Bob Buckhorn – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Bob Buckhorn now says Tampa may not appeal firefighter’s sexual discrimination ruling

At one time, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn “vowed” to appeal the federal jury verdict for firefighter Tanja Vidovic, winning her case of claiming that the city discriminated against her because she was pregnant and fired her in retaliation for complaining about it.

But the mayor’s office is now saying Buckhorn, in fact, has not decided whether to challenge the ruling.

“The mayor hasn’t decided on (an) appeal,” said spokesperson Ashley Bauman.

This revelation startled Vidovic during an appearance on Tampa’s WMNF 88.5 FM.

“Everything that I had heard from both [city attorney] Tom Gonzalez and from his statement in the newspaper was that he was [filing an appeal], so that’s news to me,” she said.

Before that, the perception had been that the city would indeed appeal the decision.

In a conversation with the Tampa Bay Times February 14, Buckhorn said: “We are appealing this with valid legal reasons.”

The next day, a Times editorial opined: “Having had its day in court and lost, the city should have respected the verdict and moved on.”

The op-ed continued: “But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn defended Tampa Fire Rescue this week and vowed to appeal. That was exactly the wrong tack, legally and morally, and it could open taxpayers to even further financial exposure in a case that already has cost the two sides about $1 million in legal fees.”

In December, a federal jury found in favor of Vidovic in her case against Tampa Fire Rescue, awarding her $245,000 in damages. Last week, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ruled that she should be reinstated back to Tampa Fire Rescue within the next two months.

In the interview Thursday, Vidovic, a married woman, recounted how she had been sexually harassed during the first five years of her career at Tampa Fire Rescue, including having captains text or outright ask her for sex.

Initially, she never complained about it.

“There’s a system in there when you’re called like a rookie for the first five years,” Vidovic recalled. “You’re not supposed to talk. Harassment is supposed to be part of it.”

“I was hoping it would end, and then when it didn’t, when it became more severe, I decided I should speak up.”

Vidovic continued: “After speaking to some women in the dept. and explaining to them what happened, they’re like ‘yeah, it happened to me, it’s going to happen to you.’ There was one woman who said ‘it’s not the first time, it’s not going to be the last.'”

During her eight-year career with Tampa Fire Rescue Vidovic was pregnant three times. Her employment there ended the day after she filed a lawsuit against the city in April 2016. Vidovic never wanted to sue, but she wanted to go through mediation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Also during the radio interview, she complained there was no paid maternity leave at the time. “I requested it.”

Now, that leave is available for all city employees, as the mayor announced in early 2017 that the city would begin providing paid parental leave to full-time workers. The policy will offer primary caregivers with eight (8) weeks and secondary caregivers with two (2) weeks of paid leave after the birth of a new child or an employee with a child placed for adoption or foster care.

Ryan Torrens says he’ll allow local gun control laws

If elected, Democratic Attorney General candidate Ryan Torrens says he would not enforce Florida law that prohibits cities and counties from enacting their own gun-control ordinances.

Local officials who do enforce them can face a $5,000 fine.

“It is blatantly clear that Gov. (Rick) Scott and our state Legislature are not willing to lift a finger to set in place any common-sense gun reforms,” Torrens said. “So, if the leaders of Broward County are ready to take action to protect (their) children and families, then I am going to support those efforts.”

The original law banning local gun policies was passed in 1987. The 2011 update exposed local officials to penalties for enforcing prompted ordinances.

Mayors from some of Florida’s biggest cities have complained about the legislation for years, most prominently being Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat and gun owner himself, who decried how the law prevented him from banning guns in downtown Tampa during the 2012 Republican National Convention.

If elected as the state’s chief legal officer, Torrens promises not to pursue local officials for putting in place what he calls reasonable ordinances to keep their communities safe.

“This law is an illegal encroachment on the authority of localities to achieve the very compelling interest of protecting their children and families, especially when we have a state legislature that always puts the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their own reelection before the safety of our children,” Torrens said.

On Tuesday, every Republican member of the House present on the floor voted against a proposal to bring a stalled assault rifle ban, pushed by Orlando Democrat Carlos G. Smith, out of committee and up for a vote.

“We know special interest money has corrupted our politics. Now, it is abundantly clear that the influence of special interest groups like the NRA is not just corrupting, but deadly,” Torrens said. “The Florida GOP should immediately return all contributions from the NRA and stand up for what is right – protecting our children, families, and first responders.”

His stance is by far the most progressive of anyone entering the race.

The 32-year-old Hillsborough County attorney was the first Democrat to enter the contest in 2018. Current Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi is term-limited this year.

