Bob Buckhorn Archives - Florida Politics
interim Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister

Chad Chronister boasts bipartisan backing in fundraiser invite

Chad Chronister is looking to shed the “interim” tag in front of his title as Hillsborough County Sheriff next year, and a peek at the host committee he’s wrangled for his Oct. 25 campaign kickoff shows his support is both far reaching and bipartisan.

Chronister has been with the office since 1992 and was a colonel before the retirement of longtime lawman David Gee earlier this year, which vaulted him into the leadership role. He filed for election to the office a day after he was sworn in as interim sheriff.

The run for sheriff is Chronister’s first campaign, though the invite for his upcoming fundraiser has more names than many seasoned politicians – it fills up nearly a whole page of legal size paper and includes well over 200 names.

Among his supporters are both sides of the courtroom in State Attorney Andrew Warren and Hillsborough County Public Defender Julie Holt.

Chronister, a Republican, also has politicians from both sides of the political spectrum flocking to support his fledgling campaign.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, and former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, the current favorite to succeed him, also made the list alongside House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sens. Dana Young and Tom Lee as well as County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, all Republicans.

The throng of supporters will gather at The Italian Club at 1731 E 7th Ave. in Ybor City to get the sitting sheriff’s campaign off the ground. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. and runs for two hours.

So far, Chronister’s only competition is no-party candidate Juan Rivera. The election will be held in November 2018.

The full invitation is below.

Hillsborough NAACP head Yvette Lewis takes on the establishment at Cafe Con Tampa

In one of the highest profile appearances since her election in July as chair the Hillsborough County NAACP, Yvette Lewis took a shot at some of the most prominent establishment names in Tampa.

During Friday’s Cafe Con Tampa at the Oxford Exchange, Lewis shared brutally honest thoughts on several topics: A lack of diversity at the University of South Florida, issues with former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor‘s policies and her failure to connect with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

For seven years, Lewis served as chair of the political action committee for the longtime civil rights organization, before moving up to lead the group this summer. Through that, she had become very familiar with the issues roiling the black community in Tampa and Hillsborough County over the past decade.

On example was two years ago, when the NAACP was prominent in calling for the formation of a citizens review board to review the Tampa Police Department’s policies and procedures following the Tampa Bay Times “biking while black” expose in the spring of 2015.

The Times reported the TPD had written more bike tickets from 2012-2014 than police departments in St. Petersburg, Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando combined, and that eight of 10 were black. A subsequent review in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice surmised that the policy was neither discriminatory nor effective.

“We have never received an apology from the Tampa Police Department,” Lewis said at the well-attended breakfast meeting.

At the time, Jane Castor led the TPB. Castor has already formed a political action committee as she eyes a run for Tampa Mayor in 2019. But if she does run, the “biking while black” story will be something that she will have to address.

“She knew what she was doing,” Lewis said. “She was targeting African-American people on bicycles.”

There are also significant concerns in Tampa’s black community about representation on the City Council.

For decades, the District 5 seat, currently held by Frank Reddick, has been considered the Council’s “black seat,” but there is concern that Tampa voting maps will change as county officials start the process of redistricting ahead of the 2019 city elections.

Hillsborough County planning officials say that since the last redistricting process, the African-American population in district 5 has already dropped from 61 percent to 53.8 percent. Lewis and other members of the black community fear if the Channelside district is included in the zone, there will be no African-American representation on Council.

“If someone decides to run for that district in Channelside, our voice has been silenced, and it is gone,” she intoned dramatically.

While former Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena agreed with Lewis about the importance of black elected officials on the council, she said it was as essential to elect like-minded lawmakers.

“You need four votes to make anything happen,” she said about getting anything passed on the seven-member board. Saul-Sena also noted that it was crucial to get people out to vote and that East Tampa has the worst voting percentage of any part of the city.

“You need four votes to make anything happen,” Saul-Sena said about getting anything passed on the seven-member board. It was important to get people out to vote, she added, saying that East Tampa has the worst voting percentage of any part of the city.

The voting percentage is weak because you haven’t given people a reason to vote, Lewis shot back.

But it was USF — the institution as well as its main players — receiving Lewis’s greatest wrath Friday.

