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David Straz outlines plan for Tampa’s future in new campaign video

Businessman and philanthropist David Straz put out a new campaign video Thursday outlining his vision for Tampa’s future as his campaign to take over as mayor gets fully underway.

In the two-minute video, Straz focuses on the city’s economy and doubles down on his experience as the only candidate in the crowded race “who has managed a large complex institution anywhere close to the size of the City of Tampa.”

“I’m David Straz. Since I announced my candidacy for Mayor, people have been asking me about my priorities,” he says in the video. “Here they are: Manage the budget with common sense and integrity. Grow the economy by creating jobs. And create a blueprint for Tampa’s future.

“As Mayor, I will focus on effective management of the city and its billion-dollar budget. We need a common-sense approach to protect our quality of life. That means focusing on people … not politics,” he continues.

Straz, a retired banker, expounds on his three-point plan later in the video, saying he’s a “proven job creator” who aims to foster business growth and lure new companies to Tampa. Toward the end of his policy outline, Straz says he wants to hear from his fellow Tampans on their priorities for Tampa’s future.

“I want to hear specific ideas from you on how we can protect and improve the quality of life in your neighborhood, keep our families safe and protect our environment,” he says. “As we go forward, I intend to listen to you as I develop a common-sense blueprint for Tampa’s future… a blueprint that reflects the hopes and dreams of the people of Tampa.”

The new video comes as Straz’ campaign, which has had ads on TV since mid-July, is set to hold an official kickoff event Friday evening at the El Circulo Cubano.

Straz is running in a crowded field of candidates looking to succeed two-term Mayor Bob Buckhorn next year. Also running for the seat are former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, City Councilman Harry Cohen, Sam Gibbons, Michael Hazard, LaVaughn King, businessman Topher Morrison, City Councilman Mike Suarez and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

Though there’s six months to go before the March city election, Straz has already pumped more than $1.5 million into his campaign and has spent $484,000 thus far. In both fundraising and spending he leads all other candidates combined, though Castor, Cohen and Turanchick have all raised well over six figures for their campaigns.

The mayoral election is March 5, 2019. The new mayor will take office on April 1, 2019.

Straz’ video is below.

Hillsborough transit tax referendum clears state audit

A referendum that would add a penny sales tax to fund transportation improvements in Hillsborough County has cleared a mandatory audit conducted by the state Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

Hillsborough County posted the results of the audit on their website Thursday, which were required to be completed and made available to the public by the end of the day on Thursday. Under a new state law, audits are required for a schools referendum and are backing up the citizen-led All for Transportation activist group. Analysts from the McConnell & Jones accounting firm spent four days in Tampa, reviewing reports and interviewing more than 10 school managers.

In the audit, OPPAGA gave good scores to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the county “have sufficient policies and procedures in place” to address the requirements in state law and that the ability to “ensure the newly acquired surtax dollars are appropriately spent” on transportation projects.

Additionally, the audit noted that Hillsborough County administrators handled the half-cent Community Investment Tax well and that it’s “not unreasonable” to expect the same results with the transit tax. HART was also singled out for how its administered past grants, with auditors saying the transit authority “is prepared to take reasonable and timely actions to implement new services and projects.”

The report also noted that the department has 78 vacancies, “with limited effort to fill these positions primarily due to lack of funding,” and “due to the volume of vacancies in this department, the team is currently not performing preventative maintenance on a proactive basis, which is leading to increased deferred maintenance.”

If successful in November, the OPPAGA audit would only be the first of many as the referendum would require an independent audit each year and put in place an independent oversight committee to make sure funds are spent transparently and appropriately.

The sales tax referendum made the ballot in late July by taking advantage of the seldom-used citizen’s charter amendment process.

The initiative has been heavily supported by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, businessman and philanthropist Frank Morsani and Charles  Sykes of Sykes Enterprises, each of whom pitched in $150,000 to the political committee backing the referendum, All for Transportation, in order to jump-start the eleventh-hour petition drive.