He’s since been joined by Tampa state Rep. Sean Shaw, a Democrat who has kept a relatively low profile on the campaign front since declaring his candidacy last month.

The four Republicans in the race—state Reps. Frank White, Ross Spano and Jay Fant, and former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody—have previously spoken enthusiastically about gun rights.

In fact, Fant has claimed that Moody has been insufficiently pro-Second Amendment in her record as a judge.

Mike Deeson says city of Tampa participating in ‘sham’ regarding CFO’s address

Mike Deeson is pushing back on the city of Tampa’s official position regarding where finance director Sonya Little resides.

The former Channel 10 news investigative reporter filed a lawsuit Monday against the City of Tampa, claiming it is in violation of public records laws by denying him the home address of the city’s CFO, whom Deeson maintains resides outside of the city limits of Tampa. If that’s accurate, t would be a violation of the city charter.

Deeson says that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has always been aware of that, but circumvented that classification by listing Little as being the “interim” director for nearly six years, even though she’s served in his administration for almost the entire time he has been in office.

“The charter allows someone to be in an interim position,” Buckhorn told Deeson in December of 2016, “We are not violating the charter.”

Last year, the city said Little moved to Tampa. Deeson requested her address, but city officials objected, saying it was exempt from the state’s Sunshine Laws because she was a local government employee whose duties include revenue “collection and enforcement,” according to the lawsuit.

Deeson claims that the city only changed its tune about Little moving to Tampa after he began airing reports questioning Buckhorn about it. He says the address in unincorporated Hillsborough County remains her declared homestead property and carries the homestead tax exemption afforded under Florida law.

When asked to comment on Tuesday, City Attorney Sal Territo provided this statement: “Little is a Resident of the City of Tampa, and her address is exempt from public records because of her position as the Director of Revenue and Finance of the City of Tampa.”

Deeson exploded after he read those remarks.

“For the six years when the city blatantly and shamefully violated the city charter, it NEVER claimed that Sonya Little’s address was exempt from public disclosure,” the veteran journalist emailed Tuesday night. “After trampling on the charter for 6 years, the city is saying trust us to do the right thing. I don’t trust them and believe they only reason the city is trying this use this exemption  is because it is concerned I will expose the fact that Ms. Little spends the majority of her time living at her home in the county rather than the address she claims is her permanent residence.”

“I think the Mayor, Ms Little and those who have participated in this overt sham for the past six years and now continue to deprive the citizens of their right to know about their government should be ashamed!”

Deeson retired from WTSP last year after an illustrious career as a TV reporter. He continues to work on documentaries, as well as providing commentaries on his Facebook page.

Bob Buckhorn says mayors ‘let down’ by Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan

For months, it was well-known that President Donald Trump‘s much-hyped infrastructure proposal was only going to include minimal federal funding.

In the face of that, a group of Democratic mayors expressed profound disappointment Thursday with the details of the plan.

The proposed $1.5 trillion to upgrade the country’s highways, airports and railroads will contain “only” about $200 billion from Washington, with the rest contingent on funding from states, cities and the private sector.

“This plan is nothing more than reshuffling the deck chairs on the ‘U.S.S. infrastructure vessel’ that is taking water over the bow,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn cracked during a conference call Thursday.

Hosted by the Democratic National Committee, Buckhorn was joined on the call by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, and Pittsburgh Mayor Eric Peduto.

Trump’s plan shifts the burden from a traditional partnership between the federal and local governments to incentives for the private sector, with the rest of the burden given to local taxpayers, Buckhorn said, something that requires higher matches from municipalities.

“We don’t have the ability to do the match that they’re looking for. We don’t have the ability to provide the resources to invest in a failing infrastructure system, absent a significant partner in the federal government,” complained the mayor. “That’s just our reality.”

The mayors fear that the feds’ decision to choose which project to support could come down to which one has the potential to bring in more private investment versus a project essential to a community.

“The plan the president put forth is woefully flawed,” Whaley lamented.

Garcetti said the work that cities do on infrastructure “is not abstract, statistical, or a policy initiative, this is about people’s lives, about getting home to their families, about decisions they can make about what jobs they can take.”

“If we drive over a pothole,” he added, “we feel it too.”

It’s certainly a far cry from what Garcetti’s Los Angeles recently did in passing Proposition M in 2016, which authorized $120 billion for infrastructure investment over the next decade.

Although Buckhorn was a major supporter of Hillary Clinton‘s campaign in 2016 and has often criticized the president, he said he had high hopes about Trump’s sincerity when it came to wanting to help cities replenish their aging infrastructure.