Joanne Sullivan, community relations director for USF Health, said some members of the NAACP spoke at the USF Board of Trustee’s meeting Thursday. They had “made a very eloquent statement about what they are hoping to see at USF,” she said, adding: “On behalf of USF, let me just say that your voice has been heard, and there are interests at making things better.”

If that was intended to mollify Lewis, it didn’t work.

“What about the students who look like me who have not received their degree who have been told, you should not be in school? What about the faculty … that don’t look like me?” she said about professors with tenure at the university.

“USF has a long way to go. USF has been an island out to their own, and they figured they didn’t need the African American people.”

A lack of diversity isn’t a new topic at the north Tampa campus. Two years ago, students rallied for diversity, saying the university had a problem.

Lewis said that black members of the faculty had been so intimidated to meet with her organization, they refused to come to their office, instead meeting at a nearby McDonald’s on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

“You tell Dr. [RalphWilcox, you tell Judy Genshaft that she needs to come and have a sit-down conversation with the NAACP ASAP,” she said to Sullivan, naming those officials who had declined to meet with the group.

In fact, lots of people refused to meet with Lewis and her group, after giving lip service about how much they care about the organization.she’s tired of it.

And she’s tired of it.

That includes Tampa’s mayor, who noticeably got cross-eyed with the NAACP during the controversy over the call for a police citizens’ review board in 2015. The NAACP, the ACLU, and several other organizations wanted it, but Buckhorn fought against it before he ultimately agreed to form the committee.

Many of those same activists have never been happy with how it was formed or the powers it had.

“We’re supposed to have yearly meetings with the mayor that has been requested, many times,” she said. “As of right now, we have been denied a meeting with the mayor. [The] same mayor that comes and visits all the old African-American churches … but he refused to meet with the NAACP.”

Buckhorn spokesperson Ashley Bauman responded that there is no regular scheduled yearly meeting and there has never been.

“He would go periodically at the request of Carolyn Collins, the former president of the local branch, if she requested but it was not a standing event,” Bauman told Florida Politics. “He has never heard from the current president and to the best of his knowledge she has never interacted with our office.”

Bauman went on to say that the city has supported the organization through funding for its ACT-SO youth programming; the mayor did so again for the most recently approved budget. ACT-SO is the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, a yearlong NAACP achievement program formed to recruit and encourage academic and cultural achievement among African-American high schoolers.

Lewis says that the past NAACP president, Benny Smalls, did call to request a meeting and received no response

“That’s his choice,” Lewis told the crowd about her lack of communications with Buckhorn. “He’s missing out on a good thing because I could give him a good conversation because I’m a beautiful black woman,” she said as the audience cheered.

 

Joe Henderson: Two cities, one push for Amazon HQ

The news that Tampa and St. Petersburg will work together to attract the much-sought new Amazon headquarters is exactly what outsiders have been saying for decades this area needs to do.

This goes back to when the squabbling sibling cities submitted separate proposals to attract a Major League Baseball team. Baseball bosses rolled their eyes and said this place needs to act as one if it wants to join the league of important cities.

We haven’t been disposed to do that, though. Tampa seemed to get all the big stuff – the airport, University of South Florida, skyscrapers, the Bucs, etc. – while St. Pete endured jokes about green benches.

No one is laughing at St. Pete now, though. It has a thriving and trendy downtown, quick access to beaches, gobs of entertainment options, and any envy it felt about wanting to be Tampa should long ago have subsided.

The last big hurdle that both sides had to conquer was maybe the hardest one – realizing that to compete for prizes like the Amazon headquarters, it can’t be about one location or the other. It’s about a united “us” and that needs to be the mantra going forward.

The mayors here – Bob Buckhorn in Tampa and Rick Kriseman in St. Pete – have joined forces to convince Amazon that it should spend the estimated $5 billion the company has budgeted for its headquarters right here in the Bay area.

St. Pete’s initial pitch includes the interesting idea of making the current site of Tropicana Field available for Amazon. That’s top-shelf thinking that makes tons of sense.

I don’t want to get into a whole thing about the Tampa Bay Rays and where a new stadium should be though. This is about much more than that.

It could bring in 50,000 jobs.

This would be a life-changer more than a game-changer for this area, which is why Buckhorn tweeted he is “happy to partner” with his St. Petersburg counterpart.

