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Bob Buckhorn endorses Janet Cruz for state Senate

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz added an endorsement from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for her campaign to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Dana Young in northwestern Hillsborough’s Senate District 18.

“Janet is a proven leader, a fighter for working families, and a tireless advocate for public education,” Buckhorn said. “As a member of the Florida House, Rep. Cruz brought back $14 million to Hillsborough Community College, spearheaded Equal Pay for Equal Work legislation, and sponsored legislation that raised police and fire survivor benefits within the City of Tampa to 100 percent.

“As your next Senator, she will continue to fight for what’s right while being laser focused on what’s best for our district,” he said.

Buckhorn joins some of the state’s biggest unions in backing Cruz, who currently represents House District 62. Past endorsements have come in from the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, and the Florida AFL-CIO, which represents more than 1 million Florida workers.

“Mayor Buckhorn is a true visionary and I am honored to have his support,” Cruz said. “Under his leadership, Tampa is thriving. Corporations are choosing to relocate here, and the Riverwalk is flourishing with new businesses, while connecting Channelside to the Heights.

“From the Super Bowl to the NHL All Star Game to the Women’s Final Four, Tampa is now a national destination that we all get to enjoy. I look forward to continue working with him to make Tampa the best place in Florida to live, work, and play for everyone,” she concluded.

SD 18 sits atop the Florida Democratic Party’s wish list this fall. Other than South Florida’s SD 36, where David Perez won the Democratic primary to challenge Republican Rep. Manny Diaz, SD 18 is the only district Democrats are after that voted for Hillary Clinton two years ago.

As of Aug. 23, Young held a large lead in fundraising with more than $455,000 in hard money on hand and another $1.27 million at the ready in her affiliated political committee, Friends of Dana Young. By comparison, Cruz had $189,000 in hard money and another $330,000 in her political committee, Building the Bay PC.

Cruz and Young both went unopposed in last week’s primary elections. Unlike two years ago, when Young won a plurality of the vote against three challengers, Cruz and Young are the only candidates to make the ballot in 2018.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Amanda Murphy holding Tampa fundraiser for SD 16 bid Thursday

Former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy is heading to Tampa Thursday night for a fundraising reception benefiting her run for Pasco and Pinellas-based Senate District 16.

The event will be held at Mise en Place, 442 W Kennedy Blvd. #110, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The invite lists a suggested minimum contribution of $100, though notes that any donation is welcome.

Included on the host committee are former CFO Alex Sink, former Education Commissioner and former USF President Betty Castor, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, former Congressman and 2006 Democratic nominee for Governor Jim Davis and former state Rep. Ed Narain, among others.

Supporters looking to attend the event can send an RSVP to note Shannon@AmandaMurphy.com or call 727-835-8517.

Murphy, a New Port Richey Democrat, served in the Florida House from 2013 through 2016, when she lost by just a handful of votes despite Donald Trump carrying her district decisively.

In 2018, she is running against former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper of Clearwater for SD 16, which covers northern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco counties.

Though she hasn’t put much of a dent in Hooper’s massive fundraising lead thus far, most polling of the matchup has shown a tight race with her on top despite big spending by Hooper’s campaign.

At the beginning of August, an SEA Polling & Strategic Design survey found Murphy up 2 points, 41-39 percent. That edge falls within the margin of error

As the poll noted at the time: “Amanda Murphy holds a two-point lead despite significant spending on Hooper’s behalf throughout July and early August. Two public polls conducted by St. Pete Polls showed Murphy leading or in a dead heat with Hooper which set off fire alarms in the Senate Majority office and likely led to Hooper’s midsummer panic spending.”

The head-to-head between Murphy and Hooper is Nov. 6.

Murphy’s invitation is below.

Amanda Murphy fundraiser invite

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer casts his vote for Gwen Graham

One of Florida’s top mayors officially cast his primary vote Saturday for former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham in the Democratic primary for Florida governor.

Buddy Dyer, Orlando’s mayor since 2003, appeared with Graham today at a rally in Orlando outside the Orange County Supervisor of Elections’ Kaley Street office. He then voted early himself.

“Together, we are going to restore Florida’s public schools, protect our environment and finally pass commonsense gun safety,” Graham said in a statement.

