Mitch Perry - SaintPetersBlog

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Bill Nelson: If China can’t deter North Korea’s nuclear plans, it could mean war

According to North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, the standoff over his country’s nuclear program will end only when the U.S. withdraws its “hostile policy” toward the northeast Asian nation.

In an interview with The Associated Press Friday, Kim In Ryong says his government will not attend “any type of talks which would discuss its nuclear abandonment.”

That includes the U.N. Security Council meeting Friday on the North Korean nuclear issue.

He called it “another abuse” of U.N. authority, acting on instructions of the United States, a veto-wielding member.

Kim said that “it is a wild dream for the U.S. to think of depriving the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) of its nuclear deterrent through military threat and sanctions.”

But neither the Donald Trump administration nor Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, sound like they’re ready to tamp down the rhetoric when it comes to living with a nuclear North Korea.

“I can tell you that this Senator doesn’t want to live with a nuclear North Korea any more than what it has right now,” Nelson told reporters at a news conference at his district office in Tampa Friday. “And that means having an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) that can reach almost the entire U.S.”

Meanwhile, China is calling for North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile activities, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying at a U.N. Security Council ministerial meeting Friday that “use of force … will only lead to bigger disasters.”

While the Trump administration is banking on China pressuring its communist neighbors, Nelson says it would be foolhardy to rely on the Chinese alone to restrain the North’s nuclear ambitions.

“If we’re relying entirely on China, I think it’s going to be a long time coming because the Chinese are not reliable,” the Florida Democrat said. “So if China can’t help us, that leaves one thing left, and that is kinetic action, which is a war.”

With almost 26 million people living in the Seoul metropolitan area, Nelson says “there are no easy answers.”

The senator feels the ideal situation is a nuclear arms deal, similar to what the Obama administration and the western powers executed with Iran in 2015.

But Nelson also acknowledges that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, isn’t likely to back down.

“So, we’re ultimately going to be faced with a war,” Nelson said on a dour note, “or we’re going to have to be faced with a North Korea with a nuclear ICMB that can reach the U.S.”

The U.S. Air Force test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile which traveled over 4,000 miles before splashing down in the South Pacific after launching early Wednesday from a base in California. The test was long-planned, according to defense officials.

When asked about the timing of the test amid threats surrounding North Korea, one official told Fox News“If we had canceled the launch, that would be a story too.”

The U.S. Air Force has 450 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground silos across three bases in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana.

In the coming years, that number will reduce to 400.

Meanwhile, rumors are circulating on Capitol Hill that House Republicans may have enough votes to commit to attempting to pass a health care bill next week.

Disputing that notion, Nelson believes there is still too much dissent within the GOP’s various factions for a vote to make it to the floor.

“I don’t think they’ll pass it in the House,” he says, “because they can’t get their act together, just like they couldn’t a month ago when they tried to pass a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.”

“What we ought to do the fixes to the ACA, and then you don’t throw 24 million people that now have health insurance that never had it before,” Nelson adds. “You don’t throw them out on the street not having any health insurance. That’s what we ought to do, but this all gets balled up in politics, and you get the pushing and tugging, and you get the partisanship and all of that.

“Well, this time you see that, even within one party, you can’t get agreement. So, I don’t anticipate we’re going to have that problem again. We do need to have some fixes (to the ACA).”

Nelson also says he would work with Trump on tax reform, and it needed to come with a plan for infrastructure spending.

It was the same idea then-candidate Trump talked about on the campaign trail but has yet to enact in his first 100 days in office.

New Morean Arts CEO says St. Petersburg ‘hidden gem’ in American arts world

Michael Killoren, new CEO of the Morean Arts Center

Michael Killoren can’t wait to begin his gig as new CEO of the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg. The six-year veteran of the National Endowment for the Arts starts at the community-based arts organization June 1.

Killoren’s appointment was announced in March, right around the time President Donald Trump called to eliminate the NEA in his first federal budget plan (as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and 16 other federal agencies).

“It’s a dynamic environment, and administrations come and go and change and have different priorities,” says Killoren, adding that he is still very much employed with the NEA. “More to the point, I think the agency does great work, and has great impact across the country, and we’ll just have to see how this plays out.”