OK, reality check: It’s a long shot.

For one thing, our shabby transportation system could, and probably will, be a huge negative in this bid. Maybe that will finally convince enough people to do something about that.

Even in losing, though, Tampa Bay could win. Coming close to landing a prize like this would send a potent message to potential moguls looking to do business here.

The list of cities pursuing Amazon includes all the big boys and represents real competition. We’re used to having pro teams around here, but something like this will teach this place we call home  what it is really like to play in the big leagues.

Florida needs to improve sewage systems, enviro group says

Hurricane Irma caused massive sewage overflows in Florida, prompting an environmental group to call on local communities to improve infrastructure to prevent that from happening again when the next big storm hits.

“Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida, but sewage in our streets and bays shouldn’t be,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “As these storms get more severe and frequent, we have to be ready for some pretty challenging conditions. We’re not ready now.”

The Department of Environmental Protection has received more than 200 cases of sewage spills since Irma barreled through Florida 10 days ago.

Environment Florida, Florida PIRG and the Frontier Group released a factsheet Wednesday demonstrating that many of the sewer systems in the state’s biggest coastal cities were unable to handle the strong rains and winds that a hurricane like Irma delivered.

Advocates say that the bacteria and viruses in wastewater can infect humans and animals.

“Elevated levels of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from sewage spills can pollute oceans, lakes and rivers,” said Justin Bloom, director of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “These nutrients can trigger algae blooms that eventually suffocate wildlife.”
Among the examples of communities waste water systems unable to handle the storm included:

— In Fort Myers, 32 of the city’s 200 or so lift stations were offline as of September 14, with local reports of wastewater flowing out of yards and into streets.
— From September 11 to 13, Jacksonville Electric Authority reported spilling more than 2.2 million gallons of sewage due to power outages, water inflows and equipment failure following the hurricane.
— The sewer authority in Miami-Dade County reported releasing 6 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into Biscayne Bay.
— A boil-water notice was sent to all residents in Collier County following “extensive damage” to sewer and drinking water lines on September 11.

In Tampa, more than a third of the city’s 230 sewage pumping stations lost power during the hurricane. The amount of untreated waste water spilled has never been fully reported.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said that ensuring that doesn’t happen during the next major storm is something that has to be addressed. “We’ve got to find a way to buy generators or some other way to harden it so that even in a Cat 1 storm or a squirrel attack, they can’t knock the lines out,” Buckhorn said last week.

“Sewage isn’t just disgusting. It’s also a health hazard that can make us really sick,” Rubiello said. “We need to do everything we can to keep it away from our homes.”

To prepare for future storms, Environment Florida is calling on lawmakers to update leaky pipes and ensure that pumping stations have access to power, as well as implement low-tech solutions to minimize future spills such as including installing rain barrels and restoring wetlands.

Bob Buckhorn after Irma: ‘There will be a lot of lessons learned’

Right now, Bob Buckhorn is simply too busy to take stock.

But in the next few weeks, after most of the cleanup efforts have been finished following Hurricane Irma’s blow Sunday night, Tampa’s mayor says there will be time to take stock of lessons learned for when another major storm makes its path toward the Bay area.

“There will be a lot of lessons learned. And that’s a good thing. That’s how we get better and better at it,” Buckhorn said during a visit to Robles Park Village Thursday afternoon as part of a free food and ice distribution that included other community activists and corporations like the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Thursday was the fourth day where thousands of his residents were still without power, though Tampa Electric seemed to be making more progress on its goal of having everyone in their service area back online by this weekend. It was also the hottest day of the week, making it extremely uncomfortable for those who have been sweating in the dark all week.

Buckhorn says that having a better relationship with TECO when it comes to hardening the power grid is a priority, citing the fact that over a third of the city’s sewage pumping stations lost power during the hurricane, resulting in an unknown amount of untreated waste water spilling into parts of the city.

“We’ve gotta find a way to buy generators or some other way to harden it so that even in a Cat 1 storm for a squirrel attack, they can’t knock the lines out,” he said.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Buckhorn on Thursday to see how he and the city were faring post-Irma, one of several mayors from around the country who have inquired about how to help out. The Tampa Mayor said he directed them to contact officials in Jacksonville, the Keys and other parts of Florida that are suffering far worse than his city has.