Graham’s campaign announced Dyer’s endorsement yesterday, when Dyer said Graham put particular effort into understanding the needs of the City Beautiful.

“Gwen Graham has spent her life bringing people together to solve problems,” Dyer said. “She has spent a tremendous amount of time here in Orlando over the last year, and she understands how the state of Florida can be a true partner to help Orlando grow into the future.”

Graham called Orlando a model city in the Sunshine State.

“Orlando is a real example of what Florida can be, a place with a growing economy, shared prosperity, and a community open to a diversity of ideas,” Graham said.

“Mayor Dyer has accomplished these goals by bringing together people from different perspectives, forcing compromise to solve problems, while at the same time never backing down from his progressive values. I am honored by his support and eager to work with him to move Florida forward.”

The endorsement also shows the strong support Graham has received so far from some of the biggest Democratic leaders along Florida’s I-4 corridor, an area that has become critical in winning statewide races.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn endorsed Graham earlier this month, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has publicly defended Graham in the face of primary attacks.

(Notably, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry went another way, endorsing Andrew Gillum.)

Graham’s campaign hopes her edge with the endorsement from the state’s most notable mayors will move voters into her camp come Tuesday’s primary.

The support seems particularly impressive as the Democratic primary field this year includes two candidates with experience as mayors of major cities—former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Gillum.

The most recent polls show Graham and Levine running neck and neck, with Gillum enjoying a surge in support in advance of Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Bob Buckhorn endorses Mike Alvarez in HD 62 Democratic primary

Tampa Democrat Mike Alvarez scored a last-minute endorsement from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in the race to succeed House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in Hillsborough County’s House District 62.

“There is only one candidate in this race that speaks to the heart and soul of this district and that is Mike Alvarez,” Buckhorn said. “He knows the community, has served his country as a member of the United States Marine Corps, and is prepared to be our Representative in Tallahassee. He will be a credible and competent voice for West Tampa and Town and Country.”

The endorsement comes a week out from the primary election for HD 62, which will effectively decide Cruz’ replacement in the House — the winner of the primary race will still be on the November ballot, though their only competition will be write-in candidate Jose Vazquez. A write-in candidate has never won elected office in Florida.

Alvarez joined the U.S. Marine Corps after the 9/11 attacks and served three tours overseas before returning home to Tampa to work as the director of operations for family-owned business Westfall Roofing. Alvarez is also an active member of the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Oakford Park Neighborhood Association, the Sierra Club, and the Hillsborough Democratic Party Hispanic Caucus, where he serves as secretary.

“Mayor Buckhorn has always been an advocate for our schools, our community, and our Democratic values,” Alvarez said. “I’m humbled to have his endorsement and I look forward to working with him to build on our successes.”

Buckhorn nod is the latest high-profile endorsement Alvarez has received in the state House race. He recently landed the backing of Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, and has also picked up support from the Florida Education Association, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association and the Florida AFL-CIO.

Alvarez, the first-in candidate for the race, faces School Board member Susan Valdes and activist Chris Cano in the primary. Vazquez’ candidacy locked down the election to registered Democrats.

Through Aug. 10, Alvarez held a fundraising advantage with more than $70,000 raised, including $31,698 in loans, and about $7,800 in the bank. Valdes has raised $19,315 and has $3,830 banked, while Cano has brought in $4,163 and has $792 on hand.

Despite lagging in the money race, Valdes has been the beneficiary of significant outside spending by the Florida Federation for Children, a political committee funded by charter school companies. Valdes had promised early on in her campaign to not accept contributions from charter school companies.

Her campaign has been mired by controversy since she entered the race. Alongside Castor’s endorsement of Alvarez, she issued a scathing rebuke of the 14-year school board member for using a picture of Castor in a mailer sent out by her campaign, which she said some could misinterpret as an endorsement.

“Let me be clear, the candidate in this race who has my endorsement and support is Mike Alvarez. If you support public schools, if you share our Democratic values, and if you want honesty from your elected officials, vote for Mike Alvarez,” Castor said at the time.

Valdes kicked off her campaign with a resign-to-run letter of questionable legitimacy, and weeks later made more negative headlines after a video surfaced of her dodging a question about whether she would accept campaign contributions from charter schools.