As Killoren notes, different administrations have different priorities when it comes to funding the arts in America.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan hoped to eliminate the NEA, and Newt Gingrich attempted to kill it again in 1995 after the Republicans took over both the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in 40 years. Although neither were successful, on both occasions the NEA’s budget was slashed.

Over its history, the NEA has seen a varying range of annual budgets — from just under $3 million in 1966 to $176 million in 1992. Currently, the Endowment’s annual appropriation is just under $148 million.

In 2017, the Morean Arts Center celebrates its 100th anniversary in St. Petersburg, with yearlong celebrations. The organization offers adult programs, kids’ programs, family programs, early childhood programs, and summer camp programs and outreach programs geared toward youth, many at risk.

“It does amazing work,” says Killoren on how the Morean connects people in the community with arts, printmaking, drawing, photography, glass blowing, writing and ceramics.

“I think organizations like this are more important than ever because I think everyone should have access to an opportunity to engage in an expressive life, and that’s what this organization does,” says Killoren, who says that in a way it’s a return to his roots in “hyper-localism.”

Before his 2010 hire at the NEA, Killoren worked in Seattle as director of the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.  Prior to that, he spent three and a half years as part of the programming staff at the Sheldon Arts Foundation in St. Louis.

He has a B.A. in Media Arts from Webster University in St. Louis, and completed graduate studies in telecommunications at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Killoren loves St. Pete, and considers it a “hidden gem.”

Regarding the city’s seven different art districts, he’s not sure the story is widely known “what a great arts city this is.”

Until a few years ago Killoren didn’t know much about the city, he says, when he visited St. Petersburg with his husband: “We were just blown away by what we saw.”

On Saturday afternoon, the Morean Arts Center hosts the 13th Congressional District Art Competition.

Gus Bilirakis: Congress, staff should not be exempt in GOP health care bill

Gus Bilirakis has already heard from plenty of constituents that he shouldn’t vote for repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act.

But while the Tarpon Springs Republican congressman was fully supportive of the GOP health care bill that never resulted in a vote last month in Congress, he is decidedly against a provision in the new legislation being floated this week that would allow members of Congress and their staff to exempt themselves from the legislation.

“In this country, lawmakers are not above the law,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “I believe strongly that as elected representatives, we should have the same health care as our constituents. Period. This legislation is a common-sense fix, ensuring Congress lives by the same rules it creates.”

An amendment to the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill would have allowed states to seek waivers for certain Obamacare regulations, but lawmakers and their staff would be exempt from the changes.

GOP staff and lawmakers said the exemption was originally added to comply with Senate rules but acknowledged that it was politically problematic.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched digital ads in 30 Republican-held districts, including those of Florida Representatives Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo.

Bilirakis is an original co-sponsor of the bill, HR 2192, which would repeal the section of the American Health Care exempting Members of Congress and congressional staff from state waivers if AHCA becomes law. His office says that he is working with Republican leadership to make sure HR 2192 would be voted on simultaneously with AHCA.

Bilirakis held three town hall meetings earlier this year in his Pasco County district (which also includes parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas). All were heated at times, with Democrats blasting him for his opposition to the ACA.

Tampa Bay officials OK with TBARTA bill, now before full Senate

Officials had high hopes for a bill to reconfigure Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).

Those same officials are now expressing some contentment following an amendment from the bill’s original sponsor, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.

The legislation would change TBARTA’s name from the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, and reduce the number of counties involved in addressing the region’s traffic issues.

It has been a top priority of the Tampa Bay area business establishment, specifically the Tampa Bay Partnership.

But there were major concerns expressed by the bill’s supporters last week after the measure significantly weakened by an amendment filed by Tampa Bay Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes. That amendment required that any proposed rail project coming out of the newly formed transit agency would need approval by each county’s Metropolitan Planning Agency as well as the Legislature itself.

Latvala produced a new version of the bill Thursday, with the MPO’s and the Legislature’s approval only required for state funding of rail projects.

“I think the intention of the previous changes were not to insert any new processes or roadblocks to any kind of transit but was really a statement by Brandes and Lee to reinforce the steps that were necessary to consider light rail in Tampa Bay,” says Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

“And so what I think that Sen. Latvala has done with his amendment is to reinforce that the intent is to underline these important steps, but not to create new steps in the process, things like feasibility studies, approval by the MPO, an act by the Legislature,” Homans adds.