In fact, there are 56 Tampa Police Officers that have been sent to help out recovery efforts in Charlotte County. “We’re doing our part to help those who got a whole lot worse than we did,” he says.

As has been the case throughout Florida, Tampa residents, businesses and nonprofits have come through in helping those out, the mayor said, referring to a public feeding held Wednesday night at Robles Park.

“I wish I had a nickel for everyone who has called me to say ‘what can I do to help? My power’s not on, but how can I help others. So I called Tim Marks at Metropolitan Ministries last night and said I need 500 Inside the Box meals. He said ‘done.’ So folks are stepping up and helping those who need the help themselves.”

 

After Irma, Tampa area still at risk but not fully prepared

As monster Hurricane Irma buzz-sawed its way up Florida’s Gulf Coast, it looked for several hours like the heavily populated Tampa Bay area could face catastrophic wind damage and flooding from the first major storm to roar ashore there in 96 years.

There was good reason to worry. Since 1921, when about 120,000 people lived there, the region has added three million residents and tens of thousands of new homes along low-lying waterfront property.

The storm left Tampa and St. Petersburg with only power outages and downed tree limbs to contend with. But many are wondering: Was Irma merely a dress rehearsal for The Big One?

Study after study has shown the Tampa region is among the world’s most vulnerable when it comes to major storms. Yet so far it has failed to take some key precautions, such as burying power lines, ending the practice of filling and building in wetlands and putting brakes on residential development.

“Floridians live for the day,” said Florida historian Gary Mormino of St. Petersburg. “You come here for paradise, and you don’t want to pay for ensuring paradise for the future. We dodged the big one this time, but there will be a reckoning someday.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told an AP reporter Sunday morning that he expected his Davis Islands home to flood and was bracing for 5 to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.4 meters) of storm surge. “I think our day has come,” he said in a somber voice.

By Monday, his tone was giddily cheerful, after his city and home weren’t destroyed as predicted.

“We continue to acknowledge that our number will come up at some point. We can’t go another 90 years without a direct hit. We came close last night. I look at this as an opportunity to perfect our plan,” he said.

Davis Islands, where Buckhorn and his family live, are a prime example of the freewheeling development ethic of the region – and the entire state. Initially, there were two small islands, but an enterprising developer in the 1920s dredged the bay and filled them in with mud, then planned a resort-like community with lavish Mediterranean-style homes. Today, a mix of homes and condos stands there. It’s where baseball player Derek Jeter lives in a 30,000-square foot waterfront home. Also on the island: Tampa General Hospital.

“Why would you put a hospital on an island?” said Mormino. “It’s insane, but it hasn’t failed in 97 years.”

To be sure, Tampa General says it has a plan for storms and can withstand them. But recent storms, such as Irma and even Harvey in Texas, make policymakers wonder what more can be done now that the area’s packed with people and infrastructure. Buckhorn, a Democrat, says that while he’s not willing to blame Irma on climate change, he believes a serious discussion about climate change and rising seas must happen soon.

“We’re a low lying area, a city on the water with 100-year-old infrastructure and 2017 growth patterns,” he said. “We live in Florida where people want to live on the water. None of that I can change. I’m trying to be an advocate for investment in infrastructure.”

A 2013 World Bank study that ranked cities according to their vulnerability to major storms placed Tampa at number seven among all cities in the world. A report released in June by CoreLogic, a global property information firm, said nearly 455,000 Tampa Bay homes could be damaged by hurricane storm surges, the most in any major U.S. metro area except Miami and New York City. And rebuilding all those homes could cost $80.6 billion, the report said.

In 2016, the risk-management consultancy Karen Clark & Co. said Tampa Bay is the nation’s most vulnerable metro area to storm surge flooding caused by a once-in-century hurricane. The Boston-based firm said Tampa Bay acts as a “large funnel” for surges, forcing water into narrow channels and bayous with nowhere else to go.

And that’s what was forecast for a several-hour spell Sunday morning: catastrophic storm surges, hours of 130 mph (209 kph) winds and massive destruction.

Instead, the Tampa Bay region was hit with tropical storm-force winds and 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain.

Irma is also making residents reflect on what they did right, and wrong – and what they’ll do next time a storm swirls toward the region.