In the wake of that video going semi-viral, Valdes’ campaign threatened to pull strings and have the man who recorded it fired from his job at the State Attorney’s office.

HD 62 covers part of Hillsborough County and is a Democratic stronghold.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham focused on policies, not breaking ceilings

There was an interesting moment last Thursday when Gwen Graham, the presumed leader at this point for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, stopped by the historic Columbia restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City to accept the endorsement of Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

During his introduction of Graham, Buckhorn noted that Graham would be the first female Governor in Florida’s history, “And as the father of two little girls, I’m about breaking that ceiling.”

Graham wouldn’t go there.

She kept her remarks focused on policy and what she has to offer the state on issues like schools and the environment. She wouldn’t take the bait, either, when asked how she felt about Buckhorn as a potential running mate.

“There is plenty of time to talk about that after we win the nomination,” she said.

The message from the candidate is clear. Don’t talk about breaking ceilings and certainly don’t get ahead of things. Staying focused on explaining your policies will make more of an impression on voters than anything else.

Democrats seemed to believe in 2016 that voters would go obediently along with the idea that it was Hillary Clinton‘s time to win because she would shatter a ceiling by becoming the first female president. Voters were expected to obediently confirm that.

They did not.

That’s particularly important because even though Gwen Graham has been ahead in the polls for several weeks, there are indications that plenty of voters haven’t decided who to support — even though there is barely a week before the Aug. 28 primary. And while Graham had a good visit to Tampa, so did rival Andrew Gillum.

It was there that he snagged the full-throated endorsement of Bernie Sanders, and that got a lot of headlines. And that’s not all.

He also has received high-profile celebrity endorsements from Jane Fonda, Alec Baldwin, and several others, although it’s questionable how much that would matter at this late date.

While it does show that Gillum has strong support from progressives, in the end, who endorsed you matters far less to voters than whether they agree with your vision for the state.

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but in 2016, while Clinton was projecting an air that no one would be dumb enough to vote for him, he pounded the points over and over about border security, tax cuts, shredding regulations, and so on.

That message flipped enough key states, including Florida, to put him in the White House.

So, when I asked Graham about the $1 billion backlog in facilities maintenance at Hillsborough County public schools, she had a ready answer.

“This is another example of the starvation at our schools after 20 years of Republican rule. They have not received the resources they need for the maintenance and upkeep of the schools, and as a result, we have seen lead in the water of other school districts as well,” she said.

“When I am Governor, I’m committed to restoring the promise to public education across the state of Florida from one end to the other and give the resources back to our public schools that are desperately needed for capital improvements as well as teacher pay.”

I followed up with a question about the growth of charter schools in the state. That has been a key push for Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee.

“My concern about charter schools is that they have morphed into something they weren’t intended to be. Charter schools initially were meant to be community-based that were supported by the families and were part of the of the school district,” she said.

“They have become for-profit behemoths that are taking money away from our public schools. In many cases, we’re finding that the education they were providing is not of a quality we should expect at any school.”

Yep, it’s a campaign that’s all about the policy and not so much about the personality.

It’s an old-school notion from the daughter of an old-school politician, former Governor Bob Graham. Someone, it seems, has learned a lesson.

Poll shows Bob Buckhorn’s popularity makes compelling case for Lt. Gov. pick

It seems like an eternity since Bob Buckhorn ended speculation that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Governor, but the popular two-term Tampa Mayor could very well end up spending the next four or eight years in Tallahassee.

According to a new poll conducted by ClearView Research, Buckhorn is still wildly popular among Tampa voters, making him a top-tier contender to join the Democratic gubernatorial nominee as their Lieutenant Governor pick on the November ballot.

The poll, conducted in May, found no evidence of “Buckhorn fatigue” among Tampanians. More than three quarters of respondents said they had a positive view of the 60-year-old politician more than seven years into his reign at City Hall. Of those, 36 percent said they saw Buckhorn as “very favorable.”

The rest of the crowd weren’t too down on him. Just 7 percent had a “somewhat unfavorable” impression of Buckhorn, while 5 percent were resolute in their dislike. The remainder, per the poll, were either unsure or refused to answer the question.