“All of these steps if state funding is involved in a rail project, are important steps to take, and this bill as it delineates and outlines that rigorous process that the community has to go thru if it’s going to seek state funds for rail in Tampa Bay.”

The bill originally included only Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in the new TBARTA, but later Manatee was counted in the bill. Last week’s amendment inserted Hernando County into the bill, making it almost as large as TBARTA’s initial seven-county focus. Hernando is still on the bill.

Homans spins that as a win, saying this brings in some influential Tampa Bay-area Senators into the mix.

“On the political front, this is a project for the Tampa Bay Legislative Delegation, and this brings Wilton Simpson and Bill Galvano into the process,” he says, “and they have a stake in the success of the future of our regional transportation system … I think that it’s important that were all working on this together.

“Having Manatee and Hernando at the table shows how this is a region that’s connected and we all have a stake in building this transit system,” he says.

The Partnership has been a driving force behind the legislation. They paid for a study conducted by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation on a regional structure for transportation planning, operations, and decision-making is that was presented to the entire Bay Area Legislative Delegation in February.

Homans credits his team of lobbyists, including Ryan Patmintra, Ron Pierce and Seth McKeel with discussions over the past week with Senators Latvala, Lee and Brandes as helping to come together on the bill.

“What’s going forward (today) is a win for Tampa Bay,” he says. “And it’s a team effort on the part of the legislative delegation.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the TBARTA bill Friday, where it will then go to the House, where the companion bill is sponsored by Plant City’s Dan Raulerson.

‘People’s Climate March’ rallies set for Saturday in Florida, U.S.

On Saturday, several “People’s Climate March” rallies will take place in Washington D.C., Tampa, Miami and across Florida and country.

In anticipation of those events, Organize Florida Education Fund and the Center for Popular Democracy released a report Thursday on how Florida’s infrastructure burdens women of color and their families.

“The risks of Florida’s energy infrastructure are not distributed evenly throughout the state but are concentrated in a handful of counties with significant populations of uninsured women of color, many of whom work in low-wage jobs, exposing those with the most limited resources to the greatest risk of injury and illness,” reads the report, called, The High Costs of Florida’s Energy Infrastructure — Burdening Women of Color and their Families.

The report lays the blame on Florida lawmakers who they say have failed to act to expand health care access or improve job quality in the state’s two dominant industries: tourism and hospitality, “both of which tend to offer low wages and little to no benefits.”

The report concentrates on Florida’s low-wage economy in the Orlando and Tampa markets.

 “In this report, we try to lay out how that plays out and make some recommendation for policies that help to mitigate those effects,” says Michele Kilpatrick, a researcher from the Center for Popular Democracy.

Among those policy proposals included in the report are:

— Subsidizing the fortification and repair of homes in low-income communities threatened by intense storms that the report says are “caused by climate change.”

— Following the lead of California in establishing stringent standards for power plant emissions.

— Aggressively enforce environmental protection and occupational health standards in the energy industry, including requiring energy companies to invest in infrastructure maintenance and early warning systems to detect leaks and spills, and insisting on adequate safeguards for new construction.

— Establish programs to encourage primary care physicians to serve underserved populations expand Medicaid eligibility.

— Increase Florida’s minimum wage to support working families and rigorously investigate and prosecute of wage theft.

Meanwhile, the rally in Tampa is scheduled 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Lykes Gaslight Park. The demonstration then moves to MacDill Park, which will host local art installations and climate science exhibits.

In St. Petersburg, a rally will take place between 10:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m. at Mirror Lake, 654 Mirror Lake Dr. N.

For a list of all related events in Florida, check out the list here.

Teachers, activists in Tampa blast ‘schools of hope’ legislation

Two weeks ago, the Florida House spent more than three hours debating a bill to attract specialized, high-performing charter schools to Florida as an alternative to struggling public schools.

On Thursday, with time running out in the 2017 Session, teacher union officials, educators and activists denounced the controversial $200 million spending plan (HB 1505) at a news conference outside of Essrig Elementary School in northwest Tampa.

