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Margaret Good defeats Ruta Jouniari for Democratic nomination in House District 72 special election

Siesta Key attorney Margaret Good defeated Ruta Jouniari for the Democratic nomination in a special election in Florida House District 72

Good won in a landslide, defeating her opponent by 44 points, 72%-28%. Good had 6,144 votes to Jouniari’s 2,342.

Good now advances to the special general election scheduled for Feb. 13.

“I am humbled and overwhelmed by the showing of support this community has given our campaign tonight,” said Good. “It speaks volumes about the strength of the organization our team has built all across the district, as well as Sarasota’s desire for change from failed Republican policies both nationally and in Tallahassee.”

The battle had been depicted as a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. Good is a mainstream Democrat who state party officials think has the potential to flip the seat from red to blue in 2018.

Journiari was the more progressive candidate who had the backing of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, in part, for her support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and a Medicare-for-all style health care system.

Good hopes to unify the party as she heads into the general election.

“We want to thank and recognize Ruta Jouniari for running a spirited campaign based on ideas,” said Good. “We cannot defeat James Buchanan and the Rick Scott-led Florida Republicans without the help of folks like her and her supporters, and we call now for a time of unity towards a grassroots, people-powered campaign that can flip District 72 blue again.”

Good goes into the general election phase of the campaign with $51,170 in her campaign account. She also has another $23,000 in her committee, New Day Florida.

Sitting back and taking in the results is Republican James Buchanan, who has $169,398 on hand heading into the holidays.

Libertarian Alison Foxall will also be on the general election ballot. She has approximately $8,844 on hand.

The special election was called for after GOP incumbent Alex Miller surprisingly stepped down fin September, less than a year after being elected.

Buchanan will be the favorite in the general; statistics from last year show HD 72 with about 52,000 Republican voters compared to about 35,000 Democrats and another 30,000 with no party affiliation. Miller’s landslide victory over Ed James III last year came alongside a 5-point win for President Donald Trump in the district.

HD 59 candidate Joe Wicker adds endorsement from Stacy White

Republican Joe Wicker picked up another elected official endorsement Tuesday, this time from Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White.

“We have the chance to elect a common sense, conservative leader with real-world experience growing a business and protecting our country. Joe is passionate about serving our community and finding solutions to the challenges facing our county, region, and state. I wholeheartedly support him to be our next State Representative and I know without a doubt he will make an excellent Representative,” White said in a news release.

Wicker is running for Hillsborough County-based House District 59, currently held by Republican Rep. Ross Spano, who is running for Attorney General in 2018. Spano already gave Wicker his endorsement last month.

“Commissioner White is a dedicated public servant who is not just a good steward of Hillsborough County taxpayers’ dollars, but constantly seeks to find efficiencies in government and reduce the waste in our local budget.  His service to our county sets a standard by which all public servants should hope to meet and I will work with Commissioner White to continue to seek out and eliminate waste in government,” Wicker said.

In 2012 the Atlanta native and Army veteran was the second-place finisher behind Spano in the Republican Primary race for the newly redrawn seat.

With Spano trying his hand at higher office, the path to the Legislature is likely easier for Wicker, who proved in that election that he knows how to raise a little money — he brought in $79,234 for his primary effort — and that he was likable enough on the trail to get some votes. He received 3,222 in that bid, just 175 fewer than Spano.

Wicker is currently the only candidate running for the seat, but that could change as Democrats have eyed the seat for a flip despite limited success in past elections.

Last year, Spano defeated Democrat Rena Frazier by eight points, 54-46 percent, much to the disappointment of officials with the Florida Democratic Party, who thought they had a legitimate chance of capturing the seat and dumped financial resources into that campaign.

HD 59 encompasses most of Brandon, as well as Valrico, Dover, Seffner, Riverview, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.

Ed Turanchik seriously considers Tampa mayoral run in 2019

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner and transit advocate Ed Turanchik is seriously considering entering running for Tampa mayor in 2019.

“There’s been overwhelming broad-based encouragement from people that I should do it and that I needed to do it,” Turanchik told Florida Politics Tuesday afternoon.

The Tampa Bay Times initially reported his of his renewed interest.

The Tampa Democrat said that there’d been a “persistent drumbeat” for months now from people from all across the political spectrum encouraging him to enter the 2019 mayoral sweepstakes, which doesn’t figure to get seriously underway for another year. The election takes place in March of 2019.

