Mitch Perry - 3/305 - 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

Tampa City Council members went to National League of Cities meeting last week. It didn’t go well

Last week, a group of Tampa City Council members flew to Washington for the National League of Cities’ annual Congressional City Conference, the first held in the Donald Trump administration.

It was not very encouraging, at least for the three Democrats.

“The consensus of the participants was fear, primarily of the unknown,” said Council Chair Mike Suarez.

The meetings took place concurrently to the unveiling of Trump’s proposed federal budget, which eliminates funding for the HOME Investment Partnership Program, which provides grants for low-income people to buy or rehabilitate homes, and the Choice Neighborhoods program, which provides grants to organizations attempting to revitalize neighborhoods.

It also would get rid of the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which Suarez says “will severely hamper the city’s ability to provide help to our citizens.”

The proposed budget cuts also include removing the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, set up by the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package to provide an extra injection of cash for surface transportation projects. That program has distributed more than $5 billion for more than 400 projects, including Tampa’s Riverwalk.

Councilwoman Yolie Capin said the trip was expensive and what she mostly got out of “was all pretty bad news.”

“We’re pretty much on our own, the cities are, that’s what I got from it,” she said, adding that “it was my first League of Cities National Convention, and probably my last.”

Suarez says he served on a panel at the conference on the deductibility of Municipal Bonds, which, if eliminated, “would reduce the number of projects cities could fund and make our borrowing more expensive.”

Councilman Harry Cohen has also attended the conference during Obama’s term. He says it was a lot different last week.

“During the Obama years, the administration sent many top officials to speak to and interact with the elected officials from cities across the country,” he wrote in a text. “We heard from Vice President [JoeBiden, the head of the EPA, cabinet secretaries, etc. They were interested in and engaged with what was happening in America’s cities. This year, the only confirmed speaker from the administration was Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who ultimately canceled (EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt did speak at the event). Other than a few holdovers, we were totally ignored. They had nothing to say to us and they made no effort to pretend otherwise.”

Suarez says he remains hopeful that the Trump administration will give a boost to the cities when he releases his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan. But there are some concerns now that with the President and the congress fixated on health care currently and a major tax overhaul later this year, that infrastructure plan may not happen as intended.

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there,” Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor told this week. “So his rhetoric is not matching what he promised.”

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the White House is targeting “inefficient programs” and will shift funds into “more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”

Four St. Petersburg City Council members announce support for Rick Kriseman’s re-election

With the hire of a campaign manager earlier this week, Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign is in full swing, more than seven months before Election Day.

Four members of the St. Petersburg City Council — Chair Darden Rice along with Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, Amy Foster and Charlie Gerdes — announced Wednesday that they are endorsing the mayor.

“Councilmembers Rice, Wheeler-Bowman, Foster, and Gerdes have been great allies for progress on our city council,” Kriseman said in a statement. “I have worked closely with each of them to fund solutions to our infrastructure challenges, move the new Pier forward, keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Pete, and bring economic opportunities to South St. Pete. They are dedicated to making our entire city a better place to live, work and play.”

“Mayor Kriseman cares,” said Rice, who introduced the mayor at the campaign kickoff event for his re-election in late January. “We don’t always agree, but we always find solutions to the biggest challenges facing our city. With the mayor’s leadership, we have taken action on significant issues that past administrations looked past or did not solve.”

“I have worked side-by-side with the mayor to fight for my district” added Wheeler-Bowman, the Council vice-chair. “I especially applaud Mayor Kriseman’s leadership on public safety. From hiring Anthony Holloway to be our police chief to identifying the funds for a new station to bringing back community-oriented policing and working to keep the wrong guns out of the wrong hands, I trust the mayor’s vision for our future.”

Kriseman’s campaign announced earlier this week that he has raised $260,000 so far in his campaign, giving him a substantial head start against his opponents.

