John Dingfelder the martyr? Oh, please.

He is a lot of things, but he's not a victim.

I don’t know John Dingfelder personally, but from afar, the former Tampa City Council member has always struck me as a well-meaning, liberal do-gooder who loves his community and entered public service for the right reasons.

That said, the narrative coming from longtime admirers of the attorney and Realtor after he was forced to resign from City Council over a public records lawsuit is naive, if not ridiculously disingenuous.

To hear these people tell it, poor, saintly Dingfelder was bullied out of office after a ruthless advocate for developers hired a bulldog attorney to weaponize Florida’s public records and stop Dingfelder from standing up for Tampa residents.

Dingfelder wanted to defend truth, justice, and nice neighborhoods, but bad guys were poised to bankrupt him with a frivolous lawsuit, imply Dingfelder pals, who have even set up a GoFundMe page for citizens to pay his $65,000 in legal bills.

Swallow that yarn, and I’ve got a Gandy Bridge to sell you.

Here’s the real reason Dingfelder is no longer in office: He abused the public’s trust, used his office for his own personal benefit, and probably broke the law in the process — had he not stepped down he was likely to be exposed for destroying public records, which is a felony.

(As an aside, the shellacking that Charlie Frago and the Tampa Bay Times took from Ashley Kritzer and the Tampa Bay Business Journal on this story was brutal. TBBJ repeatedly scooped the Times — which is now all but based in Tampa — and missed the story of a scandal taking down a sitting city council member. Ouch.)

Florida Politics has reviewed the hundreds of emails and texts Dingfelder produced after Stephen Michelini sued him, and they hardly support the narrative of “John Dingfelder the martyr.”

Instead, they show a man who texted his wife, city employees, development attorneys and constituents about issues more relevant to Dingfelder’s business and political career than to the constituents he was supposed to be representing on Council.

In one string of texts, Dingfelder and his wife muse on whether a land-use attorney addressing the Council, Tyler Hudson, had donated to Dingfelder’s campaign.

Other exchanges show Dingfelder flouted Tampa’s Ethics Code by referring development attorneys to people seeking City Council approval on their land-use proposals.

Several other texts show Dingfelder contacting city employees and asking for their assistance on his private business deals, including trying to get one client’s code enforcement lien and another client’s unpaid water bills cleared away.

And another concerning log shows he requested a city engineer come check out the property involved in one of his real estate deals to discuss “the alleged wetland” there with other regulators.

Only someone with “City Council member” before their names gets the kind of access to city officials that Dingfelder did, and he used that access to help his business, not the public. Florida statutes call that kind of behavior “misuse of public position.”

Dingfelder also worked behind the scenes to help get an unpopular townhome development by the Showmen’s Rest cemetery approved, while keeping secret his own financial interest in the deal.

“Pass it along — and don’t quote me,” he wrote in an email to one constituent, without revealing his own involvement in the project.

After the City Attorney’s office told him he had to stop working on that deal and also recuse himself, Dingfelder disappeared before the vote and never filed a required conflict of interest form that would have publicly revealed his connection to the controversial project.

What’s the word for this kind of behavior?

Some people might use “Corruption.”

I’m more charitable. “Hubris” or “arrogance” are more appropriate descriptors for the sad Dingfelder tale.

Definitely not “victim.”

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


  • Michael Fanning

    April 1, 2022 at 2:13 pm

    That article was the most slanted piece of journalism masquerading as political propaganda I’ve ever read. The least you can do while carrying water for the powers that be, is announce your allegiances. Nothing in your article was true. Every attack on Dingfelder was dishonest. There was no corruption, there was no personal gain and there was no law breaking. Unfortunately there was no money to prove these things either.
    Your attempt to belittle the public support for Dingfelder is evidence of the fear you and your masters have of an informed and active public.

  • Stephanie Poynor

    April 1, 2022 at 8:59 pm

    Wow! Just Wow! 1. You admit you don’t know CM Dingfelder. I’d argue that you don’t know all the players. If you did, you’d sing a different tune. 2. You have two separate matters completely mixed together. Emails to constituents- that NO ONE has shown the public to have happened?? The accusations that he did something inappropriate by asking questions for his JOB which he was NOT told beforehand that he should resign from?? Ms. Grimes knew about the issue MONTHS before it was leaked to the media. 3. Where did you get all the documents you speak of??? The Ethics rules for the city say, “any person who willfully discloses or permits to be disclose his intention to file a complaint, the existence or contents of a complaint which has been filed with the Commission, or any document, action or proceeding in connection with the confidential preliminary investigation of the commission before the same becomes a public record SHALL, any provision of this article to the contrary notwithstanding, be guilty of an offense against the City.” So, if you have them, there is a violation? Wait? What? Ethics violation??? Have you seen the CL article this week??

Comments are closed.


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