The 62-year-old hasn’t served in government in nearly twenty years, having last served on the County Commission in 1998. He currently works at Ackerman LLP, a law firm where he works in government relations, zoning and urban development.

After he finished two terms as county commissioner, Turanchik took up perhaps his most quixotic campaign ever — a bid to have Tampa considered as a site for the 2012 Olympics (which ultimately was awarded to London).

After that bid failed, Turanchik took up the Civitas project in 2004, a mixed-use residential and commercial development which was supposed to transform downtown’s public housing projects. He then became involved in local real estate with the InTown Homes project in West Tampa.

And of course, he’s always been an advocate of different transit solutions over the years, most recently with the Cross-Bay Ferry, where he teamed with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for a public-private project that was considered a success earlier this year, but won’t come back this fall.

The Cross-Bay Ferry project came to fruition much sooner than another ferry project that Turanchik began working with Seattle based HMS Ferries back in the spring of 2013. The project evolved after studies showed that thousands of commuters who live in South Hillsborough County and drive to MacDill Air Force Base on a daily basis would take a ferry service if it were an option. There is currently a design and engineering study on the project is now underway.

He ran a campaign for Tampa mayor in 2011 that seemed to catch fire late, finishing fourth in a five-person field that was ultimately won by Bob Buckhorn. Though he didn’t win enough votes to get into the runoff, he did garner a group of passionate supporters and was endorsed by the alt-weekly Creative Loafing in the primary that year (when this correspondent served as political editor).

“A big-picture thinker who served in elected office and exercised leadership across county boundaries, he also has firsthand experience with the block-by-block realities of doing business in Tampa. He’s a progressive and a pragmatist,” wrote CL editor David Warner at the time.

Turanchik said he hasn’t considered running again at all, but has “gravitated” toward the idea of how Tampa can pivot toward the 21st century. He says it would be the culmination of nearly 30 years of civic engagement, and said it would be “intellectually stimulating.”

He learned a lot from that unsuccessful campaign and said that (presumably) some of those lessons learned would be to raise more campaign cash and run a more protracted campaign.

“I was outspent 10-1 and really only ran a 60-day campaign,” he said. “And I got 20 percent of the vote,”

Officially, he received 19.4 percent of the race, six percentage points behind Rose Ferlita and four points behind Buckhorn. He said that while many of his enthusiastic team of volunteers from that campaign are urging him on again for 2018, he’s also hearing from Tea Party members, Republicans, Democrats and business leaders.

Among those expected to run in the election are former Police Chief Jane Castor and current council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen.

And then there is David Straz, the 74-year-old philanthropist who dipped his toes into a possible candidacy on Sunday when his exploratory committee hosted a spaghetti lunch in West Tampa, which drew a crowd of approximately 250 people.

Like Turanchik, Straz said he’s only considering a candidacy because of grassroots supporters urging him to enter the contest. Both men say they’ll probably decide whether to go all in during the first quarter of 2018.

“I don’t know if I’m going to do it, but I’m looking at it seriously, and it’s got nothing to do with anyone in the field,” Turanchik said, adding that it’s the opportunity to do “great work that is meaningful and can move the city forward” that is attractive to him.

Anti-Muslim charges leveled at HD 58 candidates forum

At a League of Women Voters House District 58 candidates forum Monday night, two of the candidates were accused of being disrespectful to the Muslim community.

The forum was held at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay in Temple Terrace, and featured Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party affiliated candidate Ahmad Saaldaldin.

Republican Lawrence McClure, who leads in fundraising, was a no-show.

Vazquez ignited a firestorm of criticism from Muslims who attended the event for a Facebook post in which he wrote that he had stopped eating pork and drinking wine.

“I want, therefore to deny such an outrage and to affirm categorically that at no time I try to stop drinking or eating pork; I did not think of such a ridiculous idea, much less dreamed of such a possibility,” Vazquez wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page on Dec. 2, adding that they were “lies invented by my enemies.”

“How is that related to you serving the community?” a member of the crowd asked Vazquez shortly after the Q&A between the audience and the candidates commenced. “Don’t you see this as an offensive announcement?”

Vazquez said that he meant no disrespect. Holding a sheet of paper in his left hand that he said was his blood work, he said that he had been admitted to Tampa General Hospital a month ago with chest pain.

“My cardiologist told me I had to reduce my drinking, drinking soda, anything with a lot of sugar and my eating habits,” he explained.