“We were excited to hear the president talk about infrastructure during the course of the campaign,” Buckhorn said. “He is a big city guy. He is a builder. He talked about an action plan for the first 100 days in office being a $1 trillion infrastructure investment over 10 years, and the mayors were willing to reach across the table, and find common ground with this president on the issue of infrastructure, because we know how important it is to us and how important it is to America.”

While the four mayors on the call were all Democrats, frustrations they’re feeling this week is universal among their Republican brethren.

“We need a partner,” Buckhorn said. “We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for a partnership.”

They’re still looking.

Tampa City Council chair slams state lawmakers after school shooting

Florida law pre-empts local governments from passing any ordinances which regulate guns, a reality that Tampa residents became acutely aware ofwhen Mayor Bob Buckhorn attempted to keep his downtown safe ahead of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

That 2011 law was mentioned briefly at the beginning of Thursday’s Tampa City Council meeting following the mass shooting Wednesday at a high school in Parkland, where a 19-year-old former student opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 17 people.

“It is sad that our Congress and our state have not done anything to help stop this,” Council Chair Yolie Capin said. “We in the city of Tampa cannot — it is against the law for us to pass any firearm regulation. If we do, we could possibly go to jail. That’s how strong it is.”

“Vote ’em out if they don’t change what needs to be changed,” Capin continued. “It is the slaughtering of our children. It’s horrific. Thank you.”

The rest of the Council sat by in silence, choosing not to say anything further.

Capin has served on the Council since 2010 and has a year remaining on her second full term in office. She had filed to run for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission but announced last September that she would not run, and is instead serving as chair of David Straz’s exploratory committee for mayor.

While Buckhorn has not made a public statement following the Parkland shooting, he has been outspoken in advocating for gun control legislation.

When denied the opportunity to prevent guns from coming into downtown Tampa for the RNC, Buckhorn went off, saying the law made the state “look like a bunch of knuckleheads.”

“The absurdity of this juxtaposition against Stand Your Ground, and the Trayvon Martin situation, has made this state look like a bunch of knuckleheads,” he said in April 2012. We really are subject to public ridicule all over the country, and to think I can’t do anything about it is really frustrating.”

Former Tampa firefighter who won sex discrimination lawsuit speaks out

Until Tuesday, only those in a courtroom heard former firefighter Tanja Vidovic detail the sexual harassment and discrimination she suffered inside the Tampa Fire Rescue Department.

It was her testimony in federal court last fall that resulted in a successful lawsuit, which she won in December.

Now it was the public’s turn to hear Vidovic speak about her life and career and how things went so wrong during her tenure at the department.

Vidovic gave a riveting and disturbing 22-minute account of her seven and half year career with Tampa Fire Rescue, which culminated in her firing in 2016 — one day after she filed a lawsuit against the city.

In December, a seven-person federal jury sided with Vidovic against Tampa, awarding her $245,000, saying the city discriminated because she was pregnant and retaliated when she complained.

In Vidovic’s account, no one — not the (male-dominated) hierarchy at Tampa Fire Rescue nor many of her colleagues — come out looking very well.

Particular villains in the tale include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), unions, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and most prominently, the city’s human resources department.

Among the instances of discrimination that Vidovic told the jury, as well as the audience gathered Tuesday morning for a workshop on sexual harassment at the Student Center on Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry campus (convened by Rep. Kathy Castor):

— Receiving inappropriate text messages from her department captains requesting sex with her. After she complained to human resources, she was banished to a busier station “as punishment.”

— Her personnel captain told her, after learning she was pregnant, that she should have said no and “just keep her legs closed” next time.

— Vidovic was often locked out of a coed bathroom and was written up if she entered when a man was already in there.

— She was subjected to a “fit-for-duty” test — wearing gear while pregnant. It was a test Vidovic said nobody had ever heard of, neither man nor woman.

— When Vidovic did file a complaint, superiors refused to take her grievances up the chain of command.

— She was labeled as failing an annual evaluation due to her pregnancy.

When Vidovic emailed Tampa’s human resources department for help on harassment claims, the department actually forwarded her emails back to the Fire Department, which she claimed resulted in further harassment.

HR told Vidovic that, in fact, she wasn’t being harassed, and did nothing to help her. A meeting with her captain about harassment claims resulted in a downgrade in her evaluation forms for complaining.

She then went to Tampa Fire Rescue’s Fire Chief Tom Forward, also to no avail.

Next was an unproductive meeting with Buckhorn.

