Bob Buckhorn Archives - Page 7 of 41 - Florida Politics

Rick Scott visits Tampa Police following arrest of Seminole Heights killer


Gov. Rick Scott came to Tampa early Wednesday to thank the officers involved in the arrest of 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, the man suspected of killing four people in Seminole Heights over the past six weeks.

“To the families of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton, my heart goes out to you,” Scott said addressing reporters who gathered outside the Tampa Police Department headquarters shortly after 8 a.m.

“Because of the hard work of law enforcement, justice will be served.”

TPD Chief Brad Dugan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that Donaldson was the suspect in the killings late Tuesday night, approximately eight hours after they arrested him at an Ybor City McDonald’s.

An employee at the fast food establishment said that Donaldson, who worked at the restaurant, came up and had given her a food bag with a .40 caliber Glock inside. The witness also told a TPD officer that Donaldson said he wanted to leave the state. Donaldson had since left the restaurant, but returned and was detained by officers.

Scott, Buckhorn, Dugan and other law enforcement officials were effusive in celebrating the collaborative effort between law enforcement agencies to help bring Donaldson into custody — just fifty-one days after he allegedly killed Mitchell, the first of the four people slain in the neighborhood.

Scott directed the Florida Highway Patrol to deploy additional troopers to Seminole Heights last week. Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents had also been involved in the manhunt, as well as sheriff deputies from Hillsborough County and officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department.

“We would not be here today having apprehending this individual had it not been for the team effort that’s been taking place for the last fifty-one days,” Buckhorn said.

Chief Dugan said at a press conference later on Wednesday that his investigators still have work to do on the case, though he said definitively that Donaldson is the culprit in the murders. He added that he had spoken briefly with Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren on Wednesday, but said it was too early to determine what penalty to seek.

Buckhorn surprised some residents a month ago when he asked Tampa Police officers who were working on finding the killer to “bring me his head on a platter.”

His rhetoric was toned down Wednesday, though he couldn’t resist offering his opinion about Donaldson’s fate.

“Today we begin the healing process, and today the judicial process starts,” the mayor said. “And it will end, and I will promise you that when it does end, that this community will be a better place because I know where this guy is going to spend his eternity.”

When asked what should happen to Donaldson, Buckhorn said he wanted the process to take its place. And once it does?

“If he is found to be guilty, he should die. It’s that simple,” the mayor said.

Dugan said the arrest of Donaldson gave him a feeling of relief. The longtime Tampa policeman was named interim chief earlier this year, and then was officially given the title of chief just a few weeks ago. He said it was hardly an ideal way to start off his career.

“To start off as chief of police and to have four unsolved homicides on your watch? That’s a tough pill to swallow. That is something that I’ll carry the rest of my life,” Dugan said.

Scott said he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to murder someone in cold blood.

“Why somebody would have it in their mind to go take four individuals lives? I don’t get it, and I don’t know if we’ll ever understand it,” he said.

Dugan said there is no apparent motive for the murders at this time. He said Donaldson was cooperative with officers once he was taken into custody, but has only admitted that the gun he was found with on Tuesday was his. He has not admitted to the murders.

Thanksgiving place setting

What Florida’s political elite should be thankful for

From the soup kitchens of Tallahassee to the conch houses of Key West, from the toniest mansions in Coral Gables to the double wides in Dixie County, people from all walks of life will sit down to celebrate the most American of holidays: Thanksgiving.

“Americans traditionally recognize the ‘first’ Thanksgiving as having taken place at Plymouth colony in the autumn of 1621,” according to, the website of George Washington’s Virginia estate. “The 1621 thanksgiving celebration, however, did not become an annual event.”

More than a century later, “Washington issued a proclamation on Oct. 3, 1789, designating Thursday, Nov. 26 as a national day of thanks,” it says. “In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans.”

But “the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation … did not establish a permanent federal holiday,” the site adds. “It was not until the Civil War of the 1860s that President (Abraham) Lincoln initiated a regular observance of Thanksgiving in the United States.”

Thus we come to the tradition of eating and giving thanks, including by the state’s elected officials (and yes, by candidates and players in The Process).