Saaldaldin said that he was offended about reading how “outraged” Vazquez was about being accused of not eating pork or drinking wine, substances that most observant Muslims do not indulge in.

“When you say it’s ridiculous, outrageous and it’s dangerous – that’s offensive, whether you meant to or not, that’s what you did,” Saaldaldin said, as many members in the audience cheered.

Some members of the Islamic faith also were unhappy that C.L. Townsend, who is working with the Vazquez campaign, had written a letter to the League of Women Voters calling for the event to be moved to a different site, saying it was “not a neutral site” and unfairly favored one candidate (meaning Saaldaldin).

“The current event, as planned, should be cancelled and rescheduled to a more neutral site,” he wrote.

Townsend is the husband of Ione Townsend, the chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee. He said as a member of the League, he thought they were always the “gold standard” for acting in an impartial nonpartisan manner, a standard that he feels they fell short of on Monday night.

And he called it “unfortunate” that some interpreted his letter as being anti-Muslim, saying that was definitely not his intention.

The candidates also noted McClure’s absence.

“Lawrence McClure, the Republican that is not here, does not think he needs to talk to any of you, probably because you’re Muslim,” charged Saaldaldin.

Later in the forum, the candidates were asked what they would do to combat Islamaphobia.

“If I could reach up and flick a switch somewhere that said, ‘racism gone. Sexism gone. Islamaphobia in particular to your question, gone,'” replied Zemina. “But there’s no switch to flip.”

The 30-year-old Libertarian said that there is much less racism within his generation than in the past, though he acknowledged a resurgence over the past year. He said he would oppose any legislation in Tallahassee that would restrict access to citizenship based on religion and or sexual orientation.

Vazquez said he had a plan to educate the community about discrimination, not just about Islamaphobia but about domestic violence, job discrimination and other society ills.

Saaldaldin acknowledged that as a Muslim (his family is from Kurdistan in Iraq) his people have suffered from prejudice, but said it paled in comparison to the racism suffered by blacks and Hispanics in the U.S.

“Our freedom, our liberation is all tied together,” he said.

Although the district officially has more Democrats than Republicans, HD 58 is considered to be conservative country, as it encompasses Plant City, Temple Terrace, Dover, Mango, Seffner, Thonotosassa, and parts of Tampa and East Lake-Orient Park.

The candidates were asked how they could attract Republican votes.

Zemina said that in fact, he was the true conservative in the race, saying that in contrary to current GOP politics, he actually believes in balancing the federal budget. He also accused McClure of buying the election.

McClure did not immediately return our call for comment on Tuesday.

The election takes place on Dec. 19.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to speak at USF in February

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak will speak in Tampa next February at the USF Sun Dome.

Wozniak single-handedly designed and built the first Apple I kits in 1976, which went on sale for $666.66 and also designed the 1977 follow up Apple II computer.

In November 2014, he joined data virtualization company Primary Data as chief scientist.

He was initially scheduled to speak at the Oval Theater inside the Marshall Center as part of the inaugural USF Muma College of Business Thought Leader Series, but the event has now been moved to the more spacious arena due to popular demand.

According to the website where you can obtain tickets (only two, max), Wozniak is expected to talk about the need for entrepreneurship in technology companies and business issues in the age of technology. He is also expected to talk about the ways big data and analytics can be used to foster innovation and creativity.

The event will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be obtained by going here.

Will Weatherford endorses Mike Wells for Pasco Commissioner

Former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford is endorsing Republican Mike Wells for re-election to the Pasco County Board of Commissioners.

Weatherford, who represented eastern Pasco County from 2006 to 2014, became Speaker during his final two-year term in the Florida House. At that time, the 33-year-old was the youngest presiding officer for any state legislative body in America.

Weatherford, with two of his brothers, now runs Weatherford Partners, a Tampa-based venture capital and consulting firm.

“Mike Wells has been an exceptional advocate for the people of Pasco County as a member of our Board of County Commissioners,” Weatherford said Tuesday. “He has distinguished himself as a leader and has recently been elected Chair of the Board of County Commissioners. Mike works tirelessly and is a proven champion for our community. This election, Mike Wells has my full support and endorsement. I hope he can count on your strong support as well.”

Wells, a native Floridian and 39-year Pasco resident, is a member of the National Association of Realtors, West Pasco Board of Realtors, Florida Realtors, and the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce. He has been appointed as the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners representative for the Area Agency on Aging, the Department of Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board, the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties, the Engineering and Architectural Selection Committee, the Pasco Economic Development Council, the Pasco County Fair Authority and the Value Adjustment Board.