The petition drive also required grassroots support from numerous volunteers to gather the required 49,000 petition signatures, which were delivered to the to the Supervisor of Elections office just ahead of the deadline.

Recent weeks have also seen business groups including the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Downtown Partnership endorse the referendum. All for Transportation has also started ramping up its efforts to get the word out to voters by opening up a Tampa office and educating volunteers on how they can help out.

If passed, the penny-per-dollar sales tax would be in effect for 30 years starting in 2019. It’s estimated that would bring in $280 million per year to fund transportation initiatives in the county.

The money raised by the sales tax would be split between HART, which would get 45 percent of the funds, and local governments in the county, which would divvy up the other 55 percent for road maintenance and projects tackling traffic congestion.

Cruz - FRSCC TV ad

New ad hits Janet Cruz over past property tax blunder

A new ad paid for by a committee charged with maintaining the Republican majority in the state Senate is hitting House Minority Leader and Senate District 18 candidate Janet Cruz for claiming homestead exemptions on multiple properties a decade ago.

The ad, titled “Lower Taxes,” notes that even though the Tampa Democrat, who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Dana Young, slipped up on paying all of her own property taxes, she voted against a 2017 bill to increase the homestead exemption for all Floridians.

“What do you call a career politician who wants you to pay higher taxes while she plays less? Janet Cruz,” the ad’s narrator says. “Janet Cruz voted against increasing your homestead exemption but was caught red-handed illegally claiming two exemptions for herself.

“Her second exemption? This multimillion dollar bayfront mansion,” the ad says while showing a picture of the property. “For five years, Cruz cheated on over $32,000 in taxes then voted to up yours. The Janet Cruz tax plan: You pay more. She pays less.”

The ad disclosure states it was paid for by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, a political committee chaired by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano that supports Republican state Senate candidates.

Cruz indeed claimed multiple homestead exemptions from 2004 through 2008, leading the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser to place a $32,000 lien for back taxes on an Empedrado Street home she purchased in 1983. As noted in a 2010 Tampa Tribune article, Cruz had been living in a San Miguel Street home owned by her husband while her then 29-year-old son was living in the Empedrado home.

Florida law only allows property owners to claim homestead exemptions on their permanent residence or the permanent residence of a dependent. Currently, Floridians are exempt from paying taxes other than school district levies on up to $75,000 of the value of their home, depending on its assessed value.

That article also quotes an attorney for the property appraiser’s office as saying Cruz “brought it forward” rather than the appraiser’s office discovering the improper homestead exemption and added that the double exemption didn’t appear to be an intentional violation of state law. In another article, published in 2010, Cruz said she would pay the taxes rather than appeal the lien in court.

“I have always operated within what I thought was my obligation as a taxpayer. As soon as this was brought to my attention, I immediately contacted the Property Appraiser’s Office and went through the proper channels to remedy this situation,” she said in a 2010 statement. “I will certainly do what any responsible citizen would do and pay what I am obligated to pay.”

The ad comes as Cruz is set to release her first TV spot, which details her back story and her reasons for running for the northwestern Hillsborough Senate seat. Young released her first ad of the 2018 election cycle, which pitched her as a problem solver in a time of partisan fighting, in late July.

SD 18 is one of the Florida Democratic Party’s top targets for a flip in the fall and, as evidenced by FRSCC’s new ad, Florida Republicans are going to be aggressively defending the seat.

The district covers much of Tampa and has a close partisan split in voter registrations. SD 18 voted plus-6 for Hillary Clinton two years ago while at the same time electing Young with a plurality of the vote in a four-way race between her, Democratic nominee Bob Buesing and NPA candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove.

Only Cruz and Young will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Janet Cruz TV ad

Janet Cruz says she ‘understands the odds’ in first SD 18 ad

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is introducing herself to Senate District 18 voters with a TV ad covering her background and her vision for the Tampa-based district if she’s elected over incumbent Republican Sen. Dana Young in the fall.