“We’re talking about things that we would do differently, with food and packing and things to bring and things not to bring,” said Nancy Schiaparelli, who fled with her husband and pets from their home in an evacuation zone in St. Petersburg, to a hotel about three miles away. She now wishes they’d brought canned food and not packaged food, fewer board games and more DVDs, and “probably overdid it for the pets.”

“Too much stuff. We have a dog, a cat and a guinea pig … But what if we couldn’t get back home? You just never know how bad it’s going to be,” said the 61-year-old as she packed up her SUV on Monday in the hotel parking lot.

Patrick Salerno, a 70-year-old retiree, evacuated from North Redington Beach to a hotel. He’s not so sure he will evacuate next time because he doesn’t think the forecasters get the storm’s path right, anyway.

“After watching Texas, everyone was afraid not to evacuate. But seeing a lot of people die and a lot of damage, the magnitude of that storm, I guess people figured, better safe than sorry,” he shrugged, as he waited in his truck to get back onto the barrier island where he lived. “In the old days, we’d just wait for the storms to come and get plenty of beer.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Bob Buckhorn says the restoration of power is Tampa’s biggest issue after Irma

Mayor Bob Buckhorn says restoring electricity to the hundreds of thousands of citizens in Tampa currently without it is issue number one the day after Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida Sunday night.

“It’s power,” the mayor told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” when asked what was the biggest problem facing his city. “We know how miserable this place can be for one day without air conditioning, you go two, three, four days and it’s not going to be very pleasant, so getting that power restored I think is going to be critical.”

Cherie Jacobs, a spokesperson for Tampa Electric, said earlier on Monday that some 300,000 residences – approximately 40% of their entire customer base – was without power. TECO services Hillsborough County and parts of Polk, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

There is fair amount of downed trees and power lines throughout the city, with some blocking roads. Buckhorn said he believes city crews working to clear the streets up should be done within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Buckhorn rescinded the city wide curfew he imposed last night shortly after 8 a.m. Monday. Controversy arose on Sunday afternoon after Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said Buckhorn did not have the authority to call for such a curfew.

The mayor and interim Police Chief Brian Dugan spent a few minutes at a press conference Sunday just hours before Irma was scheduled to hit the city to warn residents that they would be in trouble if they appeared outside after 6 p.m.  “If you are out on the streets after six o’clock, we are going to challenge you and find out what you’re doing out there,” Dugan said. There have not been any reports of looting.

The mayor said that City Hall will be open for business on Tuesday.

Bob Buckhorn warns curfew violators in Tampa as Irma approaches

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn declared Sunday morning that a curfew will begin tonight at 6 p.m. in Tampa, and will not be lifted until he and other city officials deem it safe after Hurricane Irma passes.

“I’m serious about that and Tampa Police is serious about that,” Buckhorn said, adding, “We will be very aggressive with anybody we find looting. There is nothing worse than taking advantage of your fellow citizens at a time like this. We will not tolerate in any way shape or form, anyone we catch, engaged in criminal behavior, particularly in the areas that have been hardest hit by this hurricane.”

The mayor added that the curfew needs to be in place to allow crews to remove damaged power lines and/or downed trees.

“If you are out on the streets after six o’clock, we are going to challenge you and find out what you’re doing out there,” said Tampa interim Police Chief Brian Dugan, calling on people to show patience and compassion. “We are relying on the good people of Tampa to tell us what’s going on in their neighborhoods, and to point out who doesn’t belong in their neighborhoods.”

It will be a misdemeanor offense if a citizen is cited for violating the curfew. Dugan said he has already spoken with Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren about the city’s intentions. “We’re going to do our job and then assess everything in the end,” Dugan said.

Buckhorn says that some parts of Tampa will probably be less deleteriously affected than others after the storm passes, and those areas of the city could have the curfew lifted first.

Dugan said the curfew could possibly last two days, adding that it was difficult to predict without knowing how much damage Irma inflicts on the city.  “They need to stay inside until we give the all clear,” the chief said of his expectations of the public.

Dugan also said that Tampa Police officers have been working with the homeless in Tampa over the past few days to advise them to go to a shelter.

The mayor also had chilling news regarding electricity that is expected to get knocked out at some point tonight.