“Diverting $200 million in our taxpayer money away from our children’s public schools to unaccountable private companies is a terrible plan,” said Michelle Prieto, the Tampa coordinator of the group Mi Familia Vota. “The job of these legislators should be to assure equal access to properly funded education. This bill fails that test miserably.”

Republicans overwhelmingly support the “schools of hope” measure as a way to break the cycle of poverty in low-income communities. They say that these specialized charter operators will use innovative techniques that have been proven to work in other areas.

The bill, a favorite of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, would provide the infrastructure to allow out-of-state specialized charters to create new schools in communities with public schools graded “D” or “F” for three or more years that also receive Title I funds.

“Did you know that public schools have mandated curriculum, and charters don’t?” asked Nicole Bond, a parent of a first-grader in the Pinellas County school system. “Did you know that teachers in public schools are required to have degrees to teach, and in this charter proposal, they wouldn’t have to?”

Debbie King is the mother of a daughter who attends Hillsborough High School, a former Pasco County high school science teacher, and now is an organizer with the activist group Organize Florida. She acknowledged that Hillsborough County schools have a “lot of issues,” which begins and ends with inadequate funding.

King was recently asked to buy toilet paper that she said was needed at Seminole Heights Elementary School.

“That is absurd,” King said. “There is not funding for recess. There is not funding for toilet paper, but all of a sudden, there’s $200 million for our taxpayer money to give away to private charter schools with no accountability to our Legislature, our families or our children.”

Speakers at the event mentioned other education bills they believe would remedy problems with Florida’s education system more efficiently. One such bill is SB 1552 by Altamonte Springs Republican David Simmons which would encourage school turnaround efforts in which districts extend their school days by at least an hour, provide students with wraparound services, or give charter-like autonomy to their principals.

Newly elected Hillsborough County School Board member Lynn Gray championed Florida public schools, saying that she’d like for Gov. Rick Scott to fund programs that work, like the Tampa Schools international baccalaureate program.

“We have great public magnet schools that could use funding as well as new public schools dedicated to STEM and STEAM,” Gray said. “But, instead those programs and schools are likely to be on the chopping block if ‘Schools of Hope’ passes, and instead a few millionaires who are politically connected and run for-profit schools will get our tax dollars intended for our children and the public school teachers the resources they need to do their job.”

Florida has always been in the bottom five states in funding public education, noted Jean Clements, the president of the Hillsborough County Teachers Association. The $200 million plan for charters is “particularly disturbing,” she said.

Without a true Senate companion, the bill is expected to be hammered out in House-Senate budget negotiations within the next week.

Florida Young Democrats to hold annual meeting in Tampa next month

Florida Young Democrats will hold their annual convention in Ybor City, just outside downtown Tampa, on May 19-21.

Speakers and panelists include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Florida House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, Winter Park State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, former State Rep. Ed Narain, felon rights restoration activist Desmond Meade, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp.

Training sessions will cover transit initiatives in the Tampa Bay region, criminal justice reform, how to connect with newly activated progressives, and how to run for office.

“There is a renewed excitement in the Democratic Party,” said Ricky Nettina, president of the Florida Young Democrats. “We hope to bottle up that energy at the 2017 FYD Convention and push it to make progressive change in our own communities”.

“The Hillsborough County Young Democrats (HCYD) are excited to host the 2017 FYD State Convention. Hillsborough and the surrounding counties are essential for developing Democratic leadership in Florida,” said Alvin Jin, Ph.D., president of HCYD. “We look forward to sharing the history of our city with young Democrats from across the state, and encouraging them to get involved locally to shape the current and future direction of the party,” he continued.

 

Rick Kriseman, Cross-Bay Ferry get mixed reviews from Tampa City Council

A year ago, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman requested and received $350,000 from the local governments of Tampa, Hillsborough County, Pinellas County and his own City Council to help fund the Cross-Bay Ferry public-private pilot project that ends Sunday.

While those local governments won’t get close to that money back — they were never expected to — but final totals could end up bringing as much as $30,000 back to those local governments.

Speaking before the Tampa City Council today for twenty minutes Thursday, Kriseman made a similar presentation as he did last week before the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners. But the reaction was a little rockier.