Wells, son of former county commissioner and the current property appraiser Mike Wells Sr., is a 2006 alum of Leadership Pasco and had worked as a regional manager at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

For your radar: Primary election today in House District 72

Democrats in House District 72 head to the polls Tuesday to choose their nominee to replace Republican Alex Miller, who stepped down from her seat in September.

Attorney Margaret Good and businesswoman and community activist Ruta Jouniari are the two candidates vying to advance into the general election that takes place next February.

Good is the establishment choice. She’s backed by Democrats like Christine Jennings, the former Sarasota County Democratic Executive Committee chair, House Minority Leader Janet Cruz and Florida House Victory.

Jouniari is the choice of Bernie Sanders supporters and other Democratic activist groups, such as the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, National Nurses United, and Stand up 4 Democracy PAC.

Good raised more than four times the campaign cash than Jouniari, raising more than $120,000, compared to Jouniari’s $23,429.

Good rejected ABC7 Sarasota news anchor Alan Cohn‘s request to engage directly with Jouniari on his nightly local news program, opting for a separate interview instead.

Good told Zac Anderson from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that she had already participated in numerous debates with Jouniari and that she wanted to devote the rest of the campaign to holding discussions with voters.

As of Monday, 5,856 Democrats already had cast ballots in the race, including 4,958 who voted by mail and 898 who voted early at a supervisor of elections office.

The winner will face Republican James Buchanan and Libertarian Alison Foxall on Feb. 13.

Margaret Good tops HD 72 fundraising in November, James Buchanan still leads

Among the four candidates vying to replace Republican Alex Miller in House District 72, Democrat Margaret Good was the top fundraiser last month.

Nevertheless, Republican James Buchanan still holds the lead in total fundraising, as well as cash on hand.

Good, who has a primary challenger in Ruta Jouniari, raised $32,613 for her campaign from Oct. 20 through the end of November, narrowly edging out Buchanan, who raised an even $32,000. Good also spent more than $67,000, leaving her with $51,170 in her campaign account a few days ahead of the primary.

Good also tacked on another $23,000 through her committee, New Day Florida, which has raised a total of $38,000 since it started up in October. The combined fundraising numbers show Good with over $55,000 raised between her campaign and committee during the 41-day reporting period.

During the same stretch, Jouniari added $15,950 and spent $6,125, leaving her with $14,168 in the bank ahead of Tuesday’s special primary.

Buchanan, the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, had raised a total of $227,130 and had $169,398 on hand heading into December. In addition to bringing in $32,000 in contributions during the 41-day reporting period, Buchanan also received $13,000 worth of “in kind” support from the Republican Party of Florida, which covered staffing and polling.

As only Republican in the race, Buchanan and Libertarian Alison Foxall will get to wait on the sidelines to see which Democrat will be on the Feb. 13 special general election ballot.

Foxall, the second candidate filing for the seat, added $6,600 to her campaign account last month for a to-date total of $11,097. She also spent a little over $1,000 and has $8,844 on hand.

HD 72 has a solid Republican lean.

Statistics from last year show HD 72 with about 52,000 Republican voters compared to about 35,000 Democrats and another 30,000 with no party affiliation. Miller’s landslide victory over Ed James III last year came alongside a 5-point win for President Donald Trump in the district.

Aakash Patel has raised more than $310K for Hillsborough Commission bid

Hillsborough County Commission candidate Aakash Patel piled on another and a few thousand more for his campaign and committee last month, to give him $310,121 in total fundraising a year out from Election Day.

Patel is running for the District 1 seat being vacated prematurely by Commissioner Sandy Murman next year. Murman intends to leave the seat she won re-election to in 2016 so she can run in the countywide District 7 in 2018. Since Murman’s decision is not official yet, the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office lists Patel as running in 2020.

Back in August the Tampa Republican picked up a high-profile endorsement from freshman U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who said he was “proud to support” his longtime friend’s campaign.

The new campaign report has not yet been filed with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of elections, but previous reports have shown contributions from big names such as shopping center developer Brent Sembler and some of his companies, and have also included many small-dollar donors. The account took in a total of $230,788 and had $141,408 on hand through the end of October.

Patel’s committee, Elevate Tampa, has also not posted its November report, but as of the end of October, it had $75,196 in the bank. Patel’s campaign said total fundraising between the campaign and committee accounts was $310,121 through the end of November.