Once God, country, family, and good fortune are given their due, here’s what some of the state’s most prominent leaders should be grateful for:

Marco Rubio – For the proverbial “second chance.” He’s finally becoming the influential U.S. Senator he was supposed to be.

Bill Nelson – For the wave of opinion coming that may enable the Democrat to hold off the inevitable challenge to his seat from self-funding, always-on-message Gov. Rick Scott.

Rick Scott For Nelson, who, despite 17 years in the U.S. Senate, is not well known enough to about half of Florida’s voters, according to a recent poll. No wonder Bill keeps inundating us with press releases of all the concerned letters he writes.

Adam Putnam – For the anonymous “POLITICO 6” who have torpedoed Jack Latvala’s gubernatorial campaign, giving the Bartow Republican an even wider lane to the Governor’s Mansion in 2018.

Jimmy Patronis For Matt Gaetz muscling him out of a state Senate race a few years back. Now he’s the appointed state Chief Financial Officer, with the full faith and credit of the Rick Scott political machine behind him to get elected to a full term in 2018.

Joe Negron For having just one session left as Senate President. It was a long, bruising road to the presidency, with an extended and nasty battle with Latvala. And since he won the gavel, relations with the House have bottomed out, while several Senators have faced debilitating scandals. Has it really been worth it?

Pam Bondi – For state Sen. Tom Lee’s proposed constitutional amendment banning greyhound racing. The term-limited Attorney General regularly brings shelter dogs to Cabinet meetings to get them adopted. Will she make this issue her own as one springboard to her post-2018 ambitions?

Richard Corcoran – For the seemingly hapless Senate, which allows him to ally with Scott when needed to advance his priorities. A post-Session declaration of his own candidacy for Governor is a virtual lock. 

Jack Latvala  For all the donors who gave to his campaign for Governor before the reports of claims of sexual harassment against him came out. No matter how the case against him plays out, he’ll have millions of dollars to make others miserable once he leaves the Legislature.

Buddy Dyer For no term limits as Orlando mayor. How about just chucking the election pretense? Mayor-for-Life, anyone?

Bob Buckhorn For … , well, the Tampa mayor says he’s too busy hunting a serial killer right now to be thankful. We bet he will be thankful once that evildoer is caught.

Brian Ballard For the gift that keeps on giving: His relationship with President Donald Trump. We’d wager he’s … hold on a second, he’s signing another client, we’ll get back to you.

Vivian Myrtetus – For one million hours of volunteer service in the state after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The CEO of Volunteer Florida has good reason to be proud, and we should be proud of our fellow Floridians who helped neighbors in need.

Hillsborough Democrats rally behind Jose Vazquez in HD 58 special election

Over the years, Democrat Jose Vazquez ran (and lost) several local elections, mostly without any organized support from the Hillsborough County Party.

But that is starting to change, as the Party is more energized than ever after Donald Trump‘s stunning election a year ago,

Local Democrats are now hoping to replicate the success they found in the Senate District 40 and St. Petersburg mayoral races this fall in the upcoming House District 58 special election.

Vazquez hasn’t always been an easy candidate to embrace. A Puerto Rican native with a thick English accent, he has an extensive criminal background history, including an infamous run for office as a write-in candidate in 2008 against Democratic incumbent Michael Scionti in the House District 48 race  — while still serving time in prison for a felony conviction of driving with a revoked or suspended license in May 2007.

Now on the campaign trail, Vazquez speaks about his arrest record, pivoting to use his past as a strong talking point for his support for restoring ex-felons voting rights, and the plight of poor and minorities in the criminal justice system.

“How many of you have been stopped for a bad light on your car or a cracked windshield? Or some other offense? Did you get a ticket? We’re you able to pay the fine?” Vazquez asked a crowd of fellow Democrats gathered at the Hillsborough County Children’s Board in Ybor City for the county’s Democratic Executive Committee meeting Monday night.

Vazquez explained that just two months after arriving in the U.S. from Puerto Rico in 1999, he was ticketed for a non-moving vehicle violation. He couldn’t afford to pay the fine (he was making just $7.25 an hour while working at Tampa International Airport).

Also, Vazquez was homeless at the time and thus never received notice that his license was suspended for nonpayment of the fine.