The 30-second ad, titled “Odds,” is shot in black and white and features the Tampa Democrat recounting the story of her humble upbringing before saying she’ll look out for everyday people if she moves up from the state House to the state Senate.

“When you’re the daughter of a single mother who worked in a factory, your odds of success aren’t high, and when you become a mom at 16 they get worse,” Cruz says in the ad. “I’m Janet Cruz, and odds didn’t define me — I did.

“I finished high school, graduated college, opened a successful healthcare business and now I’m running for state Senate because I understand the odds for all of us and I will always work to put them in our favor,” she says.

Her campaign said the ad is backed up by a six-figure media buy and will start airing on broadcast and cable next week.

FCC filings show media buys for Tampa’s ABC and NBC affiliates, which are scheduled to start running the ads on Sept. 10. Those filings indicate the advertisements were paid for by the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Florida Democratic Party’s state Senate campaign arm.

Cruz expanded on her background in a press release announcing the ad buy, adding that she turned the challenging moments in her life into opportunities.

“I am running for state senate because too many families have the decks stacked against them because the powerful insiders and well-connected continue to deprive our schools of needed funding, deny access to quality healthcare and do little to protect our children from senseless gun violence,” Cruz said.

“While my opponent attacks, I am asking voters for their trust. I believe that no matter the challenge we face – if we stand together – the odds against us won’t define us in Tampa. We will,” she concluded.

SD 18 is one of the Florida Democratic Party’s top targets for a flip this fall and has a close partisan split — the northwestern Hillsborough district, which covers much of Tampa, voted plus-6 for Hillary Clinton two years ago while at the same time electing Young with a plurality of the vote.

Cruz’ ad will hit the airwaves about seven weeks after Young released her first ad of the 2018 election cycle, which pitched her as a problem solver in a time of partisan fighting.

Neither Cruz nor Young faced a challenger in the primary. Unlike two years ago, when four candidates made the Election Day ballot, the two women will be the only choices when voters mark their ballots for the Nov. 6 general election.

Cruz’ ad is below.

Dana Young and Jackie Toledo holding joint fundraiser Thursday night

State Sen. Dana Young and state Rep. Jackie Toledo, both Tampa Republicans, are teaming up for a joint campaign fundraiser Thursday night.

The reception will be held on the Yacht StarShip, which docks at 603 Channelside Drive in Tampa, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Those looking to snag a boarding pass can send an RSVP to Kristin Lamb via Kristin@FLFStrategies.com or 850-339-5354.

The host committee for the fundraiser features more than a dozen names, including Yacht StarShip captain Troy Manthey and fellow maritime industry veteran John C. Timmel, who discovered the American Victory and helped bring it down to Tampa. Also on the list are George Howell III of Holland & Knight and Jan Gorrie of Ballard Partners.

Young was elected to Senate District 18 in 2016 and is running for re-election in the fall against House Minority Leader Janet Cruz. Early polling shows the two women in a close race, though Young had a threefold fundraising advantage over Cruz as of Aug. 23.

Toledo succeeded Young in Hillsborough County’s House District 60 two years ago and is up against Democrat Debra Bellanti in the fall. To date, Toledo has raised nearly $225,000 for her re-election bid and has $135,000 on hand while Bellanti has cleared $39,000 and has $30,700 in the bank.

SD 18 is one of the Florida Democratic Party’s top targets for a flip this fall and has a close partisan split — it voted plus-6 for Hillary Clinton two years ago. HD 60, however, went narrowly for Trump as Toledo scored a 14-point win over 2016 Democratic nominee David Singer.

The general election is Nov. 6. The fundraiser invitation is below.

Dana Young & Jackie Toledo fundraiser 9.6.2018

Jeff Brandes holding Thursday fundraiser as Lindsay Cross struggles to raise cash

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is holding another fundraiser Thursday for his re-election bid in Senate District 24, where he holds a better than 20-to-1 cash lead over Democratic challenger Lindsay Cross.