Democratic state Rep. Janet Cruz is also running for the seat, and according to her most recent campaign finance report, covering October, she has about $42,300 on hand. She filed for the commission seat in September.

Prominent GOP lobbyist Ron Pierce is crossing party lines and supporting Cruz over Patel. Last month, along with entrepreneur Tom Pepin and RSA Vice President Natalie King, Pierce hosted a fundraiser in to launch the House Democratic Leader’s campaign for local office.

A second Democrat, Yolie Capin, had filed to run, but has since withdrawn.

HART board rejects idea of consultant taking over agency

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) approved Monday the naming of Maryland-based Krauthamer and Associates to lead its search for a replacement for outgoing CEO Katharine Eagan.

Eagan will leave the agency next month after serving as HART’s CEO since 2014. She’s moving on to serve as CEO of Pittsburgh’s transit agency, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which has an annual budget four times the size of HART.

The selection of Krauthammer and Associates came after Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman suggested that the board might be open to hiring a consultant — and not an individual — to serve as the new CEO, saying it’s been done by other big cities around the country.

Murman said HART would be moving from a traditional bus-focused agency to one that embraces all forms of transit, and that required a broad approach in thinking about the best way to succeed Eagan going into the next decade.

That prompted fellow County Commissioner and HART board member Stacy White to direct staff to prepare a Request for Proposal for firms applying to run the agency.

That suggestion received a fiery response from Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez, who believes such an idea needed to be much more thoroughly vetted before giving the new hiring firm the power to select a consultant vs. a single candidate.

“What does that mean for our agency and what does that mean to the public?” he asked, adding that if the agency wanted to change the “traditional model” of hiring a CEO, they needed to have a much deeper conversation about the implications of such a decision.

Suarez dissent was backed up by several other board members.

“I find that committees are not the best servants for this position,” said Temple Terrace City Councilwoman Cheri Donahue.

For board member John Melendez, the idea that the agency was looking at the possibility of hiring a consultant and not a single individual could chill the recruitment process. He said HART already had a challenge in finding an adequate replacement for the much-praised Eagan, and the notion that the board could go in a completely different direction could further limit its choices.

“The concept I think is something for discussion, but in the context of where we are right now, I wouldn’t vote for the motion,” he said, adding that an individual is “completely different” than an organization.

Murman wasn’t giving up, though, saying that it was important that HART be open to the best solution for the future. If that means there was a promising candidate to go with a competing firm, “then we’ll have that conversation when we get to it.”

Suarez said Murman wasn’t placating his concerns.

“We need to talk about us as a board making policy as to whether or not we actually want someone or an organization to run the agency,” he said.

White then offered a motion that would instruct Krauthammer and Associates to accept applications from firms and to bring them to the HART board as if they were qualified individuals for the CEO position. It failed to get a second vote of support and died on the floor.

HART officials had originally listed seven different companies to choose from to lead the search to replace Eagan. Krauthammer’s bid of $63,000 was more expensive than KL2 Connects in North Carolina $42,000 bid. Al Burns, the director of procurement and contracts for HART, said that while KL2 Connects was better on a pricing basis, Krauthammer had a technical superior score of over 50 points.

Eagan gave her own imprimatur of support, saying that Krauthammer had been involved in the recent hiring selections in Austin and Atlanta, and said that their price was lower than the $90,000 that the Port Authority of Allegheny County had spent in ultimately finding her to become that agency’s new CEO.

The meeting was the first with the entire board together since the news broke that Eagan would leave HART for Pittsburgh, and she was given a trophy that unfortunately broke after it was handled by board chairman Les Miller as he presented it.

“Our loss is Pittsburgh’s gain,” he said.

“I think you’ve done wonders here with what you’ve had,” added Suarez, referring to the agency’s meek budget, which is lower than those of any other metro transit system in the country. “Now you’re going to a system that has state funding. That’s a great concept.”

“We don’t have a lot of powerful women CEO’s in our community,”  Murman said, adding that she’ll continue to be that in Pittsburgh.

“It’s been, not just a pleasure, not an honor, but a defining point not just for my career but for me as a person to have this opportunity,” Eagan told the board while at the dais.

The board also approved Chief Financial Officer Jeff Seward to become the interim agency head through June 2018. He’ll now receive a 20 percent pay bump (from his current $150,000 salary to $180,000). Once a permanent successor is named, Seward will return to his job as CFO.

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