“We can expect to have days, if not weeks without power,” he said. “We just gotta hang in there and bear with each other and rise to the occasion.”

Buckhorn said that Tampa is about to take a solid whacking from the coming storm.

“Mike Tyson once said – and I don’t believe I’m quoting Mike Tyson – everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”

The city of St. Petersburg is placing a curfew as well, beginning at 5 p.m. this afternoon. Mayor Rick Kriseman said this morning that the city would not be citing offenders, but simply wanted to get everybody off the roads.

Florida mayors join compact to ‘fight hate, extremism’ in wake of Charlottesville

A group Florida mayors are joining the national effort between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Anti-Defamation League in response to President Donald Trump‘s statements on the violence in Charlottesville.

On Friday, fourteen more Florida mayors added their names to the “Mayor’s Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry,” making 35 mayors in total throughout the state.

Signatories include Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, Philip Levine from Miami Beach, and Bob Buckhorn from Tampa.

“It’s cities and mayors who are on the front lines if and when some of our national leaders refuse to stand up in the face of hate, America’s Mayors will, “said Buckhorn. “That’s why I joined mayors from across the country to stand unified against bigotry, hate and racism. We cannot allow this divisive rhetoric to continue, not in our city and certainly not from the highest and most powerful office in the world.”

In all, more than 240 mayors have signed to the compact in just the last 48 hours, representing  Democratic and Republican leaders from cities including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Baltimore, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

The 10 components of the compact include calls to reject extremism, white supremacy, and all forms of bigotry, and to ensure public safety while protecting free speech and other basic constitutional rights. Signatories also pledge to strengthen civil rights protections and promote law enforcement training to respond and report hate incidents, crimes, and domestic terrorism.

“Mayors and their cities must continue to be a beacon for inclusion, tolerance, and respect for all,” the compact reads. “We will continue to create stronger cultures of kindness and compassion in our communities, and expect our federal and state partners to join us in this endeavor.”

Here is the list of Florida mayors joining the compact:

Joe Kilsheimer, Apopka, Florida
Enid Weisman, Aventura, Florida
Gabriel Groisman, Bal Harbour Village, Florida
Susan Haynie, Boca Raton, Florida
Marni L. Sawicki, Cape Coral, Florida
Judith ‘Judy’ Paul, Davie, Florida
Derrick L. Henry, Daytona Beach, Florida
Juan Carlos Bermudez, Doral, Florida
Julie Ward Bujalski, Dunedin, Florida
Randall P. Henderson Jr., Fort Myers, Florida
Joy Cooper, Hallandale Beach, Florida
Josh Levy, Hollywood, Florida
Hazelle Rogers, Lauderdale Lakes, Florida
Richard J. Kaplan, Lauderhill, Florida
Philip Levine, Miami Beach, Florida
Oliver G. Gilbert III, Miami Gardens, Florida
Wayne M. Messam, Miramar, Florida
Bill Barnett, Naples, Florida
John Adornato III, Oakland Park, Florida
Buddy Dyer, Orlando, Florida
William Capote, Palm Bay, Florida
Milissa Holland, Palm Coast, Florida
Christine Hunschofsky, Parkland, Florida
Frank C. Ortis, Pembroke Pines, Florida
Ashton J. Hayward, Pensacola, Florida
Joseph M Corradino, Pinecrest, Florida
Donald O. Burnette, Port Orange, Florida
Gregory J. Oravec, Port St. Lucie, Florida
Rick Kriseman, St. Petersburg, Florida
Michael J. Ryan, Sunrise, Florida
Andrew D. Gillum, Tallahassee, Florida
Harry Dressler, Tamarac, Florida
Bob Buckhorn, Tampa, Florida
Geraldine ‘Jeri’ Muoio Ph.D., West Palm Beach, Florida
Daniel J. Stermer, Weston, Florida

Hillsborough Confederate monument to move after donations reach threshold in 24 hours

Led by two huge contributions, the private sector has raised well in excess of the $140,000 required by the Hillsborough County Commission to move a controversial Confederate monument in Tampa.

Bob Gries, the founder and managing partner of Gries Investment Funds in Tampa was watching CNN Wednesday night when he learned the Board of County Commissioners had reversed their position yet again on their decision regarding moving the monument.