Of course, those numbers could shift in the current sharply divided political climate. It’s no secret that Buckhorn is a Democrat, but Tampa Mayor is a non-partisan office and no voter saw a “D” next to his name on the ballot in either 2011, when he won the job with 63 percent of the vote, or 2015, when he was re-elected with 96 percent support.

Buckhorn has his detractors, and while most attacks have rolled off him like water off a duck’s back during his time as mayor, their attacks would be magnified if his name was on the statewide ballot. Think the Koch brothers-backed blasts on Buckhorn’s involvement in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium proposal.

Still, would adding Buckhorn to the ticket help the Democratic gubernatorial nominee? It’s not unlikely.

Hillsborough County is among the most important in any statewide election. It has accounted for about 6 percent of the state wide vote in the last four general elections, but despite voting plus-7 for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election and for Hillary Clinton by the same margin two years ago, the county has been much tighter in the past two gubernatorial races.

Charlie Crist won Hillsborough by a slim 48-46 margin when he ran for his old job as a Democrat in 2014, which was a downgrade from Alex Sink’s 50-47 performance in the county four years prior.

Take Buckhorn’s ubiquity in Tampa politics and his popularity and toss in the fact that Nov. 6 is shaping up to be a showdown between a loyal Donald Trump Republican and a Democrat — be it current poll leader Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene or Philip Levine — that has vowed firm opposition to the president.

That’s a recipe for running up the score in Tampa Bay.

But does Buckhorn even want to be Lieutenant Governor? It’s a largely ceremonial position that has no real assigned duties unless, per the Florida Constitution, the Governor doles them out.

That remains to be seen. Few believe he’ll sit on the sidelines after his term runs out in the spring, and rumors indicate he’s actively gunning for the job.

The ClearView Research poll was conducted May 1 through May 10 and took responses from 301 Tampa voters via live phone interviews, 38 percent of whom were reached by cell phone. The sample was balanced by gender, race, age, and party in order for our distribution to be consistent and similar to the actual voting population.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.64 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

David Straz releases first ads for Tampa Mayor campaign

Philanthropist David Straz is rolling out the first digital and TV ads supporting his Tampa Mayor bid starting today, eight months out from the March 5 election.

“I want to introduce myself to the people of Tampa and demonstrate the impact I have had on our community as a private citizen,” Straz said Thursday. “Much of my work helping Tampa grow and prosper has taken place in the private sector through leadership and philanthropy. These first commercials highlight my work with the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Lowry Park Zoo, the University of Tampa and Tampa General Hospital.”

The new ads — three versions following the same script —all begin with Straz at home.

“I have lived the American Dream, from sweeping floors to job creating CEO,” he says.

A narrator then takes over, touting Straz’ “leadership and vision,” “millions given to the Straz Center, Lowry Park Zoo, University of Tampa, leadership at Tampa General Hospital” and calling him “a strong leader with a heart for service.”

The commercial then cuts between different Tampa residents who say Straz “has made a difference as a private citizen, just imagine what he can do as our mayor.”

The only difference between the three ads is the cast during the final 10 seconds.

“We had so many people participate in filming we wanted to use as many people as possible in the finished commercial,” said campaign manager Mark Hanisee.

Hanisee said the campaign would run for several weeks. The TV buy will place the ads on Tampa broadcast and cable networks, while the digital buy is a data-driven digital campaign targeted to reach high frequency municipal voters.

“We are already getting a great reception throughout the community and we are finding that people are very curious about David Straz, his background and why he’s running for mayor. We believe our advertising will start filling in the blanks and help people understand the tremendous impact he has already had on Tampa through the private sector,” Hanisee said. “Just imagine what he can do as our mayor.”

Straz is one of eight candidates running to succeed Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn next year. He faces former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, District 4 City Councilman Harry Cohen, Michael Hazard, LaVaughn King, Topher Morrison, District 1 City Councilman Mike Suarez and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

As of June 30, Straz had already self-funded to the tune of $1.05 million and had about $1 million on hand. Castor is in a distant second with nearly $360,000 raised between her campaign and committee, followed by Cohen at about $250,000 and Turanchik at $232,000.

The first version of the ad is below.

Steve Cona

Tampa Bay builders back Steve Cona for Hillsborough School Board

Tampa businessman Steve Cona picked up an endorsement from Tampa Bay Builders Association in his campaign for the Hillsborough School Board.