Three people — Paul Congemi, Jesse Nevel and Anthony Cates III — have announced their candidacies. All eyes remain fixated on whether former Mayor Rick Baker will enter the contest. Baker has said he is considering a run.

Kathy Castor says GOP health care bill getting worse as vote approaches

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor says that the House Republican health care bill “is actually getting worse” as it gets amended to try to win over more conservative votes in Congress.

“Trumpcare will be devastating to Florida families, and Speaker Ryan is desperately trying to ram this bill through the U.S. House before the American people understand the impact,” Castor said in a statement issued Tuesday. “Trumpcare rips insurance coverage away from millions of Americans, including at least 1.7 million in Florida who have gained coverage, and increases costs on everyone. It includes larger cuts to Alzheimer’s patients, the disabled, children and families who rely on Medicaid and larger tax breaks for the wealthy.

“Rather than improve health care for my older neighbors and listen to our concerns, Republicans made no change to help people age 50-64 keep their coverage.  In fact, premiums for our older neighbors are poised to increase by thousands of dollars so that coverage is simply out of reach.”

Castor made those comments after House Republicans made changes to the legislation late Monday night to win over more conservative voices in the GOP House caucus.

Among the key changes she says is making the legislation worse include prohibiting states like Florida from expanding Medicaid at the enhanced federal matching rate; allowing states the option of imposing work requirements for Medicaid (even though the majority of adults on Medicaid are already working); allowing states a block grant option for Medicaid, which health care experts warn poses the same dangerous risks for states and beneficiaries as the previous bad provision; and, accelerating getting millions in tax breaks into the hands of those wealthy few.

“Trumpcare would already be the largest transfer of wealth from working families to the rich in our nation’s history. After stealing health coverage from millions of families, and billions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare, the Republicans hand $600 billion in tax giveaways to the rich and big corporations. In fact, the Republican bill gives $2.8 billion to the 400 richest families in America each year,” Castor added.

The vote on the American Health Care Act will take place Thursday.

There is still considerable doubt about whether the Republicans will get the votes they need to pass the legislation through the House.

Also, there appear to be too many Republican senators currently who would not vote for the bill in its current form.

Bill to eliminate sanctuary cities in Florida moves through another House committee

Legislation banning sanctuary city policies moved through another Florida House committee Tuesday.

Yalaha Republican Rep. Larry Metz‘s bill (HB 697) would force any “sanctuary city” or county in Florida to remove all formal or informal policies shielding undocumented immigrants from federal custody. It passed the House Subcommittee on Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs on a 9-5 vote on Tuesday.

The legislation would fine local governments that don’t comply with immigration officers between $1,000 to $5,000 a day. It requires local officials to report violations, but exempts employees of school districts and educational records. The proposal leaves local officials open to being sued if a Florida resident is injured by an undocumented immigrant because of a sanctuary policy.

Cities and law enforcement agencies would also be barred from having laws or policies blocking communication with federal immigration agents.

Taxpayers would have to foot the bill for enforcing federal immigration policies — with no guarantee of federal reimbursement.

“We are very very concerned that the underlying bill is unconstitutional,” warned Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, who offered up seven different amendments to the bill, all of which were shot down by the GOP-controlled committee. He said that detainer requests “are not worth the paper that they are printed on.”

Smith said that there are 925,000 undocumented immigrants in Florida, and they have constitutional rights. “This bill violates their constitutional rights. Their presence, while it may be unlawful, is not a criminal act. It is a civil violation,” he said.

Miami Democrat Daisey Baez, a native from the Dominican Republican and a solider with the U.S. Army, said that it was a hostile environment when she served as a young soldier in Central Texas when she spoke limited English, but “I have never felt as unwanted and as vilified as I have felt now,” she said as her voice broke. “We are not criminals.”

Baez called the legislation “misguided,” and an example of “big government, of paranoia and persecution. That is not the nation that we are.”

“This is a terrible bill,” added Belle Glade Democrat Joseph Abruzzo.

For such a controversial and sensitive issue, the debate was mostly civil. Mostly.