“I requested five times to meet with the Mayor of Tampa … once in person,” she told the audience. “He just laughed at me and said no. (He) looked down at his phone and started texting.”

Vidovic said harassment didn’t just occur on a daily basis, but often multiple times in a day. She felt like the department wanted to fire her, but she believed she was a good employee, albeit one who was also pregnant and complaining about harassment.

Feeling pressured, Vidovic noted how some of her male colleagues were doing notorious things, like “DUI’s, solicitation of prostitutes, strippers at the stations being in photo shoots, throwing knives at other employees, insurance fraud.”

“But all these men kept their jobs,” she said.

Vidovic was refused help from the local firefighters union as well as the International Association of Fire Fighters. Once she learned that the EEOC offered mediation, she was excited, thinking that would solve her continuing problems in the department.

She then decided to file a complaint with that federal agency. After waiting for a response, she received a letter months later saying that if she wanted, she could sue the city.

Vidovic said she wanted mediation, and that pursuing a lawsuit was never her initial intention. But once the EEOC and Dept. of Justice notified the city about her filing a complaint, she says it ignited an uproar in the department and put a bigger target on her back.

On March 23, 2016, she filed a lawsuit against the city of Tampa. A day later, Tampa Fire Rescue fired her,  just two years before she qualified for a pension.

Vidovic had two kids at home with her husband; a third child was on the way.

After seven years of paying union dues, Vidovic believed she had union support. She was wrong.

“I was abandoned by them, and now faced to go to court on my own and pay my expenses out of pocket.”

It took more than a year and a half before she got her day in court last fall, where (after several weeks) a jury ruled in her favor.

But Vidovic didn’t sound triumphant in recounting the details of the past several years.

“Not only did I lose my job, my pension, my career, my friends at the city of Tampa, my reputation,” she said. “I also lost fee charges and court expenses which are close to $30,000.”

It’s not over. Far from it. The city of Tampa has filed for U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich to declare a mistrial. “The city of Tampa has deep pockets and they know I have to continue to pay my attorney because the union refused to arbitrate for me,” she says.

As a firefighter, Vidovic was making $55,000 annually. She is now working part-time, making just $11.24 an hour at a local park. As far as she knows, none of the men who allegedly harassed her on the job have suffered any consequences.

Vidovic claims that the same captain who propositioned her for sex via text has done it with a current female member of the department.

After that woman complained, she was given a three-day suspension, and ultimately quit.

Vidovic has also heard from other female firefighters claiming harassment, but don’t dare come forward, seeing what she has experienced.

“They saw that I lost my pension. And nobody wants that. Nobody can afford that. Especially these days.”

Following Vidovic on stage at the forum was an official with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, then by Evangeline Hawthorne with the Tampa EEOC office — the same agency Vidovic said was not there for her.

Hawthorne began her presentation by commending the former firefighter for her courage and bravery.

“When you do file a complaint with us, as you can tell from her story, it’s long, often arduous process, but certainly it’s worthwhile,” Hawthorne said, looking over at Vidovic. She respectfully disagreed with Vidovic’s take that the “harassers won.”

“The fact that you’re standing here with your testimony, I don’t think that’s true at all. I think you were victorious,” Hawthorne said, adding that she is an inspiration for others experiencing similar circumstances.

This week, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Tampa’s legal costs in the continuing fight in court against Vidovic could ultimately reach more than $3 million.

More questions than answers after Rays commit to play in Ybor City

After a decade searching for a new home, the Tampa Bay Rays officially committed Friday to build a new ballpark in Tampa’s historic Ybor City entertainment district.

That wasn’t much of a surprise, considering Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan had revealed that information last October. And Friday afternoon’s press conference didn’t provide many more specifics other than the proposal now has the official imprimatur from Rays owner Stuart Sternberg.

“The Ybor City location represents the finest opportunity for Major League Baseball to thrive in the Tampa Bay region for generations to come,” said Sternberg. “We are excited to explore ways to weave Ybor’s rich history into a next-generation, neighborhood ballpark.”

The proposed site is between East Fourth Avenue and Adamo Drive to the north and south and 15th Street and Channelside Drive to the east and west. Most of the area is currently industrial, and officials said that they did not believe that anybody was living in the parcels needed to construct a ballpark.

Joining Sternberg and Hagan at the press conference were Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and two members of the business community: Chuck Sykes, CEO of Sykes Enterprises, and Ron Christaldi, a partner with the white-shoe law firm of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.

They’ll lead a new organization called Tampa Bay Rays 2020, designed to build community and business support in bringing the club to Hillsborough County.