“I’m getting 10 percent of the original investment, if all the numbers are correct,” said Councilman Charlie Miranda. “So I lose 90 percent of my money, of the citizen’s money that I have to deal with.”

“I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to vote for private enterprise,” Miranda continued, alluding to the fact that the ferry is operated by HMS Ferries, Inc.

Councilman Frank Reddick‘s response was even harsher.

Reddick blasted the mayor for failing to market the ferry to the black community, and said the $5 fare was still too expensive (originally, it was $10).

“I always believe that government cannot pay the costs for all of these services,” said Reddick, comparing the city’s funding of a private ferry to the GOP-led state Legislature spending $200 million on charter schools. “That bothers me.”

Kriseman said the ferry was never supposed to be a solution to the region’s transit problems, but as a “tool” to provide an alternative way of getting people to connect across Tampa Bay. He didn’t intend to come back in a year to request another $350,000 from the council.

Answering Reddick’s criticism about marketing, the mayor said that with only a $75,000 marketing budget, options were limited.

Other council members embraced the concept.

“I don’t expect when we make an investment like this that it is going to pay for itself,” said Councilman Harry Cohen. “What I expect is that it’s going to give us — as you did today — some reliable markers that we can look at to see what we can expect in terms of ridership and revenue in the future.”

Cohen says that he could see how the Cross-Bay Ferry could be an avenue for the much-delayed Hillsborough County proposed public-private partnership ferry plan to take passengers from South County to MacDill Air Force Base to pay for itself. The success of the Cross-Bay Ferry has re-energized Hillsborough commissioners into seeing that project reach fruition, though it still has a long way to go.

“When you start a business, you don’t get a return on day one, or a few months later,” said Councilman Guido Maniscalco, who said he wished the ferry service could continue beyond this Sunday’s cutoff date, since the attendance has grown month-over-month.

Council members Yolie Capin and Luis Viera also spoke out in s support of Kriseman and the ferry.

As of the end of March, more than 31,000 people had ridden on the ferry, with organizers hoping the total number could hit 40,000 before the project’s completion in four days.

Christian Ulvert says he is ‘seriously considering’ run for SD 40 seat

Democratic political consultant Christian Ulvert says is seriously considering a run the Senate District 40 seat left vacant with the resignation of Frank Artiles.

“I’ve had a greater calling to serve in public office just because of the issues and the work that I do,” Ulvert told FloridaPolitics Thursday morning, just before he was scheduled to get on a plane to attend a family wedding out of state.

Ulvert says since Artiles announced he was stepping down last Friday, there’s been a chain of events of friends, colleagues and his husband asking him why doesn’t he step up and run for the seat.

It would be a new role for the man recently named one of the best political campaign professionals under 40.

The 35-year-old Miami-Dade native has been working most recently with Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is still in the ‘testing the waters’ phase of a potential run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

Ulvert served as political director for the Florida Democratic Party from 2013 until last fall, and is the founder and president of EDGE Communications, a political consulting firm.

Prior to his launch as a political and media consultant, Ulvert served the Florida House of Representatives Democratic Caucus as communications director and policy advisor to House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber during his two-year leadership term, and worked with Gelber during his campaign against Pam Bondi for Attorney General in 2010.

Ulvert said that if he is to run, he would center his campaign on three main issues – public education, health care and affordable housing. “Those are three things that I’ve faced personally and I can present a strong narrative to and talk to voters and really empathize and bring authenticity to the message because I’m living it,” he says. “I have lived it.”

If he pulls the trigger, Ulvert certainly won’t be the only Democrat to enter the race. House District 114’s Daisy Baez is also reportedly considering a run, and may rely on Florida Democratic Party staffer Dan Newman to launch candidacy, although Newman told FP that he will not be leaving the party.

Ulvert says he’ll contemplate his decision over the weekend, then meet with Democratic officials in Tallahassee next week (he says he’s already conferred with Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon).  “The most important thing is to have a Democrat represent the district,” he says.

Governor Rick Scott has yet to announce a special election to fill the Senate District 40 seat, a majority Hispanic district that covers part of inland Miami-Dade County. Scott could announce a primary for the election as soon as June with the general election taking place in August.