Although he received several other moving violations, Vazquez says he never received notices since he was homeless, and thus labeled a habitual traffic offender. His driver’s license was then suspended for five years, and Vazquez started using a scooter for his transportation. But even that went sour after he was arrested for a law (since rescinded) that all vehicles powered with gasoline required a driver’s license to operate.

“I have been a victim of a system that was and is still today stacked against minorities,” he said. “People who have limited financial resources and often have to make tough choices between paying fines, paying rent, putting food on the table, paying an electric bill, or hiring an attorney.”

He also told the room full of Democrats that while he was also arrested on a domestic violence charge, a charge ultimately dismissed.

Party regulars certainly accept his story — some even say that they are embarrassed over earlier failures to support him in previous races. In 2012, Vazquez ran against Republican Dan Raulerson in HD 58 without any support from the Hillsborough DEC.

In fact, the HCDEC removed any mention of Vasquez from its website in the lead-up to that election, prompting Vazquez to call on then-Party chair Chris Mitchell to resign (he didn’t).

Despite that, Vazquez still took 42 percent of the vote in losing to Raulerson, whose resignation from that same seat this summer (due to health issues) has created the need for this special election, scheduled Dec. 19.

“This is a man who was beat down by the Democratic Party,” said Hillsborough County state committeeman Ross Patterson. “He has worked and worked and worked for our party, even though we didn’t work for him.”

As a write-in candidate, Vazquez then took on Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn as his only opposition in what was otherwise a coronation for the Tampa leader, who garnered 96 percent in his re-election back in March 2015.

Vazquez, 43, is the father of six children, one with a disability. In his speech Monday night, he talked about defending the disabled, the LGBTA community, expanding Medicaid and working on improving public education.

“Unlike most of our nation’s elected officials, I’m familiar with what it is like to struggle, what it’s like to live on the margins, paycheck to paycheck, day-to-day,” he said. “Too often we elect officials who have no real understanding on what life is like across the tracks, what life is like on ‘the other side of town.'”

The crowd bought into his message — literally.

Former DEC Chair Michael Steinberg introduced Vazquez to the crowd by saying that if everyone in attendance (about 100 people) contributed $5 to his campaign, he would match that to get Vazquez $1,000 out of the evening.

He later announced Vazquez had raised $1,015.

Donna Fore, head of the East Hillsborough County Democratic Club, said her group had recently donated $500 to Vazquez campaign, and she encouraged other clubs to follow suit.

Patterson reminded the crowd that there are actually more registered Democrats in HD 58 than Republicans, even though the GOP had dominated control of the seat for several years.

Dover businessman Lawrence McClure is the Republican candidate, and there are two other players in the mix: Libertarian Bryan Zemina and Ahmed Saadaldin, who is with the Green Party (but officially non-party-affiliated) and is, by far, the most progressive candidate in the race.

Ron Wyden visits Bill Nelson in Tampa to call for bipartisanship in tax reform

Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, joined his Florida colleague Bill Nelson at a business roundtable discussion in Tampa Monday.

At the event, the two lawmakers blasted the GOP tax reform bill that passed the House last week and could come up in the Senate as early as next week as a giveaway to the wealthy and a tax increase to those making less than $75,000.

After criticizing the bill, Wyden and Nelson said they could find common cause with a significant number of Republicans to come together on a bipartisan measure that could get up to 75 (or even 80) members of the 100-member Senate.

“That’s our endgame. That’s what we really want,”  Wyden said. “We’re going to explain why we don’t care for what is on offer, but we want to let you know why we feel bipartisanship is so important.”

Wyden said a bipartisan-supported bill would give the various business leaders (which included the respective chambers of commerce heads from most major counties surrounding the Tampa Bay area) a degree of certainty that wouldn’t need to be flipped over if a new administration comes into office in three years. Wyden said he has actually co-written such a bill with former Indian Republican Senator Dan Coats (now the Director of National Intelligence in the Donald Trump administration), so he knows it’s possible.

Stressing the bipartisanship certainly made sense talking to a group of business leaders, some of whom were presumably Republican.

Staying with the bipartisanship theme, Nelson cited Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson‘s opposition to the Senate bill in terms of how it treats businesses that operate like “pass-through entities,” — which means they their business income on to their individual income tax return.

In the Senate bill, pass-through entities are allowed to deduct just over 17 percent of their business income, an effort to reduce the rate paid on business income to come closer to the 20 percent rate the bill sets for corporate income (down from 35 percent today).

This will still leave many pass-throughs paying a far higher rate than corporations.

“According to this Republican senator, you’re going to pay an average of 32 percent. Now is that fair?” Nelson asked.

The Senate plan calls for tax cuts for individuals and pass-throughs alike expire in 2022, while the corporate tax cuts are permanent.

While Floridians would get a break from the provision that will not allow individuals in high taxed states like California and New York to deduct their state income taxes, Nelson says they’d get hurt with the provision in the legislation that eliminates real estate and sales taxes.

Another bit of criticism the two Democrats had is what Republicans like Tennessee’s Bob Corker have expressed concerns about — that the proposals being offered but the GOP will bust a hole in the deficit.

Not all nonpartisan tax organizations are bashing the bill. According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, in 2019, people in the middle of the income spectrum, earning between $50,000 and $70,000, would see their taxes fall by 7.1 percent. Those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 would see a 10.4 percent decline, the report shows, while millionaires would get a 5.3 percent tax cut.

Nelson criticized the rapid speed with which the Republicans have pushed the bill through the House, and decried the fact that the national press is more focused on Roy Moore, Al Franken and “whatever is the shining object that is so much more entertaining than the dullness of tax law.”

There’s no question that the separate bills in the House and Senate are moving through Congress at a rapid-fire pace. House Republicans passed their bill last Thursday night, exactly two weeks after its detailed legislative text was released. Republicans in the Senate released their plan less than two weeks ago and are expected to put to on the Senate floor before the end of this month.

“They want to get this done next week,” said Wyden. “They’re making ten trillion dollars worth of changes in tax policy on the fly.”

Both Democrats also criticized the recent addition of removing the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act as a way to free up revenue in the Senate bill.

“This is the kind of approach that starts unraveling all of the key elements of the Affordable Care Act, that’s why they’re doing it, it’s an ideological trophy,” Wyden said to reporters before the roundtable.

A Quinnipiac poll released last week shows that 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the GOP tax reform proposals, with only 25 percent supporting it.

Tensions high among blacks, police as Seminole Heights manhunt continues

With four unresolved murders in the past six weeks, tensions in Southeast Seminole Heights have never been higher.

Among some black residents, there’s even more anxiety, with many complaining about increased surveillance in the community — and that was before the Tampa Police Department announced earlier this week that the chief suspect is a black male.

That served as a backdrop Thursday night when Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan addressed the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP at the Seminole Heights Branch Library.

Dugan acknowledged his department is, in fact, convinced the suspect has only killed two of the four people shot in the neighborhood since October 9.

“We believe that this person definitely murdered Ben Mitchell and Ronald Felton,” he said, referring to the first and fourth persons killed in the still-unresolved killing spree. “We’re not sure enough to say that he was able to murder Monica Hoffa and Anthony Naiboa, so it could be someone else who murdered those two.”

Undeniably, police presence in the neighborhood is higher, and arrests have spiked — 150 in the area in the last month. That’s up from 56 in October 2016, and 126 in October 2015. Motorists are now being pulled over for making rolling stops, a move that Dugan admitted normally the TPD  wouldn’t be so aggressive about.

These aren’t normal times, however.

Dugan said the decision to cite motorists for failing to make a complete stop in Seminole Heights came from him.

“We want to know who you are. We’ve got four dead people. How many bodies gotta stack up? … so we are stopping everyone.”

In addition to TPD officers in Seminole Heights, there are also law enforcement officers from the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department, the St. Petersburg Police Department, and now the Florida Highway Patrol in the neighborhood, courtesy of Gov. Rick Scott.

The chief also defended what some have labeled heavy-handed tactics such as officers clad in SWAT gear and holding long guns knocking on doors and asking residents if they can search their homes. He said residents have “every right to say no,” but he said the circumstances demanded such actions.

“This person is a coldblooded killer and we’re trying to catch them, and there is no doubt in my mind that cops are not exempt from his bloodthirst,” Dugan said.

Activist Connie Burton asked Dugan if he would consider changing the profile of the suspected killer, questioning if the suspect might have had military service or be a rogue cop?

Dugan appeared pained to pontificate broadly, especially with so many scrutinizing his every word. He confessed that it had crossed his mind that the suspect might have law enforcement training.

There were some raw feelings in the room, going back to 2015 when the TPD policy on citing black bicyclists for citations became the subject of a Tampa Bay Times series known colloquially as “Biking While Black.”

The uproar in the community led the department to call on the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to study the issue. A year later, they produced an 82-page report showing the policy was not discriminatory, but also ineffective.

Neither Tampa police nor Mayor Bob Buckhorn apologized for the now discarded policy, a slight that still stings in the community. While Dugan wasn’t in charge at the time, he was part of the force and was pressed on the issue Thursday by activist Jarvis El-Amin.

“We thought we were doing the right thing,” said Dugan. “We weren’t targeting African-Americans. We were targeting people doing violations on their bicycles. Afterward, when we sat down and looked at the numbers, clearly we were stopping mostly African-Americans.”

Former Police Chief Jane Castor pushed back strongly against the Times story after its publication, and Dugan appeared to still have problems with the story himself.

The chief added that there were murder suspects who escaped on bikes and another story of a young black man throwing a box containing an automatic rifle into a bush.

“Why was that not part of the story? I don’t know.”

Hillsborough approves filing reimbursement for complaint against Ken Hagan

In a move critics called “chilling,” the Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 on Wednesday to seek financial reimbursement from four activists who filed a failed ethics complaint against Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman.

Hagan filed a petition for fees and costs for his attorney, Mark Levine, following the Florida Commission on Ethics’ announcement last month that it found no probable cause that Hagan, Murman and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn violated the state’s ethics code in their involvement with the Go Hillsborough transportation plan. The plan ultimately never made it to the 2016 ballot.

In making his case before his colleagues on Wednesday, Hagan said there was precedence for supporting his proposal, citing the BOCC’s 2015 6-1 vote for reimbursement against Joe Keel from Keel & Curley Winery after he unsuccessfully filed an ethics complaint against Commissioner Al Higginbotham 

Higginbotham quickly seconded Hagan’s motion on Wednesday.

Hagan blasted everyone involved with the complaint, attacking the citizen activists and WTSP 10 News for their coverage of his actions during the Go Hillsborough effort, which did lead to an investigation by County Sheriff David Gee and then State Attorney Mark Ober — but they concluded there had been no wrongdoing.

“This is an abuse of the system, it is wrong, and it is not good public policy,” Hagan said. “The only documents that were provided were fake news reports from Channel 10.

“I believe this issue today is such an egregious example that it crystallizes our duty and responsibility as a board to begin to create some legal guidance as to the responsibility of the complainant,” Hagan continued, adding that responsibility is otherwise burdened on the “taxpayer’s back.”

Commissioners Victor Crist, Pat Kemp and Stacy White opposed the motion.

“I don’t think this is good policy,” said White. “It doesn’t send a good message.”

The proposal was originally listed on the board’s consent agenda, meaning commissioners couldn’t have public discussion.

White made sure to pull it for debate, a move that Kemp said she appreciated.

She said that, because the Ethics Commission cannot generate their own complaints, it’s up to regular citizens to keep board members in check.

“Approving Commissioner Hagan’s request will most definitely create a chilling effect that will discourage citizens from filing complaints that they believe to be important and necessary,” said Kemp.

Before the debate, a few members of the public advised the board not to support the motion.

Activist Sharon Calvert called it “appalling” that the item was initially placed on the consent agenda and called the request “very chilling.”

“Why is there a need to punish the filers for trying to do the right thing?” Yvette Niemann asked. “That tactic will not scare us, and will only make us strong and more determined. Shame on you, Ken Hagan!”

Niemann is the wife of George Niemann, one of the four who now filed the ethics complaint and may have to pay up. The others are Charlotte Greenbarg, Shirley Wood and Lela Lillyquist.

Darden Rice, Yolie Capin talk regionalism during Cafe Con Tampa

In her just-concluded re-election bid to the St. Petersburg City Council District 2 seat, Darden Rice received the backing of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, an endorsement of which she’s very proud.

She’s also the niece of former Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice.

Rice mentioned those facts, among others, to an audience at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange where she appeared with Tampa City Council Chair Yolie Capin. The two local city council chairs were at the hourlong Cafe Con Tampa, which meets every Friday morning.

This week, the theme was the regional cooperation that is currently taking place between the Tampa Bay area’s two biggest cities. Both discussed the Tampa Bay area becoming a “super region”– within a “mega-region” when combined with Orlando.

Demonstrating her bona fides in supporting law enforcement, Rice talked about police shootings of people of color and how it led to the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as NFL players refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem.

“I think we’ve come to realize more and more that the power of a badge and a power of holding a gun is too much power to give to someone who’s not trained properly,” she said. “Certainly too much power to give to somebody who’s a bigot.”

It’s not just recognizing acts of hate and racism, she continued, but institutional racism is something that “we all need to be more conversant with.”

When asked her thoughts on race relations, Capin referred to the 2015 Tampa Bay Times expose of “Biking While Black,” the story of the Tampa Police Department’s disproportionate pattern of citing black cyclists, which she labeled “an embarrassment.”

Capin then congratulated the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for helping to raise the private funding required to appease Hillsborough County Commissioners last August for the removal of a Confederate monument in front of the courthouse annex.

Capin said she had recently spoken with some local business officials who noted that advocating to remove the monument “was definitely a business issue.”

“They’re realizing how important the race relationships, the whole branding of our area is to business,” Capin added.

Moving to the national scene but without naming names, Capin said that it was “sad” that “racism is acceptable. Bigotry is acceptable. And that is not acceptable in our region, and we have to let the world know.”

Capin spoke enthusiastically about a budding business relationship between Cuba’s Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay. Rice joined her, Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, and a host of other officials on a trip to the island last month.

“We’re talking transformative to our area. Thousands of jobs. It is in the process of happening,” Capin said about that alliance.

Rice talked up the two cities working together, referring to the Tampa Bay Export Alliance and, somewhat surprisingly, on auto theft, where the cities respective police departments go across the Bay to assist their counterparts during major events.

They also talked about the Cross-Bay Ferry, a project championed by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman that ran for six months in late 2016 and early 2017.

More than a year ago, Kriseman went hat in hand to the local governments of Tampa, Hillsborough County, Pinellas County and his own city council to get them each to offer $350,000 to fund the private-public partnership. Ridership increased in its last few months, but to the disappointment of some, the ferry will not be happening in 2017-2018.

As reported Friday by Caitlin Johnston in the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s lack of interest in spending taxpayer dollars on the project “complicated” matters. Rice said construction of the new Pier in downtown also was a factor in why the project won’t happen this year.

“The construction of the Pier would preclude the location of the ferry to come in, so we don’t want to have a hiccup where people get used to a ferry and then it’s gone for a year and how do get people back, but the truth is that the construction would be right at the height of the ferry usage time, so there’s that.”

Both chairs hoped that a permanent Tampa-St. Pete ferry connection would result after Hillsborough County ultimately operating a ferry from the Apollo Beach-area to MacDill Air Force Base — a project that is still seemingly long ways off regarding funding.

The possibility of the relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa was brought up by blogger Jim Bleyer, who wanted to hear from a public official other than Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan on the proposal for a stadium in Ybor City.

Neither had much to add, however.

“I think the Rays are a regional asset. I would love for them to stay in St. Pete, but if it doesn’t work I’d like for them to be able to stay in Tampa Bay and be successful,” Rice said.

“City Council has not aggressively sought out the Rays. I look forward to the plan,”  Capin said, adding, “I agree that they’re a regional asset like our airport, and I want them to stay.”

About the myriad problems with the lack of transportation options in the region, Capin appeared to take a shot at former Mayor Pam Iorio over Moving Hillsborough Forward, the transit sales tax initiative spearheaded, in part, by Iorio in 2010 that was ultimately defeated.

“It needed real leadership,” she said. “We had a mayor that was loved by everyone. It needed to be said,’ look, this good for us, this is why.’ That didn’t happen either.”

Former state legislator and state Education Commissioner Betty Castor received a hearty round of applause as she decried Tallahassee’s continuing attack on home rule. But neither local council member could truly say anything will stop that legislative trend anytime soon.

“We really have to peel it back and show the public what is the Legislature’s doing, because really it hurts the voice of our local citizens,” Rice said.