The report said that unless the private sector came up with half the estimated $280,000 needed to move the statue, it would remain in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse annex on Pierce St. in downtown Tampa.

“I was just really concerned, and I was embarrassed that Tampa Bay would be cast in a negative spotlight, and I just really thought what could I do to help change this and do the right thing,” said Gries at a press conference held at Tampa’s City Hall Thursday afternoon.

So Gries called up Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn first thing Thursday, saying he would kick in $50,000 that would not only hugely boost the effort to raise $140,000, but inspire others in the community to chip in as well.

On Thursday, the community did that big time, raising more than $40,000 in the 24 hours after the commissioners’ vote. Included in that effort was $5,000 from former Tampa Bay Buccaneer coach (now NBC football analyst) Tony Dungy and $1,000 contributions from Buckhorn and former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce chipped in the other huge check of $70,000.

Though some will consider this a shining moment for the Tampa Bay area rising to the occasion to come together on what is an incredibly emotional and divisive issue, Buckhorn is having none of that.

“It was unprecedented, it was disheartening, it was not who we are and what this community believes in and what we stand for,” the mayor said of the board’s vote to outsource the decision to the community.

The decision to delay the vote had put an additional burden on the business community, Buckhorn added, and it was a “blatant attempt not to do the right thing,” which was to move the statue.

Wednesday was the third time the board had weighed in what to do with the 106-year-old monument, called “Memoria in Aeterna.”

In late June, the Commission stunningly voted 4-3 to keep the memorial in place, unlike other southern communities that have decided that such monuments were a relic of the Jim Crow past, and are no longer appropriate in 2017.

After the vote received local and national outrage, the board came back in late July, voting 4-2 to move the monument with Commissioner Sandy Murman changing her vote, but only if the money to move the statue was raised privately.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said that such an effort could not be guaranteed, and stated that the county would be responsible for raising the balance of the needed funds if the private sector could not come up with more than $200,000 required to move it.

Private fundraising had gone slow, with the man leading that campaign, attorney Tom Scarritt, saying he only had 60 days to raise the money or the issue would return to the board.

Commissioner Victor Crist brought the issue up again Wednesday, leading the move for the board to vote 4-3 for a 30-day timeline on Scarritt to raise $140,000.

If he could not, the statue would remain in place.

Buckhorn said he was disgusted by the board’s flip-flops.

“I’m not happy that they choose to throw roadblocks in the way of our progress,” he told reporters. “This was a decision that had been made, the outcome was secure, and at the last minute they changed the rules of the game, and that’s what I find unfortunate because some of them didn’t have the political courage to do what is morally the right thing to do.”

The monument will be moved to the Brandon Family Cemetery, a blow to Confederate advocates who have been determined to stop the county from moving the memorial.

“Isn’t it so sad that people are willing to pay money to disrespect American Veterans and destroy history,” said David McCallister with Save Southern Heritage Florida. “Too bad leaders of this movement aren’t putting this energy into making sure children go to safe schools, are taught to respect each other, or fixing stormwater runoff in our community.”

“If Tony Dungy and the Chamber used this effort to address real problems, imagine how great our community would be!” he added.

Later on Thursday, Save Southern Heritage Florida said they would go to court on Friday to attempt to block the removal of the monument.

Preliminary work on preparing for the statue to move has already been underway for a few weeks, with the county already expending $20,000 on the effort. That work was stopped Wednesday, and there is no word yet on when it will resume (County Administrator Mike Merrill was not immediately available for comment).

Earlier Thursday, President Donald Trump weighed in on the moving of such monuments, denouncing their removal as “sad” and “so foolish,” just days after white supremacists and neo-Nazis took to Charlottesville, Virginia, to violently protest the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

Buckhorn wasn’t impressed.

“We have a president who today doubled down on his remarks of two days ago,” Buckhorn said. “He chose a side. That side was not the better angels of America. That side was the hate groups and the Klan and neo-Nazi’s and the bigots in bed sheets that ran through this country in the South in the 40’s and 50’s. That was the side that he chose, and those code words and those dog whistles that he used in these comments send a signal to those who would engage in these kinds of behaviors that it’s OK. It’s not OK. Hate has no place in America, and it damn sure has no place in Tampa, Florida.”

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