Among the several dozen names listed on the host committee for the St. Petersburg reception are former St. Pete Mayors Rick Baker and Bill Foster, Pinellas County Commissioners Jay Beyrouti and Karen Seel, Pinellas Clerk of the Court Ken Burke, Tampa Sen. Dana Young, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, St. Petersburg City Councilman Ed Montanari and state Rep. Kathleen Peters, who won the Republican nomination for Pinellas County Commission District 6 last week.

Brandes’ event will be held in the Grand Ballroom of The Birchwood, 340 Beach Drive NE, starting at 5:30 p.m. Those looking for more information or to send in an RSVP can contact Rick Porter or Ivey Rooney via 407-849-1112 or Ivey@PoliticalCapitalFlorida.com.

SD 24 is among the seven state Senate seats Florida Democrats said they were targeting in the 2018 cycle, and early polling showed their initial recruit, trial lawyer Carrie Pilonwithin 5 points of Brandes among likely voters. Pilon’s campaign ended abruptly, however, due to unexpected health problems of a close family member.

Cross stepped in at the last minute and, while she was put in an unenviable position, she has been somewhat flat on the fundraising trail. As of Aug. 23, she had raised $48,725 for her campaign account and had about $44,250 in the bank.

She also failed to preserve the momentum built by Pilon’s campaign when it comes to the polls. The first measure of the race since she became the Democratic nominee showed Brandes with a 39-19 percent lead over Cross. With 42 percent of voters undecided, there’s room for growth for both candidates.

Brandes meanwhile, has raised about $820,000 for his campaign account, including $300,000 in self-funding, and had $531,370 on hand on Aug. 23. Should Cross start to catch up, Brandes has another $360,000 ready to deploy in his affiliated political committee, Liberty Florida.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas except for the tip of the peninsula, which is included in neighboring SD 19. According to the most recent bookclosing report published by the Florida Division of Elections, Republicans hold a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district.

Despite the GOP advantage, SD 24 voted for Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

The fundraiser invitation is below.

Brandes fundraiser 9.6.2018

Aakash Patel

Joe Henderson: Aakash Patel’s loss not surprising, but margin was

Aakash Patel is bright, energetic, and creative – traits that would be considered valuable at a place like the Hillsborough County Commission.

But when Patel, a Republican, ran to represent a countywide district on that board, he was trounced in the primary last week, losing to attorney Todd Marks by a 2-to-1 margin.

The margin, more than the outcome, seemed out of whack.

No disrespect intended to Marks, but out of 390 precincts, Patel won only 13 and tied two. In the eastern part of the county, which is notably conservative, Marks got 80 percent of the vote or higher in multiple precincts.

It was a bruising campaign – Patel was the subject of 13 negative mailers from Marks – but lots of campaigns are rough and don’t wind up with that kind of margin.

So, what happened?

Well, there is one possible explanation that is a little scary to think about.

Could Aakash Patel’s first name have been a problem for too many voters?

“There is some validity to that,” Republican consultant Mark Proctor said. “I hate to say that, but I’ve seen it happen a couple of times. It’s hard to believe we’re still dealing with that in 2018.”

Proctor helped run Dipa Shah’s 2014 campaign for the School Board. She is an attorney, highly intelligent, and was drubbed in that election by April Griffin.

Again, the margin surprised more than the outcome.

Shah was attacked by a negative mailer that played up her name and suggested she was a liberal Muslim. She is not. Shah is a registered Republican and Catholic.

Voters often aren’t into details, though.

April Schiff, President of Strategic Solutions of Tampa, helped run Patel’s campaign. I asked her the same question: Was Patel’s campaign doomed by his first name?

She answered cautiously.

“Unfortunately, it would appear that some prejudice prevailed,” she said.

Remember, at the start of the campaign season both Patel and Marks expected to be running in District 1, which stretches from the Town ‘n’ Country area in northwest Hillsborough through south Tampa and into the southern part of the county.

That changed when incumbent Sandra Murman changed her mind about running for the countywide seat and decided to stay in District 1. Patel and Marks changed gears and went to the countywide spot.

The conventional belief is that Patel would have been competitive in a single district, but winning a countywide seat was a much larger challenge.

Interestingly, Aakash Patel raised more money in this race and out-spent Marks, but it didn’t matter.

It’s sad to think people might not look any deeper at a candidate than their name, but the difference in vote totals suggests it was a factor in the margin of victory.

Marks may well make a fine County Commissioner if he beats Democrat Kimberly Overman in November, and none of this about him or the legitimacy of his victory.

Not at all.

It is curious, though, when we see outcomes like this.

It’s hard not to think the worst.

WellCare finishes $2.5B deal for Meridian plans

Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans has completed a $2.5 billion deal to buy health plans that will expand its business in the Midwest and a firm that is a pharmacy-benefit manager, WellCare said Tuesday.

In the acquisition, which was effective Saturday, WellCare purchased Meridian Health Plan of Michigan, Inc., Meridian Health Plan of Illinois, Inc., and MeridianRx, a pharmacy-benefit manager.

The deal was initially announced in May. WellCare is a major player in Florida’s Medicaid managed-care program.

“We are excited to complete our acquisition of Meridian,” WellCare CEO Ken Burdick said in a prepared statement. “This transaction grows and diversifies our Medicaid membership by nearly 40 percent, increases our Medicare Advantage presence in new markets, adds a proprietary PBM (pharmacy benefit manager) platform, and enhances WellCare’s integrated dual-eligible and marketplace capabilities, positioning us for further growth within government-sponsored programs.”

Tampa mayoral candidate Jane Castor launches neighborhood listening tour

Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor is making her case to be the next mayor of Tampa one living room at a time.

Castor, one of nine candidates vying to succeed exiting Mayor Bob Buckhorn, held the first of several planned living room stops Thursday evening at a home in Seminole Heights.

“I have always said that Tampa’s greatest resource is our citizens, and I am doubling down on my commitment to include residents and all of our neighborhoods into our campaign by going to every neighborhood across the city to listen to what they think are the most pressing issues facing Tampa,” Castor said.

“As I create my platform, I want to know what our citizens’ vision for Tampa’s future is, because their voice is critical to everyone’s quality of life. This is an exciting time in Tampa’s history, and I’m even more excited to hear from our community about what the next chapter in our city’s story should look like,” she concluded.

The “Conversations with Castor” series currently has 20 planned stops on the docket with events coming to the following neighborhoods: Sulphur Springs, Forest Hills, University Square, Jackson Heights, Rainbow Heights, Lincoln Gardens, Carver City, Old West Tampa, Port Tampa, Ballast Point, MacDill, Virginia Park, Palma Ceia, Historic Hyde Park, Hunters Green, Arbor Green, Harbor Island, Davis Island, Grant Park, Highland Pines, Woodlawn Terrace, Live Oaks, North East Tampa, Wellswood, Plaza Terrace, Tampa Heights and Riverside Heights.

“When Jane was Chief of Police, it was always clear that she led by example and that there was a big heart beating underneath the badge,” said William Truett. “Sitting with Jane, and being able to tell her about our concerns, shows she truly cares about every neighborhood in Tampa, not just mine.”

Dates and times for all future stops on the the neighborhood listening tour can be found on Castor’s campaign Facebook page.

Also running in the mayoral election are Harry Cohen, Sam Brian Gibbons, Michael Anthony Hazard, LaVaughn R. King, Topher Morrison, David A. Straz, Jr., Mike Suarez and Ed Turanchik.

Castor is one of the better funded of the nine announced candidates with nearly $159,000 in hard money fundraising and another $225,000 raised for her affiliated political committee, Tampa Strong.

Castor has $345,500 on hand between the two accounts, putting her behind only Straz, who has provided his campaign with self-funded $1.55 million in self-funding thus far and has already started rolling out ads for his campaign.

There are six months to go before the mayoral election is held on March 5, 2019. The new mayor and councilmembers will take office on April 1, 2019.

janet cruz

Bob Buckhorn endorses Janet Cruz for state Senate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Day is Nov. 6.

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