“This is one step towards Nazism in the United States,” said Gail Perry with the Communications Workers of America.

In his closing statement, Metz said that his grandparents were immigrants from Germany, but that it was important to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration.

“It’s very important to recognize the rule of law in our country,” he said. “We’re simply saying cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement efforts, so that we can have seamless enforcement of the rule of law.”

In late January, President Trump signed an executive order pulling all federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal officials looking to weed out and deport undocumented people. A day after that announcement, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez signed an order demanding that Miami-Dade County’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation comply with every aspect of Trump’s plan.

The legislation is being sponsored in the Senate by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean (SB 786). Abruzzo predicted it would die in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Bill creating Tampa Bay area transit authority gets first hearing in Legislature

Legislation that would refigure the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) had its first hearing in the Florida Legislature, where it became clear changes may be needed if its to pass.

The bill was introduced by Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala earlier this month, and is being sponsored in the House by Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson. The bill (HB 1243) creates a regional transit agency that would alter TBARTA by giving it direction to plan, implement and operate multimodal transit options throughout the region. It would coordinate plans among member counties and prioritize regionally-significant projects. And it designates TBARTA as the recipient of federal funds for any intercounty or major one-county project.

The fact that there would be one more board member coming from the private sector bothered some officials on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which discussed the bill on Tuesday. The board would consist of 13 members, three of whom would be selected by the Governor. The Senate President and Speaker of the House would get two selections. The four counties would select one representative; there would be one representative from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).

“I think part of the issue is we want to have some private expertise on the board,” Raulerson said. “Currently we have a vast majority of elected officials on TBARTA. What we’re attempting to do is say, ‘Look, let’s have a balance.'”

St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton and Tampa Republican Jackie Toledo both expressed reservations about there being more members from the private sector than elected officials on the agency. Raulerson said he was open to discussing that, but felt that there was a chance that the representatives from HART and PSTA would likely be an elected official anyway.

Toledo also questioned why there would be no member from the Florida Dept. of Transportation on the proposed board. Raulerson said the purpose of the legislation was to “unclutter the process and make sure that going forward we have an effective governance policy,” adding however that he would be open to adding an FDOT representative to the board.

Unlike TBARTA, however, it would only encompass four counties –  Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee.

Hudson Republican Amber Mariano asked Raulerson why it had been reduced from seven. Raulerson said it was to  “narrow the focus,” because the existing structure of TBARTA “hasn’t resulted in what we want.” He later said that there is a possibility of adding Hernando County to the agency.

“This bill gives me pause,” Newton said, referring to the fact that Tampa Bay voters have rejected recent tax referendums on transit. “I don’t see how changing a board is going to do that.”

The bill is considered the number one priority of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

“Transportation is the greatest economic challenge facing our region today,” said Rhea Law, Chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership and Chair, Florida Offices at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. “Our limited transit options and lack of regional connectivity inhibit our residents’ access to jobs, our businesses’ access to workers, and the efficient movement of goods and commerce that drive economic growth. This legislation is a critical first step to creating a seamless regional transit system that successfully addresses these issues. We thank the sponsor, Rep. Dan Raulerson, and the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, which includes Bay Area Legislative Delegation members Rep. Amber Mariano, Rep. Ralph Massullo, Rep. Wengay Newton and Rep. Jackie Toledo, for recognizing the importance of this bill and allowing it to move forward through the legislative process. Their actions today encouraged continued discussion and allow for future efforts to improve the bill.”

The bill will get its first hearing in the Senate on Wednesday in the Transportation Committee.

Giddy up, Floridians tell pollster about implementation of medical marijuana initiative

As the Florida Legislature continues to debate the implementation of a popular medical marijuana initiative, voters believe the state is moving too slow in doing so, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The survey by nationally-recognized pollster Tony Fabrizio of Fabrizio, Lee & Associates found that 44 percent of Floridians believe the implementation of Amendment 2 is going too slowly, compared to 30 percent who think the state is moving at the right clip. Just 9 percent think it is going too fast.