Or he could go another route. Local elections in Hialeah, Miami and Miami Beach, the three largest municipalities in Miami-Dade, are taking place this August and September. Though none of those cities are in SD 40, it could make some sense to hold the primary and general at the same time as those cities. However, with the Legislature meeting in January of next year, committee meetings would be starting in the fall, well in advance of a November election.

Although Artiles defeated Democrat Dwight Bullard by ten percentage points last fall, it’s also a district that voted plus-10 in favor of Barack Obama in 2012 and carries a slight edge for Democrats in voter registrations.

Artiles stepped down from his seat last Friday morning, less than 72 hours after the Miami Herald first reported that he invoked the N-word to two black colleagues of the Legislature in a private conversation earlier in the week. The resignation came after the Herald then began asking questions later in the week about why his political committee had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as consultants.

Rick Baker not yet ready to talk publicly about challenging Rick Kriseman

With speculation fire that Rick Baker could announce another run for St. Petersburg Mayor as soon as next week, one could assume he’d show some leg on his political future during an appearance Wednesday at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

Well, you know what they say about assuming …

Instead of taking about his political future, Baker did what he’s done nonstop for the past two months: making the case for voters to support a referendum giving Bill Edwards — his boss — a 25-year lease at Al Lang Field

Edwards would then expand capacity of the venerable park, making it viable for the Tampa Bay Rowdies to join Major League Soccer, the leading soccer league in the U.S.

And while that might be interesting enough, if there was any doubt about the worthiness of the project, the fact is, there is scant organized opposition to an issue that involves no taxpayer money. Edwards and his investors are footing the $250,000 cost of the May 2 special election, as well as approximately $80 million for expansion of Al Lang from its current 7,000 seat capacity to 18,000.

For the record, Baker was asked three times (in one fashion or another) to discuss his potential candidacy for mayor, a job he held 2001-2009. All three times, he chose to initially act as if he hadn’t heard the question.

Instead, Baker went straight to referendum talking points, slyly acknowledging that, in fact, he had heard the question, but wasn’t about to offer anything quotable.

Finally, Baker conceded that any comment not related to the Rowdies would only come after next week’s election.

“Maybe we’ll have that discussion another time,” he said when asked how he would manage the city versus the incumbent, Rick Kriseman. 

Otherwise, it was all Rowdies stadium talk, all the time.

Perhaps the most interesting questions pertained to the stability and trust in Edwards, the Treasure Island entrepreneur who turned BayWalk around and single-handedly boosted the Mahaffey Theater with his financial largesse.

And while he’s continued to spend his money on making the Rowdies a first-class organization, not all is perfect in his world. There’s that legal case about his now-defunct mortgage company, Mortgage Investors Corp., accused of cheating veterans and the public in refinancing VA loans.

“He feels there’s no merit to it and that he’s a veteran himself and he fought in Vietnam and was wounded in the hospital for two years,” Baker said. “He believes he’s going to prevail.”

But activist Vince Cocks wasn’t satisfied with that response. While Edwards said he could personally pay a judgment to the 42 investors suing him, Cocks asked how would such a result effect the city of St. Petersburg?

“Well, that’s based on speculation,” Baker responded, earlier saying there would need to be a succession plan put in place. He preferred to answer how it would affect the construction of the Al Lang expansion, which wouldn’t be an issue, as the bonding would already be in place.

“People are not going to go out there and get a construction company in there building a stadium without confirmation that there is funding available,” Baker said.

The former mayor began with the 10-minute presentation he’s given to community and neighborhood groups around the city over the past couple of months. Baker provided a monologue on how much the city has developed over the previous three decades, with the Rowdies and the significance of professional soccer on downtown, just the latest element in making the city a great place.

Even if the taxpayers approve the Al Lang expansion next week, construction will remain on hold until the team learns if its MLS bid is accepted, which Baker says probably won’t happen until this December.

Eleven franchises are vying for four slots in MLS.

The criteria to be chosen by the league: a $150 million buy-in to join; reside in a major media market (Tampa Bay is 11th in the nation; Baker noted the Top 10 markets already have an MLS franchise); community support (the Rowdies currently average over 5,000 fans a game) and a stadium with a seating capacity of 18,000, which is what next Tuesday’s vote will decide.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons