Nick DiCeglie Archives - Florida Politics

Not Just A Body Of Water — A weekly newsletter about Tampa Bay politics — 1.21.18

— Tampa Bay ranks third statewide in job creation —

Tampa Bay added 28,000 new private-sector jobs in the last year, the third-highest number of jobs among all Florida metro areas.

In a statement this week from Gov. Rick Scott, Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate had dropped to 3.4 percent, down 1.1 percentage points from the same period last year.

Statewide, Florida businesses created nearly 30,000 new jobs in December and 1,497,100 new private-sector jobs since December 2010.

Rick Scott is touting Florida’s strong private-sector job gains.

“Last year ended strong with 28,000 new jobs created in the Tampa Bay area,” Scott said. “Statewide, nearly 1.5 million jobs have been created since December 2010, and it is clear that we are on track to making Florida the best place in the nation for families to find new opportunities.”

Industries with the highest growth in Tampa Bay were professional and business services (7,000 new jobs) and education and health services (6,100). The Tampa area remained first among the state metro areas in job demand in December with 40,143 openings. The region also continues to rank first in the state in demand for high-skill, high-wage STEM occupations with 13,179 openings in December.

— Dennis Ross blasts conditions at Bill Young VA Medical Center —

U.S. Rep. Ross, the Lakeland Republican who serves as Senior Deputy Majority Whip, sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin demanding answers about the conditions at the CW Bill Young VA Medical Center in Pinellas County.

A portion of the facility has no heat or hot water and veterans in the residential units have either had to take cold showers or walk across a parking lot to take a hot shower in a mobile unit.

Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross is criticizing the care at the CW Bill Young Veterans Center in Pinellas County.

“Although this facility is located in Pinellas County, several of my constituents in Hillsborough, Polk, and Lake counties receive care there and regularly interact with the employees and other Veterans there,” writes Ross, who represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District. “I would like to join my colleagues in the Tampa Bay delegation in requesting that these Veterans be provided with an alternative living space with working heat and hot water and for all reasonable steps to be taken to finish the repairs to Building 102 in the most efficient manner possible.”

— House hurricane panel suggestions include Suncoast Parkway extension —

A House committee formed in response to Hurricane Irma announced a list of suggestions to deal with future hurricanes — including extending the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia line, and not rebuilding in “high-risk” areas.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran appointed the 21-member state House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness in September, tasked with reviewing response and making recommendations. The committee issued 78 recommendations last week covering 10 policy areas: energy, shelters and vulnerable populations, housing, beaches and more.

To better handle future hurricanes, one suggestion is extending the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia state line.

To help with evacuations, the panel recommends extending the Suncoast Parkway — a 42-mile stretch between Tampa and northern Hernando County — to continue about 150 more miles to the Georgia state line.

On Oct. 12, Gov. Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation to review improvements to I-75 from the Florida Turnpike interchange to the state line.

The House report also suggests the FDOT order an independent evaluation of strategically located petroleum distribution centers. Scott also directed state FDOT to examine ways to increase fuel supplies during hurricanes.

— Tampa Water Street project seeking public art submissions —

Tampa is seeking a professional artist to contribute to its multibillion-dollar Tampa Water Street project.

The City of Tampa’s Art Program Division and Strategic Property Partners, developer of the Water Street Tampa project, along with The University of South Florida Art in State Buildings Program, is issuing a call to professional artists to Commission a “site-specific exterior artwork” to be placed or integrated in the open plaza of the site.

Budget for the project is $600,000, which will include all costs associated with the public art venture.

The Plaza will be between the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute and a planned high-performance office tower.

For consideration, artists must send a proposal that includes a written statement, professional resume, digital images and a digital image ID sheet. Images can be uploaded to or email a link from Dropbox or other file sharing service to Mail submissions to: Water Street Tampa/USF Health, Art Programs Division, City of Tampa, 306 East Jackson Street 5N, Tampa, FL 33602. For more information and submission requirements, email, or call (813) 274-8531.

Application deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23.

— Former state Rep. Heather Fiorentino endorses Ardian Zika for HD 37 —

“Ardian Zika is a compassionate conservative who will fight for our children and will strive to make sure our teachers have the resources they need to provide a high-quality education to each Pasco child,” said Fiorentino, who now serves as superintendent of Pasco County Schools. “Over the years, I’ve been impressed by Ardian’s commitment to our community. He has been a tireless volunteer and I am grateful he is willing to now continue that service in our state capitol.

Former state Rep. Heather Fiorentino endorses Ardian Zika (left) for HD 37.

Zika is seeking the Republican-leaning Pasco County HD 37 seat vacated by term-limited House Speaker Corcoran. In recent years, Gov. Scott named Zika to the Florida Council on Homelessness, the Pasco Hernando State College board of trustees and the CareerSource Florida board of directors.

Also running is New Port Richey Democrat Tyler Sambucci.

— Hillsborough Commissioner Al Higginbotham endorses Joe Wicker for HD 59 — 

“Hillsborough County needs effective leadership in the state House and I can think of no one better suited to represent District 59 than Joe Wicker,” Higginbotham, who represents Hillsborough Countywide District 7, said in a statement.

“Joe served his country in Iraq and came home and began his own small business — living the same American Dream he fought to protect overseas. I’m proud to endorse Joe and I hope residents of East Hillsborough County will join me in supporting Joe Wicker for State House.”

Wicker, a Republican, is currently the only candidate in the race to replace Ross Spano of Dover in HD 59, which covers most of Brandon, as well as Valrico, Dover, Seffner, Riverview, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.

“Hillsborough County is well-served each and every day by the leadership of Commissioner Higginbotham. He embodies all the values and qualities we hope to see out of our elected officials. A true servant of his community, I’m humbled Commissioner Higginbotham has lent his name and support to our campaign,” Wicker said.

— Largo Mayor Woody Brown, Commissioner Curtis Holmes endorse Nick DiCeglie for HD 66 —

“I’m pleased to offer my support to Nick DiCeglie for my home district, Florida House District 66,” Brown said in a statement. “Nick cares about this community and has a solid record of community involvement.”

Largo Mayor Woody Brown.

“I seldom voluntarily endorse any candidate but there are occasions when the qualifications displayed by a would-be leader are so outstanding that it’s warranted and that is why I wholeheartedly endorse Nick DiCeglie to be the next representative for Florida House District 66,” said Holmes. “I’ve worked with Nick on many occasions, he’ll do a great job for Largo.”

Holmes and Brown’s endorsement follows support from former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Seminole Vice Mayor Chris Burke. DiCeglie chairs the Pinellas County Republican Party and runs Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company Solar Sanitation.

— Seminole Councilmember James Quinn endorses Berny Jacques for HD 66 —

“Berny is a person who cares, and he will make the best decisions and protect all he plans to serve,” said Quinn in an announcement. “My endorsement for Berny is based on observing him serve our community as a member of the City of Seminole Developmental Review Board and as a member of the Sheriff’s Advisory Board.”

In addition to a seat on the Seminole City Council, Quinn also serves on the Sheriff’s Advisory Board, is a member of the Florida League of Cities Energy & Natural Resources Committee, and a member of the American Legion.

Jacques, a St. Petersburg attorney, responded that he was honored by Quinn’s endorsement, calling him “someone who fights daily for the residents of our city and I look forward to bringing the same fighting spirit to Tallahassee when representing the people of House District 66.”

— Mariella Smith kicks off Hillsborough County Commission run —

Smith, a Ruskin Democrat, will hold her kickoff fundraising event for the countywide Hillsborough Commission District 5 seat beginning 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at The Italian Club, 1731 E. 7th Ave. in Ybor City.

Suggested donation is $100 for attendees, $500 for a spot on the host committee. For info, to RSVP or host: or (727) 619-4145.

District 5 is an open seat since being vacated after eight years by Republican Ken Hagan, who has announced he is running for an added four (and possibly eight) years in District 2.

Smith is the fifth Democrat to enter the race, following Elvis Pigott, Mark Nash, Jae Passmore and Corey L. Reynolds.

— Pinellas County vote-by-mail schedule announced —

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark announced a new tentative mailing schedule for vote-by-mail ballots in the March 13 Municipal Elections.

Voters will cast ballots in several municipalities countywide: Belleair, Belleair Beach, Clearwater, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Madeira Beach, Pinellas Park, Redington Beach, Safety Harbor, South Pasadena and Treasure Island.

Clark said mail ballots will start going out Jan. 26 to absent military and overseas voters who have to date requested ballots. State law requires ballots for absent military and overseas voters to be mailed at least 45 days before an election.

On Feb. 6, mail ballots will go to domestic voters who have requested ballots to date. State law requires domestic ballots to be mailed between 35 and 28 days before an election.

Additional mail ballot requests will be fulfilled as received, Clark added. To request a mail ballot, visit, call (727)  464-VOTE (8683), or email

The deadline to request sending a vote-by-mail ballot is March 7 at 5 p.m.

Mail ballots must be received at one of the Supervisor of Elections Offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Voters should allow at least one week for a ballot to be returned by mail to the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Vote-by-mail ballots may also be dropped off at any Supervisor of Elections Office; hours and locations can also be found at

— Pic of the week —

Despite many Floridians protesting against Donald Trump, the president still has fans willing to speak out in his favor.

— Clearwater Chamber PAC endorses David Allbritton, Hoyt Hamilton —

ClearPAC, the political action committee affiliated with the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, endorsed Albritton and Hamilton for Clearwater City Council Seats 4 and 5, respectively.

“Mr. Allbritton has demonstrated his commitment to the future of Clearwater by his long history of service on various boards and committees, and is dedicated to moving Clearwater forward,” said ClearPAC Chair Ray Ferrara. “Mr. Hamilton’s outstanding record of public service to this city and his commitment to new business development in downtown Clearwater while keeping a historical perspective will serve our citizens well.”

The Chamber endorsed the pair, in part, because both candidates fully support the Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment plan, approved by an overwhelming majority of Clearwater voters in November’s referendum.

“A 75-25 split is more than just a mandate,” Ferrara added. “This needs to happen. Our citizens are tired of waiting. We are pleased that both candidates recognize this, and are committed to ensuring that the Imagine Clearwater project gets done.”

— Clearwater schedules City Council meet-the-candidate forum —

The Clearwater Downtown Partnership is hosting a City Council meet-the-candidate forum Monday, Feb. 5 at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater.

Confirmed to appear are David Allbritton, Tom Keller and incumbent councilmember Hoyt Hamilton.

Allbritton and Keller are facing off to replace Councilmember Bill Jonson in Seat 4. Hamilton is running for re-election to Seat 5. His opponent, John Funk, declined to appear.

Meet three of four Clearwater City Council Candidates Feb. 5.

The primary focus of the event will be issues facing the downtown community, but topics will not be limited to downtown only. Organizers are restricting that discussion to policy or issues, with no personal questions allowed.

Doors open at 5 p.m., forum begins 5:30 p.m.; the event is open to the public. The Capitol Theatre is at 405 Cleveland St. in Clearwater.

— Two Madeira Beach City Commission races draw four candidates —

Four candidates are seeking a pair of seats on the five-member Madeira Beach City Commission.

Incumbent Terry Lister faces challenger Deby Weinstein for District 1; incumbent Nancy Hodges faces Eric Breslin.

The Madeira Beach elections are March 13, the same day Pinellas County holds its municipal elections. In addition, the communities of Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Pinellas Park and Treasure Island will hold mayoral elections.

Residents can learn which district they live in at the Madeira Beach website.

— Safety Harbor candidate forum gets venue change —

The 2018 Safety Harbor candidate forum has received a venue change, moving from the City Commission Chambers at City Hall to the Baranoff Theater at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

The event is still set to start at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, with a meet-and-greet in the foyer, followed by a two-hour question and answer period in the 150-seat theater.

According to officials for the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the forum, the venue change was necessitated by the large candidate field — six candidates qualified to run for the three open commission seats Tuesday, March 13.

Safety Harbor candidate forum gets a venue change.

Also, with the forum now taking place off city property, some of the restrictions surrounding the event have been lifted. Whereas campaign materials were prohibited at City Hall, those materials, including pamphlets and campaign signs, will be allowed to be displayed at the Spa. The venue change also forced the city to scrap plans to livestream the event, as they don’t have the capability to stream events outside City Hall. According to City Manager Matt Spoor, a video of the event should be up on the city’s website by Monday, Feb. 5.

— Charter Communications celebrates Brian Aungst Sr. career, retirement —

In celebration of a 30-year career in the public and private sectors, Charter Communications is honoring Aungst with a retirement reception Tuesday, Jan. 30.

Citing family health issues, Aungst is ending his stint as director of Government Relations for Charter-Spectrum Communications — formerly Vision Cable, Time Warner and Bright House Networks. During that time, he served as chairs of the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, Clearwater for Youth and the Bright House Clearwater Super Boat National Championships as well as other groups.

Since moving to the area in 1988, Aungst has been active in the community; he also served two terms as Clearwater mayor starting in 1999.

The event begins 6 p.m. at the Marina Cantina, 25 Causeway Boulevard in Clearwater. “Your present is your presence! Please, no gifts,” says the invite. RSVP by Jan. 26 to

Aungst and his wife of more than 40 years, Karen, live in Clearwater and have a son, Brian Jr., who is an attorney at the firm of MacFarlane Ferguson & McMullen.

Clearwater Chamber recently named Karen and Brian Aungst Sr. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Clearwater.’ Aungst is retiring this month after an illustrious 30-year career. 

— Personnel note: RSA Consulting Group adds up-and-coming lobbyist Kaitlyn Bailey —

Bailey becomes the firm’s newest associate for Government & Community Affairs. As one of the region’s leading full-service consulting firms, with offices in Tampa and Tallahassee, RSA specializes in government, legislative and community affairs, strategic planning, media and public relations.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Kaitlyn to our growing team,” said RSA founder and President Ron Pierce in a statement. “Since Kaitlyn joined us as an intern in 2016, we’ve been impressed by her professionalism, her willingness to jump right in and her strong aptitude for understanding the process and policies we work on.”

Bailey is a Florida State University graduate with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Hospitality and Political Science. She first joined RSA two years ago as an intern, later becoming a part-time associate for the 2017 Session. Before RSA, Bailey served as turf coordinator for the Republican Party of Florida during the 2016 presidential election cycle, working with the Field Director on strategy, data analysis and canvassing in Northwest Florida.

— Christopher LaBruzzo, Frederick Pollock named to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court —

On Friday, Gov. Scott announced the appointments of LaBruzzo and Pollack to the 6th Judicial Circuit Court, which serves Pinellas and Pasco counties.

LaBruzzo, 42, of Tampa, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit. He fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge John A. Schaefer.

Pollack, 45, of Clearwater, is a partner at Hunter Law, P.A. He has previously served as a Family Law General Magistrate and Child Support Hearing Officer for the 6th Judicial Circuit. Pollack fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Mark I. Shames.

— Swope, Rodante attorney named America’s most influential —

The Trial Lawyer magazine recognized civil trial practice firm Swope, Rodante P.A. attorney Elizabeth Zwibel as a member of 2017’s The RoundTable: America’s Most Influential Trial Lawyers. Her inclusion in the annual list is Zwibel’s second in a row.

Every year, The Trial Lawyer magazine identifies a select group of remarkable trial lawyers who have met the challenges of the legal profession and achieved extraordinary success in the courtroom. Zwibel regularly presents seminars across the nation and is recognized for her ability to handle the complexities of catastrophic cases. In addition to the RoundTable, she is also a member of The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100, has been inducted into the Florida Verdicts Hall of Fame by the Daily Business Review, was featured for her stellar achievements in the Ex Parte of Brevard County, and was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by America’s Top 100 Attorneys.

— Local courts roundup —

Vinoy sued for theft of $300K Ferrari — In July 2017, Orange County resident James “Skip” Fowler, 73, stayed at the Vinoy St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club, leaving his 2014 Ferrari 458 Spider, with a valet. While there, Levi Miles — another Vinoy guest — obtained the keys to the Ferrari from a valet and drove off. Hours later, Miles was discovered with the stolen Ferrari; he was arrested for Grand Theft Auto, cocaine possession and driving with a revoked driver’s license. Fowler is suing Vinoy owner Marriott International Inc. and Seven One Seven Parking Enterprise Inc. (which runs the Vinoy valet service) for negligence and for repairs to the car, worth roughly $300,000.

James “Skip” Fowler, plaintiff, with his 2014 Ferrari 458 Spider

Florida nursing homes face class-action lawsuit — From December 2016 until just before her death in January 2017, 74-year-old Shirley Cox resided at Woodbridge Care, a Tampa nursing home that is one of 22 Florida facilities purportedly owned by New York residents Eliezer Scheiner and Teddy Lichtschein. According to a proposed class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Cox and roughly 3,000 other residents, the nursing homes provided more than $900-million in “unlicensed skilled nursing services” because their licenses were obtained via “fraud and deception.” Cox’s estate and two other plaintiffs say the owners of the 22 homes — currently on the market by defendant Marcus & Millichap — operate them as a single entity for all practical purposes, extracting maximum profit while providing “substandard” care. But in dealings with the state’s licensing agency, the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, the owners portrayed each of the 22 homes as individually owned to minimize liability to creditors. The plaintiffs accuse Marcus & Millichap of being “fully aware of the deception” and are misleading in marketing the homes for sale.

Tampa man accuses Hertz of threats, harassment — On Oct. 4, 2017, Dwayne Ross, a longtime customer of car rental firm Hertz, went to a rental location in Tampa to close out one contract and enter into a new, one-month contract for an Infiniti QX80. After signing the contract, he left briefly and returned to give the staff a gift “to thank them for their service.” According to a Jan. 10 lawsuit, Ross says an unidentified location manager screamed, swore and threatened him for signing an underpriced contract, demanding Ross tear it up and sign a new one at a higher rate. Instead, Ross left and confirmed with a supervisor the contract was valid. Several days later, Ross complained to an unidentified Hertz Tampa Bay area regional manager about how he was treated. Instead of sympathy, the manager allegedly called Ross “boy,” demanding he pay a previously unknown 13-year-old debt; he also placed Ross on a “do not rent” list. The manager then repossessed the Infiniti in New York — stranding Ross and his family, who were there visiting a sick relative. Ross is seeking damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of Florida’s consumer debt-collection law.

MacDinton’s Irish Pub blamed for tossing patrons through glass door Dominic Gallone says he was at MacDinton’s SoHo on April 1, 2016, when a bouncer named Marques Delliott Smith threw him through the bar’s glass front door “without justification or provocation.” As a result, Gallone suffered substantial injuries (and Smith was sent to prison for felony battery). In a lawsuit filed Jan. 5, Gallone says the tossing was not an isolated incident. He claims ejecting “patrons they deem troublesome” by tossing them through a glass door is a “pattern” at MacDinton’s.

Brain booster manufacturer sues over faulty capsules — In 2016, Elixir Zenith hired Tampa-based Peak Nutritional to manufacture two nutraceutical products in capsule form: a brain booster called “Neuro” and a sleep formula. Elixir began an “extensive marketing campaign” for the products, which were sold as a package. After Elixir began shipping the products, customers began to complain and demand refunds. Peak’s allegedly faulty manufacturing process allowed the capsules’ powdery contents to be “contaminated by an unidentified liquid,” which caused the powder to begin dissolving, solidify, and generate black and brown spots. In a lawsuit filed Jan. 8, Elixir accuses Peak of delivering “defective and noncompliant products.”

Pasco teacher blames Dillard’s for battery, malicious prosecutionChristine Lallier, a 50-year-old Pasco County teacher, says she was wearing a black and tan Le Mystere 38D bra when she went shopping at the upscale Dillard’s store at Citrus Park Town Center Nov. 14, 2016. After trying on (but rejecting) a similar bra, Lallier, a resident of New Port Richey, bought a pair of pants for her son and left the store. A security guard allegedly stopped her for “stealing” the $65 bra she came in with and was still wearing. In a back room of the store, a loss-prevention officer named Jeffrey Ruiz and a female employee (identified only as Victoria) allegedly proceeded to falsely accuse Lallier of stealing the pants she bought for her son, a used lipstick she had in her bag, and the bra she was wearing. Despite proof to the contrary, Victoria ordered Lallier to stand up, lifted her shirt without consent, and pulled down the cups of her bra while Ruiz watched. Later, the pair demanded a police officer arrest and jail Lallier. Lallier pleaded “not guilty” and hired a defense attorney. The prosecution continued for five months. On the day of a scheduled nonjury trial, Ruiz failed to show, leading prosecutors to drop the case. In a lawsuit filed Jan. 5, Lallier says Dillard’s knew from the surveillance tapes that there was no evidence against her, but continued to push for a conviction anyway. She says the prosecution — as well as a threatened lawsuit by Dillard’s seeking $475 — caused her anxiety and humiliation and made her fear losing her teaching job.

— Save the date: St. Pete event to highlight plight of DREAMers —

The League of Women Voters St. Petersburg Area’s Immigration Action Group will hold an event Wednesday, Jan. 24, to showcase the plight of nearly 2 million young adults and millennials brought to the U.S. as children, 790,000 of them temporarily protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They all faced deportation unless Congress acts to reauthorize the DREAM Act.

The event — free and open to the public — begins 6:30 p.m. at Empath Partners in Care, 3050 1st Ave. S. in St. Petersburg. More information at

League of Women Voters St. Petersburg will highlight the plight of DREAMers at a Jan. 24 event.

— If you read one thing: A parent’s notes on foster care —

It’s difficult to raise children — arguably more so when they’re not your own.

Foster care parents occupy a unique space, absorbing all the difficulties of parenting while knowing the product of their care will eventually return to a parent or family member. Shannon Colavecchio, a former Tampa Bay Times reporter, published in her alma mater journal entries she kept during her brief time with fostered child Princess Pigtails, a nickname for a 3-year-old girl with “big green eyes, blonde hair and freckles” who had been pulled from her home and her mother was arrested and taken to jail.

Foster mom Shannon Colavecchio talks about the struggles raising a child.

It’s a must-read, providing insights to foster care, parenting, faith and love. It’s also a feel-good story, leaving the reader optimistic about Pigtails’ future with her biological mother, to who Pigtails is ultimately returned.

Here are some great excerpts:

The little things: Colavecchio, who now works with Moore Communications Group in Tallahassee, searches for reassurance that her brief tenure as a parent is working well. She writes, “I cling to little things — like a good note from her teacher, or how she has learned to start each meal by saying grace — as a sign that she and I are navigating this thing okay. ‘Deah Word (Lord). Fank you food. Amen.’”

Homesick: “ … this morning before school, she just plopped down onto the floor and hugged her knees to her chest and sadly declared, ‘I miss my mom. I want see her. I sad,’” writes Colavecchio. And later: “Things that are true but not easy to be told: ‘You no mom. You Shannon.’”

A happy ending: Colavecchio hears from Pigtails’ biological mother after the two are returned. The mother struggled with addiction, but Colavecchio remains hopeful. She writes, “She’s not the monster I wanted to think she was. I’m not the stranger who tried to take her daughter. I tell her that Princess Pigtails is worth fighting for. Worth cleaning up her life for.”

More: There are an estimated 24,000 foster care children in Florida at any given time, to learn more visit

— Tampa Bay Rowdies sign attacker Junior Flemmings —

Adding another dynamic young attacker, Flemmings joins the Rowdies ahead of the 2018 United Soccer League season. The signing is pending league and federation approval.

“I’m very happy to join the Rowdies family and I’m looking forward to meeting my new teammates and coaching staff,” Flemmings said in a statement. “I’m excited to play alongside players who I’ve admired and watched growing up like Joe Cole, Marcel Schäfer and Neill Collins.”

Newly signed Rowdies attacker Junior Flemmings.

Flemmings, 22, played the last two seasons with the New York Red Bulls II. He scored 16 goals in 52 matches, helping the Red Bulls to a USL Championship in 2016 and the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2017. Last season, Flemmings was twice named to the USL Team of the Week.

“Junior is the kind of players fans love to watch,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “He’s lightning quick and very experienced for his age. You add him into a group of skilled wide attackers that includes Leo (Fernandes) and Alex (Morrell) already, plus Jochen Graf and Sebastian Guenzatti and we really like the attack we’re building.”

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Flemmings broke into the senior national team last year, earning his first cap for the Reggae Boyz in June 2017.

Nick DiCeglie adds endorsements from Largo elected officials

House District 66 candidate Nick DiCeglie picked up a pair of endorsements Tuesday from Largo Mayor Woody Brown and Commissioner Curtis Holmes.

“I seldom voluntarily endorse any candidate but there are occasions when the qualifications displayed by a would be leader are so outstanding that it’s warranted and that is why I wholeheartedly endorse Nick DiCeglie to be the next representative for Florida House District 66,” Holmes said. “I’ve worked with Nick on many occasions, he’ll do a great job for Largo.”

“I’m pleased to offer my support to Nick DiCeglie for my home district, Florida House District 66. Nick cares about this community and has a solid record of community involvement,” Brown added.

Holmes and Brown follow former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Seminole Vice Mayor Chris Burke in endorsing DiCeglie, who chairs the Pinellas County Republican Party and runs Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company Solar Sanitation.

“I’m honored to have the support of these two great leaders, Mayor Brown and Commissioner Holmes,” DiCeglie said. “They understand the needs of our community and serve with the highest level of integrity. I look forward to the opportunity to work together with them to do great things for the City of Largo.”

DiCeglie is running against St. Petersburg attorney Berny Jacques in the Republican Primary for HD 66, which is currently held by termed-out Rep. Larry Ahern. Also running are Democrat Alex Heeren and Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann.

Jacques currently holds the fundraising lead in the primary race with $133,000 raised and $106,302 cash on hand through the end of December, though DiCeglie has outpaced him since entering the race in September.

Through four months in the campaign, DiCeglie has raised $72,714 and had $59,427 of that money on hand heading into 2018.

HD 66 is reliably Republican, with about 10,000 more registered GOP voters than registered Democrats. Ahern has comfortably won each of his three elections in the district.

Here’s where Tampa Bay legislative races stand heading into the 2018 Legislative Session

The Tampa Bay area will have three Senate seats and 14 House seats on the 2018 ballot; while most of the Pinellas and Hillsborough delegations will be the same when the 2019 Legislative Session rolls around, a few races are starting to heat up.

First, the sure things.

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young is still running solo for re-election to SD 18 and looks primed to win it with $160,000 on hand in her campaign account and another $690,000 stashed away in her political committee, Friends of Dana Young.

While that money could be put to use against a worthy challenger in the Hillsborough seat, Young has planned some other uses for it behind the scenes, perhaps helping some allies win in tougher battlegrounds.

In Pinellas-based SD 16, go ahead and pencil in former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper as the odds-on favorite to take over for Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who resigned the seat ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session after a pair of damning reports detailing alleged sexual harassment was released.

Hooper has more than three decades of public service under his belt — eight years as a lawmaker and 24 as a firefighter — and primed for a return to the Legislature. Through the end of the year, the Clearwater Republican had amassed $245,000 in campaign cash and another $85,500 through his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper.

His Dem challenger, Bernie Fensterwald, is limping along with less than $5,000 on hand.

On the House side, most incumbents can expect a smooth pathway to re-election. Republican Reps. Shawn Harrison, Chris Latvala, Jake Raburn and Chris Sprowls are running unopposed, and all but Harrison hold safe GOP seats. He’s nearly hit $100,000 in total fundraising, however, so he should be well-equipped to stave off a Democratic challenger.

Republican Joe Wicker is also unopposed and posting decent numbers in HD 59, which is opening up due to current Rep. Ross Spano running for Attorney General. Wicker’s also snagged Spano’s endorsement.

HD 60 Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo and HD 58 Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure are facing challengers, but each holds a substantial advantage — McClure’s district, which he recently won in a special election, has been held by a Republican since its inception despite Democrats holding a 3,300-person edge in voter registrations. Ditto for Toledo, who took over for Young in 2016.

Toledo had $77,000 banked at the end of 2017, and challenger Debra Bellanti has yet to post a report as she filed for the seat on Jan. 3. McClure hasn’t published a report for his 2018 bid, but he had $36,635 left over when he cruised through the special last month, while NPA challenger Shawn Mathis Gilliam hasn’t shown a dime since filing in April.

For Democrats, HD 68 Rep. Ben Diamond can be counted as a surefire win. He’s got $83,000 stashed away in his campaign account and his only opponent is Republican Neelam Taneja-Uppal, who has raised $0 through four months in the race.

The St. Pete-based district looks competitive on paper, but if Bill Young II couldn’t get within 5 points in an off-cycle election, Taneja-Uppal can’t have much hope to fare better.

There’s a slim possibility a couple incumbents could be knocked out in primary races.

Rep. Jamie Grant will need to get through Terry Power in the Republican Primary for HD 64, and while the longtime lawmaker likely has a handle on things, Power didn’t try to spare any feelings when he filed.

Grant has about $31,000 in his campaign account compared to about $4,000 for Power. Grant is likely to keep the money edge through the primary season, and if he wins, the district’s GOP majority will kick in and send him back to Tallahassee for another two years.

The same situation is unfolding in heavily Democratic HD 70, where first-term Rep. Wengay Newton is facing two primary challengers.

Through December, Newton had about $15,000 on hand, while challenger Vito Sheeley had about $1,000 banked. St. Petersburg attorney and civic activist Keisha Bell announced last week that she would enter the race soon, but hasn’t done so yet.

Sheeley has picked up some major endorsements, including one from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, whom Newton snubbed in favor of former Mayor Rick Baker in the contentious mayoral election last year.

With the 2018 Legislative Session pausing fundraising efforts for sitting lawmakers, Sheeley and Bell will have some time to catch up to Newton and make it a race.

Now to the unknowns.

Tampa Bay will have new blood in at least four House Seats and another new representative and senator could make the 2018 class depending on how things shake out for Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw and Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee.

Lee is currently running for re-election to SD 20, but don’t expect him to be on the ballot come Election Day unless it’s for Chief Financial Officer.

That leaves Republican John Houman as the de facto front-runner for the GOP leaning seat.

Yes, that John Houman, the candidate who goes by “Mr. Manners” and bravely attempted to explain that the only reason he has a felony DUI while most politicians got through life without one is that the politicians had “a good lawyer.”

Also running is Democrat Kathy Lynn Lewis, who filed on Jan. 3, and but in reality, it’s likely Lee’s successor hasn’t filed yet.

Shaw is running for re-election to HD 61 and had $41,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2017, but he’s currently deciding whether he’ll make a go for Attorney General. If he does, Democrat Byron Henry is waiting in the wings to take over his seat in the House.

New blood is also for sure coming to House Districts 62, 66 and 69, due to the exits of Reps. Janet Cruz, Larry Ahern and Kathleen Peters, respectively.

Democrats filed for Cruz’ seat are Michael Alvarez and Carlos Frontela. 

John Rodriguez had filed for the HD 62 race but has since dropped out. He is expected to become the legislative affairs point person for the city of St. Petersburg, replacing the retiring Sally Everett.

Only Alvarez has made progress in the money race, with about $19,000 raised and $11,400 on hand through December. By the same date, Frontela had approximately $1,000 in his campaign account; Rodriguez had $631.

HD 66 is turning into a tough primary battle between Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie and St. Pete attorney Berny Jacques.

Jacques currently leads the money race with $106,302 cash on hand between his campaign account and political committee, Protect Pinellas, but DiCeglie has outpaced him since he filed for the seat in September. The sum of his four campaign finance reports shows him with $59,427 on hand at the start of the year.

In HD 69, it’s Jeremy Bailie against Raymond Blacklidge in the Republican Primary, and Blacklidge leads with $58,000 in his campaign account and $19,000 in his political committee, Friends of Ray Blacklidge. Bailie has a little over $25,000 for in his campaign account.

Democrat Jennifer Webb has also refiled for the race after losing to Peters in 2016; she’s off to a good start with more than $33,000 on hand, including more than $13,000 raised in December.

HD 69 has kept voting for Republicans, but without an incumbent in the race, it has the potential to be a swing district. The electorate is broken into equal thirds of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Nick DiCeglie’s fundraising outpaces Berny Jacques’ in HD 66 primary

One of the most competitive Republican primaries in Tampa Bay is the race for the House District 66 seat being vacated by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern. 

Pinellas GOP Chairman Nick DiCeglie is taking on St. Petersburg attorney Berny Jacques. Jacques entered the race early last year, and has raised a total of $133,000 for his bid – $91,354 in his own campaign coffers, and an additional $42,000 in his PAC, Protect Pinellas.

However, for most of 2017 he was the only man running in the race. As the first-in candidate he raised nearly $30,000 for his campaign in its opening month, but followed that early success with middling campaign reports until his opponent filed. DiCeglie has outraised Jacques since entering the race, but Jacques’ best fundraising report since his first came after DiCeglie entered.

DiCeglie, who runs Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company Solar Sanitation, entered the race late last summer and has now raised $72,714 after taking in 8,990 in December. The sum of his four campaign finance reports show him with $59,427 on hand at the start of year.

Jacques raised $4,420 for his campaign account in December and added no contributions to his political committee. He finished the year with $106,302 cash on hand.

In addition to making strides on the campaign finance front, DiCeglie has been able to pull in some major endorsements for his campaign, including a nod from former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Seminole Vice Mayor Chris Burke, who had endorsed Jacques before pulling an about face and throwing his support behind DiCeglie.

A Democrat, Pinellas educator Alex Heeren, entered the contest earlier this week, but HD 66 is reliably Republican with about 10,000 more registered GOP voters than registered Democrats. Ahern has comfortably won each of his three elections in the district and the district’s next representative will more than likely come down to the Jacques v. DiCeglie primary.

Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann is also in the contest. He did not bring in any money in December, and has only raised $345 to date.

Democrat Alex Heeren enters House District 66 race

A Democrat finally emerges to run in the open Pinellas County House District 66 this year.

He’s Alex Heeren, a Technology Integration Coordinator with the Pinellas County School District.

“I’m running for the Florida House because District 66 deserves a representative who will actually listen to the residents,” Heeren said Tuesday. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to be heard, and as this district’s representative, I’ll have an open-door policy. We must work together to make progress in our state.”

As Technology Integration Coordinator with Pinellas County Schools, Heeren helps teachers incorporate technology into their classrooms. He previously taught at Meadowlawn Middle School in St. Petersburg, as well as ran the Girls Who Code after school program. Heeren still coaches the middle school’s volleyball team. He is also an Eagle Scout and has lived in Pinellas County his entire life.

For the past seven years, HD 66 has been represented by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern, now term-limited out of office this fall. Republicans Berny Jacques and Nick DiCeglie are running against each other for the GOP primary.

Heeren lives in Seminole with his wife Teal, who is also a teacher.

Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters endorses Nick DiCeglie for HD 66

Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters is backing Nick DiCeglie in his bid for House District 66.

DiCiglie, who has been Pinellas County Republican Party Executive Committee chair since 2014, is seeking the seat of state Rep. Larry Ahern, a Seminole Republican term-limited in 2018. He is facing Berny Jacques in the GOP primary.

“Nick will bring to the Florida House of Representatives, great business and leadership skills,” said Waters, a former Speaker Pro-Tempore of the Florida House. “I know he will be a serious and conscientious legislator, who will represent the interests of business, education and families of House District 66.”

Waters is a Gulfport native who has lived in Seminole since 1979; she served in the House between 1998 to 2006, with her last term as Speaker Pro-Tempore. A graduate of Boca Ciega High School, Waters received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida State University. She is also founder of Leslie Waters Government Relations consulting firm, and works as an adjunct professor of political science.

“I’m honored to have the support of a leader like Mayor Leslie Waters,” said DiCeglie. “She’s had success in business and been a dedicated public servant to our community at both the state and local level for many years. Mayor Waters and I share the same conservative values and vision for the future of Pinellas county — I’m glad to have her on our team.”

Since announcing his HD 66 campaign, DiCelgie — who has owned Solar Sanitation, a Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company, since 2001 — raised more than $60,500 through Oct. 31, according to the Division of Elections website. He has nearly $58,000 in cash-on-hand. Jacques, his opponent, has been raising funds since March, and has collected just under $87,000 through Oct. 31, with $70,000 on hand.

In addition, Jacques — by way of “Protect Pinellas,” his associated committee — raised $42,000 through Nov. 30, with a little more than $35,000 on hand. For the month of November, Jacques’ campaign announced raising a total of $24,025, with $10,000 coming from Protect Pinellas and $14,025 raised in his campaign account.

DiCelgie moved to Florida in 1996, and is now living in Indian Rocks Beach with his wife Erica and their two children, Livia and Carlo. He is active in the community, serving two terms as chair of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce. He also served as a gubernatorial appointee on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and as a member of the Indian Rocks Beach Planning and Zoning Board for six years. DeCelgie, named an Up & Comer by the Tampa Bay Business Journal in 2011, is also a member of the Pinellas County Economic Development Council.

Will Weatherford backs Nick DiCeglie for Florida House

Republican Nick DiCeglie, who is running to replace termed-out Rep. Larry Ahern in Pinellas-based HD 66, picked up an endorsement from former House Speaker Will Weatherford Tuesday.

“I’m proud to endorse Nick DiCeglie in his campaign for the Florida House. He has a great story to tell – from his humble childhood, helping his parents grow their family business, to being a successful small business owner himself,” Weatherford said.

When it comes to creating jobs for Florida families, he truly understands pro-business policies work and overregulation and red tape do not. I look forward to seeing the great things he will continue to do for his community as a member of the Florida House.”

The HD 66 Republican primary pits DiCeglie against Berny Jacques, an attorney at the St. Petersburg law firm of Berkowitz and Myer who previously served as an assistant state attorney in Pinellas County. The district covers part of Pinellas, including Clearwater, Belleair, Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach, where DiCeglie lives.

Since entering the race, DiCeglie has taken some momentum from Jacques. Most notably, Seminole Vice Mayor Chris Burke endorsed DiCeglie last month, tacitly retracting his endorsement of Jacques over the summer.

Still, Weatherford’s endorsement is by far the biggest to-date for either of the two Republicans.

“I’m honored to have the support of Speaker Weatherford. He is a principled conservative that knows how to get things done. His work as Speaker and in the private sector has made our state a better place to live, work and raise a family and I look forward to the opportunity to follow his example of effective service and leadership,” DiCeglie said.

DiCeglie filed to run for HD 66 in September, though he made his intentions known much earlier.

In addition to serving as the current chair of the Pinellas County Republican Party, DiCeglie runs solid waste collection business Solar Sanitation.

He has also chaired the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce for two terms, was a gubernatorial appointee to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, and was a member of the Indian Rocks Beach Planning and Zoning Board for six years.

Jacques was the first-in candidate, but after a stellar opening month where he raised nearly $30,000 for his campaign, he posted middling campaign reports until DiCeglie filed.

Last month, the campaign began in earnest with both Jacques and DiCeglie holding “campaign kickoff” events a week apart.

For October, DiCeglie posted more than $30,000 for his campaign for the second month in a row, while Jacques tacked on a combined $26,000 through his campaign and committee accounts, putting him past the $100,000 mark in total fundraising.

Though DiCeglie is gaining ground in the money race, his $58,000 on-hand total trails Jacques’ $84,000 cash on hand – $57,000 in his campaign account and $27,000 in his committee, Protect Pinellas.

Also running for the seat is Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann, who filed in August. He hasn’t uploaded his October numbers yet, though his first two months on the trail didn’t bring any contributions or expenditures.

Nick DiCeglie adds $30K, Berny Jacques $26K in HD 66 race

Republican HD 66 candidate Berny Jacques cleared $100,000 in total fundraising last month after bringing in $26,565 between his campaign and committee, while primary rival Nick DiCeglie is catching up after posting more than $30,000 raised for October.

Jacques brought in $5,565 of the haul through his campaign account, with most of the money coming in through small-dollar donors. His campaign’s lone $1,000 donor last month was Pinellas Park-based Hydrologic Distribution Company.

Expenditures tallied at $950, including about $400 for an event at the Salt Rock Grill, $350 in accounting fees, and the rest going to credit card processing fees through Anedot, an online fundraising platform.

The committee, Protect Pinellas, raised $21,000 from two donors: $20,000 from Joseph White and $1,000 from Tarpon Springs businessman Paul Jallo. Expenditures clocked in at just $100 for campaign software from WebElect.

Jacques has about $84,000 on hand, including about $57,000 in his campaign account and $27,000 in his committee.

DiCeglie, chair of the Pinellas County Republican Party, filed to run in September and posted his second report in a row showing greater than $30,000 in contributions. His spending over his first two months in the campaign measure at just $2,428, with about $2,000 of that spending in his newest report.

The October report shows $1,000 checks from St. Pete City Council member Ed Montanari, as well as recycling company executives, John and Anthony Dinardi. DiCeglie runs a solid waste collection business, Solar Sanitation.

About half the spending went to Political Capital, LLC for fundraising consulting, while the remaining expenses were split between advertising and credit card fees through Anedot.

DiCeglie finished the month with about $58,000 on hand, and is on pace to catch up with Jacques in the next couple months if he can sustain his fundraising. Jacques’ total has come in through seven months in the race.

The two Republicans are running for the seat held by termed-out Republican Rep. Larry Ahern. House District 66 covers part of Pinellas County, including Clearwater, Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores.

Also running for the seat is Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann, who has not yet filed his October report. Since filing in August, he has not reported any contributions or expenditures.

About face: Chris Burke endorses Nick DiCeglie for HD 66

In an apparent change of heart, Seminole Vice Mayor Chris Burke has endorsed Nick DiCeglie for the Florida House District 66 seat, the campaign announced Wednesday.

In July, before DiCeglie jumped into the race, Burke had endorsed fellow Republican Berny Jacques, a former prosecutor.

“I have known Nick for many years as an excellent family man, successful small business owner and person genuinely concerned for the success of our community,” Burke said in a statement. “Nick will bring a level of awareness and experience to the House that will be an immediate benefit to Pinellas County.

“His dedication to the Republican Party in Pinellas has been apparent and he has been instrumental in advancing the interests of the Party here at home,” Burke added. “His selection as (a Presidential) Elector for the State of Florida makes his commitment even more evident.”

DiCeglie said he was “honored” to have Burke’s support.

“I’ve known Vice Mayor Burke for 17 years and I can tell you, he is the definition of a decorated public servant – having honorably served our country abroad at war and currently here at home as a Councilman and police officer,” he said.

“He has continually proven his leadership and dedication to serving others and I look forward to working with him to keep our neighborhoods safe and ensure our community remains a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Burke, a Massachusetts native, moved to Pinellas County in 1979, graduated from Seminole High School in 1982 and later graduated magna cum laude from both St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida with a history degree, according to a news release.

“He is a decorated U.S. Army and Gulf War Veteran and was nominated for the Bronze Star during the first Gulf War,” it said. “Burke has served on City Council for Seminole since 2012 where he currently serves as Vice Mayor. He has two daughters in college and attends St. Jerome Catholic Church.”

DiCeglie, a Long Island native, has been active with the Pinellas Republican Party since 2009, and its chair since 2014. He’s the co-owner of Solar Sanitation, a solid waste collection company serving Pinellas residents since 1980.

The current seat holder, Republican Larry Ahern, is term-limited.

HD 66 hopeful Berny Jacques hosting campaign kickoff Wednesday

Berny Jaques, one of the two Republicans running for HD 66 next year, is holding a campaign kickoff event Wednesday at the Salt Rick Grill in Indian Shores and all are invited, including members of the press.

Jacques filed to run for HD 66 back in March, but with the entry of fellow Republican and Pinellas County GOP chair Nick DiCeglie last month, the campaign has begun in earnest.

The pair, along with Reform Party candidate Paul Bachmann, are running to take over for termed-out Republican Rep. Larry Ahern for the coastal Pinellas County seat which covers the communities of Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and Belleair, among others.

Through the end of September, Jacques led in total fundraising with $67,344 taised and more than $52,000 on hand. DiCeglie posted $30,751 in his first month and had nearly all of that money on hand, while Bachmann has so far shown no contributions or expenditures since filing for the seat in early August.

The host committee for Jacques’ kickoff fundraiser includes Jallo Oil owner Paul Jallo, real estate developer Jim Holton, Sembler Company vice chairman Brent Sembler, and Bay area businessman and former Castle Supply Company owner Joe White and his wife JoAnn White.

Also included on the invite are ten major supporters, including Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, City of Seminole City Council members Chris Burke, Roger Edelman and Trish Springer, Largo City Commissioner Jamie Robinson, and others.

The kickoff event will start at 5:30 p.m. at the restaurant, located at 19325 Gulf Blvd. in Indian Shores.

The invitation is below.

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