Capin referred to an ordinance recently passed the Tampa City Council about the design of cellphone towers built on public rights of way and utility poles. She said it was the only authority they still had to control them, in light of legislation easily passed this year by the Legislature.

Rice’s re-election gives her four more years to serve St. Pete, with some speculating on a mayoral run in 2021.

Term-limited from office in early 2019, Capin had been pursuing a run for Hillsborough County Commissioner next year (where she would face fellow Democrat Janet Cruz), but recently opted out of that plan. Instead, she is now chairing Tampa philanthropist David Straz‘s exploratory committee on a run for mayor.

Straz will decide early next year if he’s running in 2019, he said.

Joe Henderson: Jan Platt leaves legacy of service, integrity

As a member of the Hillsborough County Commission, Jan Platt was best known for a single word: NO! Labels like that tend to stick, but this grand lady was much, much more than that.

She fought to protect our waterways and environmentally sensitive land, and she loved to be out on the Bay with a fishing rod. She was a champion of public libraries, and one of the Tampa branch buildings is named in her honor.She was honest, at times a little cranky, but she always – ALWAYS – did what she thought was right for this community.

She was that rare public servant who said what she meant, and meant what she said.

She couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be intimidated, and she wouldn’t be swayed to vote for something because it was smart politics. Janice Kaminis Platt always spoke from a heart that was 24-carat pure.

Yes, frequently she was the leading voice of dissent as developers pushed relentlessly toward their goal of paving over every bit of green space in the county. When quick-buck artists appeared before the commissioners, they knew it was going to be a long day if Commissioner No was in her seat.

That misses the point, though. More often than not, it about what she was trying to preserve and less about what she was against.

People loved her for that.

She died last week at the age of 81. Her funeral is Friday in Tampa, and her passing triggered an outpouring of tributes.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called her “honest, ethical” and “steadfast in her leadership.”

Former Commissioner Joe Chillura told the Tampa Bay Times that he never should have run against her in a commission race because, “It was like running against Mother Teresa.”

She was never needed more than when three county commissioners were arrested in 1983 for selling their votes in exchange for bribe money.

It shook this community to its core, but I think we all knew that if Jan Platt was still on the board, we would be OK.

And we were.

That continued after she retired in 1994 following 24 years as a commissioner and four as a member of the Tampa City Council. She stayed relatively low key until a public hearing a little over years ago about a proposed 38-story residential and retail complex near the Straz Center in downtown Tampa.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn was pushing hard for approval, and things appeared to be going swimmingly until Platt made a surprise appearance at the microphone and spoke forcefully against the project.

She succeeded in getting the project delayed, because people figured if she was against it they probably should take another look. It was ultimately approved, but the delay infuriated Buckhorn and he had some pointed things to say to me later about her interference in his plans.

Buckhorn, by the way, got over it and in a statement on Twitter noted, “During a difficult time in County government, her integrity shined brightly.”

Several months after my column on that exchange appeared in The Tampa Tribune, I ran across Jan at a reception on Davis Islands. I hadn’t spoken with her since that column ran, and Buckhorn’s quotes were a bit personal and on the nasty side.

Still, she thanked me for the piece and said she thought it was fair and accurate.

I considered that especially high praise.

I’m not sure we’ll see anyone like her again. She was an original and a community treasure.

The measure of a life well-lived can be taken in what people say about you when you die, and the size of the footprints you leave behind.

Jan Platt’s will be hard, if not impossible, to fill.

Activist George Niemann files as write-in for Hillsborough Commission

George Niemann decided: If he can’t beat ’em, why not join ’em?

The Dover activist, who has filed at least 10 ethics complaints against Tampa and Hillsborough County officials over the past decade, will be running as a write-in candidate in the countywide open County Commission District 5 seat being vacated next year by Ken Hagan.

It makes Niemann the eighth candidate to enter the race.

A year out, the most prominent name (and leading fundraiser) is Republican Victor Crist, the District 2 Commissioner term-limited out of office next year who hopes to prolong his time on the board by running for the countywide seat.

“I know running as a write-in is a real challenge, but I’m really disgusted with having ‘career incumbents’ that serve special interests over the average citizen,” Niemann told Florida Politics in an email Wednesday. “They’re getting old sitting in their seats upon the dais, while our quality of life degrades as a result of their decisions.”

Over the years, Niemann has unquestionably been a thorn in the side of the Board of County Commissioners. But his point about “they’re getting old” is a reference to the fact that three members of the current board — Hagan, Crist and Sandy Murman — are all running for new seats next year, giving them each an additional four (and perhaps eight) more years on the board.

Hagan has served on the board since 2002; Murman and Crist since 2010.

Niemann’s campaign will have two themes: “Eight is Enough!” and “Drain Hillsborough’s Swamp!”

Niemann was a critic of the Go Hillsborough transit proposal that ultimately never made it to the voters last year. One of his ethics complaints accused Murman, Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn of steering the $1.3 million Go Hillsborough contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff, the client of PR consultant Beth Leythem. The Florida Commission on Ethics announced last month that it had found no probable cause in that complaint.

He’s also been critical of development that doesn’t pay for itself in eastern Hillsborough County.

“I’ve never tried this before, but I want to send a message that we need new faces and fresh ideas,” Niemann says. “I hope there will be a grassroots revolt, even if I don’t win.”

Niemann also says he hopes to get invited to candidate forums where he can rally support and educate voters.

In addition to Crist and Niemann, the Democrats in the race are Jae Passmore, Elvis Pigott, Mark Nash and Corey L. Reynolds.

Republicans in the race are Tim Curtis and Angel Urbina Capo.



Bob Buckhorn names Brian Dugan as Tampa Police Chief

Interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan can now drop the “interim.”

Two days ago, reports emerged that Dugan was disappointed that Mayor Bob Buckhorn wanted to conduct a national search to replace the outgoing chief, Eric Ward.

On Tuesday, Buckhorn named Dugan as the new permanent leader of the Tampa Police Department.

The mayor’s announcement comes during an intense search for the person who murdered three Seminole Heights residents over 11 days last month, and nearly two months since Dugan led the TPD as Hurricane Irma barreled through the region.

“During his 27-year career, Brian has set the gold standard for what it means to be a Tampa police officer,” Buckhorn said. “When I appointed him to interim-chief, I knew he had what it takes to lead one of the best police departments in the country.”

The mayor continued: “I have watched very closely over the last few months as Brian has demonstrated steadfast leadership through two very significant events. Each of these situations would have tested the most experienced chief and Brian passed with flying colors.”

“This department has not missed a beat since Brian was appointed. I look forward to Brian’s continued leadership as chief and the department’s continued success as one of the best departments in America.”

“I’m thankful and humbled that Mayor Buckhorn trusted me with this responsibility of leading the department,” Dugan said in a statement. “The majority of the credit should go to the men and women who work the streets. I look forward to partnering with them to build relationships with the people that we serve and protect the community.”

In more than a quarter century at the department, Dugan served as an officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major, deputy chief, and assistant chief. As assistant chief, he oversaw Special Operations, Criminal Investigations, and the Special Support Division, taking primary responsibility for the Department’s $146 million budget.

He currently serves as co-chairman of the Tampa Urban Area Security Initiative, and on the board of directors for the Police Athletic League.

Within the TPD, Dugan had worked in the Criminal Intelligence Bureau, Street Anti-Crime Unit, Quick Uniform Attack on Drugs Squad (QUAD), Internal Affairs Bureau, Mayor’s Security Detail, and as a Field Training Officer.

Dugan also oversaw TPD operations in Curtis Hixon Park in the fall of 2011 as the Occupy Tampa movement took hold.

After Ward suddenly announced in July his retirement to take a job as director of security with Tampa-based Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, Buckhorn announced a national search for best man (or woman) for the job. That included hiring a consultant to conduct the search.

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that, in an August interview, Dugan expressed disappointment that Buckhorn decided to conduct a national search. But if history was any indication, the odds were in Dugan’s favor if he impressed during the time as interim chief.

In the last 25 years, three of five Tampa police chiefs were promoted from within; a fourth (Steve Hogue) spent 23 years at TPD before taking a chief’s job in Fort Walton. Houge was then hired back and served as chief from 2003-2009.

Ward served only two years as chief, replacing Jane Castor, who is now considering a run for Tampa mayor in 2019.

Dugan is married with two children. He’ll make $171,412 as chief.

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