While the Rays’ performance on the field has been uneven since their creation in 1998 (the high-water mark coming a decade ago when they played in the World Series), their recent home attendance has been nothing short of atrocious, as they have finished last in that metric for the past several years.

Sternberg had wanted out of Tropicana Field for longer than a decade, beginning in late 2007 when the team floated the idea of playing in a refurbished Al Lang Stadium along the waterfront.

After that proposal went nowhere, the team tread water for several years, hoping that the city of St. Petersburg would amend their lease that runs through 2027 to allow them to negotiate for a possible stadium in Hillsborough County.

Led by Mayor Rick Kriseman, it finally happened in January 2016.

News that the team had chosen a site in Ybor City was announced by Hagan last October. Buckhorn praised Kriseman for having the “political courage” to negotiate the deal with the St. Pete City Council to allow the Rays to negotiate, something that previous Mayor Bill Foster refused to do and something that Kriseman’s 2017 opponent, Rick Baker, also said he would not have done. The agreement with Hillsborough ends at the conclusion of 2018.

The overarching questions of how much the stadium will cost and who will pay for it were left to be answered for another day. Sternberg stunned longtime followers of the stadium saga when he said last year that the Rays’ contribution could be only around $150 million.

With a final price tag of potentially $800 million, the comment appeared to be out of touch with expectations.

When asked at the press conference if he was willing to adjust that number on Friday, Sternberg was vague, saying “we anticipate to be putting up a good amount of money to this project.”

When asked how much he believes the Rays should commit, Buckhorn said essentially it could (or should) be as much as half of the ultimate costs.

“That would be nice,” he said to a reporter who mentioned the $400 million figure.

Regarding how to finance the public portion to pay for the park, nobody came up with any specifics on Friday. Options previously discussed include funding from hotel bed taxes and car rental fees that are mostly paid by tourists, as well as Community Redevelopment Area funds collected through the district.

“I don’t at this point see a light at the end of the tunnel yet, but that’s because we really haven’t crunched the numbers yet,” Buckhorn said, adding that there will probably be more “equity partners” and developers who might want to develop around the project. He also speculated that there could be an additional entertainment tax within Ybor City.

“So we don’t know what those revenues are,” he said. “We know some of the tools that we have available, and we can crunch those numbers, but it’s about doing the math.”

Putting a possible dent in those plans is legislation (HB 13) that passed the Florida House that would prohibit sports franchises from building or improving stadiums on public land.

Buckhorn responded by saying that Richard Corcoran, who backs the bill, will no longer be Speaker in just a few months (technically he will be until the fall), and that he and other mayors in Florida are working hard to kill that bill now that it’s with the Senate.

 “(W)e appreciate the Mayor’s recognition that one man stands between Hard-working taxpayers and a bloated government that is looking to give their hard-earned tax dollars to billionaire sports owners and charge illegal taxes, but I can assure him, it is an an overwhelming majority of the Florida House, Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo said.

Patrick Manteiga, the editor and publisher of the Ybor City-based weekly La Gaceta and a champion of all things Ybor, said it’s “fantastic” that the Rays are considering pulling up stakes in the historic district.

“I’m sure there’s going to be bumps on the road,” he said, referring to the design process which will include discussions about the height of a proposed park, as well as traffic and parking concerns.

“But at this moment, I don’t think it’s time to talk about the difficulties. I think it’s time to talk about how we need to get behind this effort, because there is going to be some heavy lifting.”

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco)

Ed Turanchik tees up next Tampa mayoral bid

Reflecting on his 2010-2011 bid for Tampa mayor, Ed Turanchik said that in that campaign Bob Buckhorn schooled him on messaging — and he learned his lesson.

Perhaps that explains Turanchik’s emphasis on branding his candidacy as a “vision” to lead Tampa in 2019 and beyond — reflected both on his campaign website and in encounters Friday with the media upon launching his run for mayor.

“I see the larger issue is framing a vision of what the city needs to be,” Turanchik told Florida Politics just hours after officially filing for office.

“I’ve had this consistent vision, and it’s all about creating a 21st-century city.”

Key components of that vision: transit, community building and innovation.

In 2011, the attorney/developer/transit activist finished fourth out of five contestants, but that doesn’t accurately reflect the impact Turanchik had on the campaign.

Before the primary, Turanchik won endorsements from both the (late) Tampa Tribune and Creative Loafing, and those covering the campaign questioned whether the fresh ideas being espoused by both him and Buckhorn would be rewarded by the voters, who in early polling seemed more comfortable with old-school Tampa natives Rose Ferlita and Dick Greco.

The answer was mixed, with Ferlita receiving the most votes in the first round of balloting; Buckhorn beat out Greco by just 384 votes to qualify. Then, Buckhorn trounced Ferlita in the general election.

Turanchik, 62, entered that contest relatively late in 2010, which became a significant factor in his extraordinarily early entry into the election that is still more than a year away.

He also brings a formidable resume with him into the race.

In fact, while any of his presumed opponents (which already include businessman Topher Morrison and Michael Anthony Hazard) may ultimately offer a more compelling message than Turanchik, it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to match him regarding accomplishments earned over the decades in Hillsborough County

Those achievements include a body of work that seems to contradict the notion he’s more of a dreamer than an executor of policy.

Among the projects Turanchik played a substantial (or tangential) part include the creation of Tampa Bay Water, placing Amalie Arena in Channelside and the Cross-Bay Ferry (down this winter but expected to resume in the fall).

Turanchik also takes credit for projects that initially didn’t pan out, like his work in the early aughts to bring the 2012 Summer Olympics to Tampa. Although that idea died at the hands of the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2002, the bid did accomplish one thing — pushing the state to create a right of way for potential high-speed rail along I-4.

On that, his work with ConnectUS bore fruit in 2010 (only to be rejected in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott).

While his mixed-used residential and commercial development (known as Civitas) died in 2004, Turanchik said it became the genesis of what Buckhorn is now doing right now with the InVision plan for the West River area.

A Hillsborough County Commissioner from 1990-1998, Turanchik also takes credit for helping pass an indigent health care tax in 1991 (sponsored by Phyllis Busansky), as well as the Community Investment Tax in 1996.

Since 2011, he’s worked in the public policy practice group at the law firm of Akerman LLP, where in 2016 he helped bring in WS Development, a Boston developer, to revitalize Hyde Park Village.

But to some, Turanchik will always be known as being a transit advocate.

That said, he wants to clear the air about what modes of transportation he does (and doesn’t) prefer.

“For the record, I’ve never been a fan or proponent or supporter of light rail, because it requires a separate dedicated right of way,” he said. “And it’s bloody expensive. I have always  been in favor of using the CSX corridors with compatible technology.”

And without getting too specific, Turanchik also boldly asserts that “we’re going to have really brand new transit within two years of me getting elected into the mayor’s office without a tax increase.”

He’s not a fan of the recently announced regional transit feasibility plan that calls for bus rapid transit to run from Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg. The product is a product produced by Jacobs Engineering, a transportation consultant.

“I have a very simple adage born from my Sierra Club activism days which used to be, ‘think globally, act locally,'” he says. “Mine is, think regionally, act locally. I’m a little bit concerned that this is being turned around, to say, let’s do big regional projects that don’t address local needs.”

News has surfaced in recent ways of Buckhorn trying to advance a long-discussed plan to turn some of Tampa’s treated wastewater into drinking water (affectionally known in some quarters as ‘toilet to tap’).

Unable to come to a deal with Tampa Bay Water, the mayor had local legislators attempt to push a bill in the Legislature this winter that would give the city the right to use reclaimed water to supplement its water supply. Vigorously challenged by officials with Tampa Bay Water, the proposal is now dead in Tallahassee.

Turanchik supports where Buckhorn is going on reclaimed water, but warned it would be calamitous to blow up Tampa Bay Water.

“Tampa Bay Water needs to embrace the project and get going,” he said, adding that if he were in charge,  he would be going around throughout the region to all of TBW’s partners to sell the proposal.

“It’s a fundamentally sound project. It will have a huge benefit for the Bay, huge benefit for the environment.”

With the campaign still months away from starting in earnest, candidates — who range from former Police Chief Jane Castor to city council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen to philanthropist David Straz and perhaps others — still could enter the race.

Turanchik called them all “good people” and is looking forward to a “friendly public-policy-laden discussion, something he maintains Tampa voters prefer.

“We all live here. We all like each other Everyone cares about the city. We’ve just got different strengths and perspectives, and I am not running against any of those people,” he added. “I am running for the future of the city of Tampa, and  it’s my credentials, my vision, and my approach is what I hope voters will look at, and the same with them.”

Tampa City Council revives plan to close Bayshore Blvd on occasional Sundays

On Thursday, Tampa City Councilmembers kept hope alive for transit activists who want Bayshore Blvd. shut down occasionally on Sundays for bicyclists, walker, runners, rollerbladers and others to use without fear of getting hit by a vehicle.

Members of “Walk Bike Tampa” appeared before the Council to advocate for a plan to redirect vehicular traffic on Tampa’s signature roadway one or more Sundays a month. It would enable more people to enjoy what they call the “crown jewel” of the Tampa Park system.

Chair Yolie Capin showed some initial disdain for the proposal, saying councilmembers could expect to hear an earful from Bayshore residents. They should consider other areas for “diversity,” she said.

Capin then suggested using West Cypress Street as an alternative, as it runs from one end of the city to the other.

Not all Bayshore residents agreed.

Catherine Durkin Robinson called the roadway “dangerous,” adding that every couple of months “someone from my community is hurt on Bayshore.”

“Every so often — once a week — we can open Bayshore to runners, walkers and cyclists,” she said.

Councilman Luis Viera noted that he just turned 40, and knows he could be in better shape. He said getting behind the proposal made sense in endorsing the idea of making Tampa a healthier community.

But the concept appeared dead on arrival when Transportation and Stormwater Director Jean Duncan said conversion would be too costly for a variety of city departments, and the Bob Buckhorn administration does not support the idea.

That’s when Councilman Mike Suarez intervened.

Suarez reminded Duncan that Bayshore Blvd. will be shut down on the last weekend of this month for the morning hours for various Gasparilla running events, including a marathon, half-marathon, 15K races and others, a tradition going back years.

“If they’re closed off for the road race, and then continued to close it off for the rest of the afternoon, we’re not stretching ourselves as thin as you might think,” he said. “We might want to be a little bit more creative in our thinking so that we can probably do something like this.”

Suarez recommended that such shutdowns be spread out throughout the city, like Cypress Street.

Councilman Harry Cohen said the city should try a pilot project on up to four different roadways throughout Tampa, including Bayshore and Cypress.

Suarez noted that cities like San Francisco have shut down streets on selected Sundays during the year.

In fact, JFK Drive in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park has been closed down on Sundays to motorists since the late 1960s, and in 2007, extending the shutdown to Saturdays between April and September.

Walk Bike Tampa proposes that northbound lanes of Bayshore be opened to pedestrian and other non-vehicular traffic. Inside, eastern, or median southbound lanes would be for parking, which would accommodate more than 1000 parked cars.

The remaining outside (western) southbound lane would be for southbound traffic.

They also would like to connect that shutdown to the downtown Riverwalk, Curtis Hixon Park, Cotanchobee Park, Channelside, Waterworks Park and Julian B. Lane Park.

The city will workshop on the issue March 22, with members of the city’s legal, parks and recreation, police and transportation departments involved.

In related news, Cohen informed those who worry about safety on Bayshore that the city intends to reduce the speed limit from 40 miles-per-hour to 35 miles-per-hour. A lot of motorists often drive faster than 50 mph there.

Also, the city is considering adding several more mid-block crossings between Howard Avenue and downtown, Cohen said.

Pirates got me thinking: The Gasparilla parade and Florida politics

There’s one event for which this proud St. Petersburg native will always cross the bridge.

It’s Robert and Nancy Watkins‘ party, held in conjunction with the Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza, an alcohol-free event celebrating the pirates’ return to Tampa Bay.

Gasparilla is an annual celebration that began in 1904. Held each year in late January or early February, it celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida. There is the main parade one weekend and a night parade held the following week. But to kick it all off, there is the family-friendly children’s parade.

To those who may not know them — and very few people operating in Florida politics DON’T know them — Robert and Nancy may be two of the most essential players in the state’s political universe.

Through their South Tampa accounting firm moves tens (if not hundreds) of millions in political contributions and expenditures. Additionally, Nancy serves as treasurer for dozens of candidates and committees. Among her too-many-to-name Florida clients are several A-list members of Congress and the Florida Legislature.

As we have the past five years, my wife, daughter, and I gladly accepted an invitation to view the parade from the Watkins’ beautiful home. And while my daughter was there for the beads and the floats, I attended for the politics, as the party draws many of Tampa Bay’s leading politicos.

With Bloody Mary in hand most of the day, my conversations with those participating were not for attribution. Nevertheless, I was able to glean several insights into state and local politics.

But first, a quick note about two of the children at the parade.

The first is about Lizzy Brandes, the amazing seven-year-old recently adopted by Natalie and Jeff Brandes. I say “amazing” because that’s precisely what she is. She is so much more acclimated to American life than what you could believe can happen in such a short period.

And think about, Lizzy knows nothing about our traditions, like a parade idolizing a mythical pirate. Think about how that must look through her eyes. Yet there she was, catching beads with the best of them.