“The Tampa Bay Builders Association is happy to endorse Steve Cona for the Hillsborough County School Board, District 1,” said Jennifer Motsinger, executive vice president at TBBA. “Our organization understands that high-quality education is the key component to ensuring that students have a pathway to prosperity after graduation. We strongly believe that Steve will continuously advocate for our students in every school in the county so that they have the resources and tools to succeed.”

TBBA joins Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in endorsing Cona, the president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.

“I’m very thankful for the endorsement from the TBBA,” said Cona. “It really does take a village for our students to go from dreamers to achievers, and we must all hold our school board accountable to our communities. I am proud to stand with the TBBA in support of our students and making sure that we are working our hardest in providing them a quality education from K-12 grade.”

Cona was the first candidate to enter the race to replace current School Board member Susan Valdes, who is now a candidate for House District 62. He and two other candidates, Gil Machin and William Person, have qualified for the ballot.

As of July 6, Cona had raised $47,441 for his campaign, with two thirds of that cash coming in during the first 11 days of his campaign. He leads the field with $40,718 on hand, followed by Person with $10,448 in the bank and Machin with $8,037.

The nonpartisan race will be on the Aug. 28 primary ballot and if any candidate garners more than half the vote, they will win the seat outright, otherwise the top-two vote-getters will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election.

Americans for Prosperity blasts Bob Buckhorn over Tampa Bay Rays deal

Conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Florida has long criticized taxpayer-funded sports stadiums, and the Tampa Bay Rays’ new ballpark is no exception.

A recent report found that the preferred site for the new stadium is in a tract of land that was recently designated as an “economic opportunity zone,” making it eligible for federal tax breaks. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says that the Ybor City tract’s designation isn’t just because of the stadium. While the report certainly sheds a little more light on who will pay for the Rays’ new home, AFP-FL isn’t a fan.

In a Thursday press release, the group slammed Buckhorn for expecting taxpayers to pay for most of the new stadium.

“The only ones who will benefit from this lopsided deal are crony politicians and the Rays’ ownership. The audacity of the team to insist that they will only pay for $150 million of a potentially $800 million project is emblematic of the entitled mentality that drives these corporate welfare schemes. Taxpayers deserve better,” AFP-FL said.

The economic opportunity designation allows for developers, stadium builders or otherwise, to delay paying federal taxes on certain investments or real estate sales if they invest in that zone.

Count Gov. Rick Scott among those “crony politicians,” too, as took the Governor pulling some strings to get the Ybor City tract added to the list of sites. Other sites had to apply for the designation and only about a third of applicants made the cut.

On sports stadiums, AFP-FL has maintained that taxpayer-funded incentives deals aren’t just “corporate welfare,” they’re financial losers.

A 2018 study from The Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research, a research arm of the Florida Legislature, found that state-level incentives deals for pro sports stadiums returns only 32 cents per tax dollar spent. An that was an increase from 2015, when that incentives program saw a return of about 30 cents on the dollar.

Steve Cona

Bob Buckhorn endorses Steve Cona for Hillsborough School Board

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is endorsing businessman Steve Cona for Hillsborough County School Board District 1 seat.

“I believe that Steve is the best candidate for School Board District 1,” Buckhorn said Thursday. “For years, he has dedicated himself to his community and helped strengthen Hillsborough County. Steve will continue to fight to ensure that our students get the best education possible to compete with other students across the country and provide them with the tools and resources for success after they graduate.”

The Hillsborough native was the first-in candidate for the race, putting in his paperwork the same day the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections announced it had accepted a resign-to-run letter from 14-year School Board member Susan Valdes, who is now a candidate for House District 62.

“I’m proud to have the support of Mayor Buckhorn,” Cona said. “As a longtime mayor of Tampa, he knows the challenges firsthand facing our school system. We’ve made strides over the years, but we can do more to make sure our students go from learners to earners. I am excited to fight for our students so that they have a solid pathway to success from kindergarten through graduation.”

The endorsement comes a couple days after Cona filed his first campaign finance report, showing he raised more than $32,000 over the first 11 days in the race.

Cona faces Gil Machin and William Person in the nonpartisan election.

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

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

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

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