampanian. And as a daughter of immigrants, she has spent every day enhancing their legacy,” Buckhorn says.

The 30-second spot goes on to describe a candidate who “will make sure our public schools are fully-funded, and without mold and crumbling infrastructure.”

The Cruz campaign claims her opponent, incumbent Republican Dana Young, voted on or otherwise supported $1.3 billion in cuts to public education throughout her tenure in the legislature.

Young is running to keep her Senate District 18 seat. She previously served two terms in the Florida House.

The Young campaign rejects Cruz’s consistent attacks on her voting record as it relates to public education. Young defends her record supporting school choice, like voucher programs and charter schools.

Democrats like Cruz argue those programs siphon money out of traditional schools, and amount to cuts to public education.

Voucher programs use tax credits to fund scholarships to private schools for low-income students who can’t get into quality public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately operated.

“This election gives Hillsborough families the opportunity to right so many wrongs caused by Young’s reckless votes and once again put our community ahead of the special interests and well-connected insiders,” Cruz said.

Buckhorn’s mention of mold in schools is a nod to Plant High School, where the aging building’s air conditioning is not properly functioning and has resulted in mold.

The Hillsborough County School District recently approved a one-half percent sales tax referendum for the November ballot to fund repairs like those necessary at Plant High.

The Cruz and Young matchup is one of the most hotly contested in the state. Recent polls have the two in a neck and neck battle for the Senate District 18 race in Tampa.

Cruz currently represents House District 62 seat in Tampa. Former Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes will replace Cruz in that seat.

Valdes defeated Mike Alvarez in the Democratic primary in August. There were no Republican challengers in that race for the heavily Democratic and Hispanic district covering west Tampa.

Joe Henderson: David Straz may find he needs political skills to be Tampa Mayor

David Straz Jr. didn’t say anything wrong during the kickoff for his self-funded campaign to be Tampa’s Mayor. Give the billionaire philanthropist that much.

But as he outlined his platform in a one-minute, 52-second video, he didn’t say much that would get anyone excited either. There were a lot of platitudes and a bunch of real non-specific stuff, like this:

“We need a commonsense approach to protect our quality of life. That means focusing on people, not politics,” he said.

What exactly does that mean?

When is the last time anyone running for public office said, “You know what? We really need a whacked-out approach that will screw up everything that is good about our city. I’m going to focus on grabbing all the gold I can, and I can promise the people this: As long as you don’t ask too many questions, I won’t bother you again until it’s time to re-elect me.”

And, with all respect to Mr. Straz, if he is successful in winning, politics will be a skill he will have to master. He will have to work with people he may not like and cannot make them go away. As Mayor, he won’t wield the same authority as someone in charge of a large corporation.

A Mayor can’t just fire people because they disagree with him, no matter what “the big guy himself” (channeling my inner Ron DeSantis) in Washington would have people believe. I mean, Jeff Sessions still has a job. Robert Mueller still has a job.

Just sayin’.

Yes sir, Mr. Straz, politics are important in running a city.

David Straz, at age 75, has lived a successful life and has given back to his community. I mean, the musical Hamilton is coming next year to the terrific performing arts center in downtown Tampa that bears his name.

Drop the mic, sir.

It’s fine that he wants to choose public service, but the video bugged me on a couple of levels.

Start with the part where he said, “I am the only candidate for Mayor who has managed a large, complex institution anywhere close to the size of the city of Tampa.”

Well, he clearly is a successful businessman who built a chain of community banks in Wisconsin after sweeping floors and mowing lawns as a teenager to make some cash. He moved to Tampa in 1980, got married, sold his businesses, and started a charitable foundation.

Laudable.

But other candidates, including former Police Chief Jane Castor, have run large, complex institutions too. Try being a gay female in charge of a metropolitan police department. Castor did so admirably.

He also said:

“I’m a proven job creator, and I believe our city government, colleges and universities, and the business community must work together to create jobs in Tampa. That means encouraging start-ups, growing existing small businesses, recruiting Fortune 500 companies, and attracting high-paying jobs.”

Well, that’s kind of already being done.

Two-term Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been doing pretty much everything that Straz said needs to be done. The city’s downtown looks nothing like it did when he took office. He has recruited big companies, supported small business expansion, and tried hard to bring high-tech jobs here.

I know, it’s early.

Platitudes rule.

The Tampa mayoral election isn’t until March 2019, and it is being starved of oxygen now by the statewide elections – especially the Governor’s race. In pushing so hard, maybe David Straz has been told he needs to introduce himself to get some name recognition.

Fair enough.

But as we go along, I hope we hear some more specifics.

This is a job that is accountable to the people. And the people are in charge.

David Straz outlines plan for Tampa’s future in new campaign video

Businessman and philanthropist David Straz put out a new campaign video Thursday outlining his vision for Tampa’s future as his campaign to take over as mayor gets fully underway.

In the two-minute video, Straz focuses on the city’s economy and doubles down on his experience as the only candidate in the crowded race “who has managed a large complex institution anywhere close to the size of the City of Tampa.”

“I’m David Straz. Since I announced my candidacy for Mayor, people have been asking me about my priorities,” he says in the video. “Here they are: Manage the budget with common sense and integrity. Grow the economy by creating jobs. And create a blueprint for Tampa’s future.

“As Mayor, I will focus on effective management of the city and its billion-dollar budget. We need a common-sense approach to protect our quality of life. That means focusing on people … not politics,” he continues.

Straz, a retired banker, expounds on his three-point plan later in the video, saying he’s a “proven job creator” who aims to foster business growth and lure new companies to Tampa. Toward the end of his policy outline, Straz says he wants to hear from his fellow Tampans on their priorities for Tampa’s future.

“I want to hear specific ideas from you on how we can protect and improve the quality of life in your neighborhood, keep our families safe and protect our environment,” he says. “As we go forward, I intend to listen to you as I develop a common-sense blueprint for Tampa’s future… a blueprint that reflects the hopes and dreams of the people of Tampa.”

The new video comes as Straz’ campaign, which has had ads on TV since mid-July, is set to hold an official kickoff event Friday evening at the El Circulo Cubano.

Straz is running in a crowded field of candidates looking to succeed two-term Mayor Bob Buckhorn next year. Also running for the seat are former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, City Councilman Harry Cohen, Sam Gibbons, Michael Hazard, LaVaughn King, businessman Topher Morrison, City Councilman Mike Suarez and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

Though there’s six months to go before the March city election, Straz has already pumped more than $1.5 million into his campaign and has spent $484,000 thus far. In both fundraising and spending he leads all other candidates combined, though Castor, Cohen and Turanchick have all raised well over six figures for their campaigns.

The mayoral election is March 5, 2019. The new mayor will take office on April 1, 2019.

Straz’ video is below.

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