The second note is about Maverick Griffin, the surprise addition to Melanie and Mike Griffin‘s lives. He’s just as cool in person as his name would suggest and it’s just incredible to see Melanie and Mike, perhaps the city’s best known young professional couple, embrace parenthood with as much enthusiasm as they have the other aspects of their lives.

Now, on to politics.

First and foremost, the attitude of the decidedly Republican crowd was less celebratory than it was in 2017. Last year, the party took place at about the same time as Donald Trump‘s inauguration and so there were plenty of folks sporting red “Make American Great Again” hats. This year, however, with the parade taking place just hours after the federal government officially shut down, there were very few, if any, outspoken supporters of the president.

Speaking of which, it’s astonishing to think of the transition one guest has made since I last blogged about the Watkins’ Gasparilla party.

I’m referring, of course, to former U.S. Rep. David Jolly.

Two years ago, Jolly held a sizable lead over his rivals for the Republican nomination for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. Today, he is among the most prominent critics of Trump. In fact, he may be THE most prominent Florida-based Trump critic.

It remains to be seen what Jolly will do in 2018 and beyond. I doubt he runs for office. And I know Jolly would like to book a full-time gig with a cable network. But can he make that happen?

Jolly also had an impressive set of comments about the #NeverTrump movement. He spoke about what will happen AFTER the fever breaks. And about how those Republicans who did not stand up to Trump may be judged. I agree with the former congressman that reckoning will come for the Paul Ryans of the world who not only did not stand up to Trump, but enabled him.

He’s not exactly a #NeverTrump’er, but he’s close enough: Will Weatherford was missing from the Watkins’ party, although his lovely wife, Courtney, stopped by.

I guess Will’s just too busy making money in the private sector to stop what he’s doing for a parade.

State Sens. Jeff Brandes and Dana Young both made appearances Saturday.

While Brandes has yet to draw a Democratic opponent, Young learned last week that Bob Buesing would run against her again in 2018.

In a way, Brandes and Young’s fates are intertwined. It’s like that Florida Democrats do not have the resources to fund a candidate against both Brandes and Young, so now that Buesing is in against Young, Brandes may be closer to being off-the-hook.

Yet the upside for Young is higher than it is for Brandes: if she can get past Buesing, she has a better-than-even-money chance to be the first female Senate president in decades. There’s no doubt Young faces a stiff challenge from Buesing, but I think the book on him is still the same as it was in 2016, no matter how much the political environment has changed. He’s a smart man and, by all accounts, a solid lawyer and valuable member of the community.

But is he a good politician?

Young, meanwhile, has beat back everything opponents have ever thrown at her. And if she could beat the late Stacey Frank in 2010, I wager she’ll be able to get by Buesing this year.

Hard at work on the campaign trail is political consultant Anthony Pedicini, who is always one of the first to arrive at the Watkins party. He also brings much of his extended, parade-loving family to the event. And they’re great.

Of course, Pedicini spent much of the day on the phone, working on the special election in House District 72. Pedicini and his partner, Tom Piccolo, are on a tear, winning one special election after another in 2017-2018. But there’s something afoot in HD 72, despite advantages Republicans hold in that seat.

For several reasons, Democrats are excited about Margaret Good‘s chances in this seat. They’re raising serious money, although Republican James Buchanan is too. For some time, the fur has been flying in this race (no doubt part of what Pedicini was working Saturday), so keep this contest on your radar.

Finally, if there is one takeaway I want to impart about Saturday, it’s about how, um, interested Bob Buckhorn might be … could be … in the running for, um, Florida Governor … in 2018.

Hizzoner always comes to the Watkins party after working the parade route and, even more so than in years past; he was a man in full. Buckhorn knows what kind of job he’s done in Tampa and really, really would like to do the same for Florida.

I joked with him about how great it would be if he could give a speech years from now and say “Florida has its swagger back” just the way he was able to say the same thing about Tampa.

Lobbyist Ana Cruz and I spent thirty minutes practically begging Buckhorn to reconsider not running in 2018, primarily since John Morgan — who would’ve clogged the same lane Buckhorn would run in — has taken himself out of the running.

Buckhorn’s problem is that while he would almost certainly do well in a general election, he would struggle to escape the identity-based politics of the Democratic nomination. It probably won’t be the year for another middle-aged white guy — no matter how great his story — and Buckhorn’s story in Tampa is great. That is a damn shame. Because, in Buckhorn, you can literally see the same appeal Joe Biden has at the national level.

There is at least one upshot to Buckhorn not running in 2018. We’ll be able to see him swagger down Bayshore Boulevard one last time in 2019.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn greets a boy along the parade route of the 2018 Children’s Gasparilla Experience.

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