Those who voted for Amendment 2 are even more likely to feel the state is taking too long, with 57% saying it is going too slowly compared to only 30% who think the state is moving at the right speed.

Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature get poor marks on their efforts to implement the bill. A total of 34 percent support how Scott is acting on the issue, with 41 percent opposing. Amongst the Legislature, 37 percent them and 40 percent oppose.

“We hope the Legislature will respect the wisdom of the people and fight the bait-and-switch game recreational proponents are playing,” said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Smart Medicine for Florida. “Passage and implementation of Amendment 2 should never be about recreational use or putting pot shops on every corner.”

There was intense criticism from the public when the state Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use held public hearings on the issue earlier this year.

Regarding the number of medical marijuana dispensaries that will be accessible, those polled say that they believe the measure would limit the number of dispensaries, by a 54 percent to 30 percent margin. The poll does not specify any number of dispensaries.

There are currently campaign efforts to get a constitutional amendment before the voters next year to legalize marijuana outright, but the poll shows that measure is nowhere close to getting the 60 percent margin required for passage. 48 percent oppose the legalization of pot for everyone, and 46 percent support it. Amongst Amendment 2 supporters, the measure gets strong support, with 6o percent in support and 34 percent opposing.

The poll by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates was conducted February 28, 2017 through March 2, 2017, and polled 800 Floridians who self-identified as having voted in the 2016 General Election.  The margin of error at the 95 percent confidence interval is +3.46%.

David Jolly headlining fundraiser for House candidate Berny Jacques this Thursday

Although the 2018 election is more than a year-and-a-half away, House District 66 candidate Berny Jacques is working hard to procure support well in advance of the campaigning for his first run for public office.

On Monday, City of Seminole Councilmember Trish Springer announced that she is backing Jacques in the race to succeed Republican Larry Ahern, who is term limited out next year.

“Berny has done a great job serving on the City of Seminole Developmental Review Board,” Springer said in a statement issued out by Jacques. “I am confident that he will also do a great job for the people of Seminole as our State Representative.”

“I’m honored to receive the endorsement of Councilor Trish Springer,” Jacques said. “Councilor Springer has brought great value to our community as a businesswoman, in civic organizations, and now as a member of the City Council. I am excited about the opportunity.”

Jacques also announced on Monday that he’ll be holding a fundraiser for his emerging campaign this Thursday, March 23, at the Island Way Grill in Clearwater at 5:30 p.m., with special guests former Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly and his wife, Laura Jolly.

The 29-year-old Jacques is a former Pinellas County prosecutor now working as an attorney in the private sector in St. Petersburg. He’ll be running again at least one other Republican to get the nomination for the seat next year, as Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Nick DiCeglie has also announced that he will be filing paperwork to run for the seat, which includes parts of  Clearwater, Largo, Seminole as well as beach communities from Indian Shores to Belleair Beach.

Rick Kriseman taps Jacob Smith to lead re-election campaign

Jacob Smith will serve as campaign manager for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election campaign.

Smith worked in Democratic politics going back to his freshman year at the University of Florida in 2008 when he volunteered for Barack Obama‘s effort in Florida. He also worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign in Southwest Florida.

His most recent job was working as the Michigan organizing director for the Hillary Clinton campaign last year. He began working for the Clinton campaign in April of 2015 as a regional organizing director in New Hampshire, then moved on to Maine and Illinois. He later was selected as organizing director in Indiana and Northern California.

This isn’t Smith’s time working with Kriseman. He served as the field director for Kriseman’s successful 2013 campaign for mayor in St. Pete and then moved on to serve as the field director for Alex Sink’s bid for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat against David Jolly in early 2014. He then went on to work as field director for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014.

“Being a part of the team that elected Mayor Kriseman was an incredible experience,” Smith said. “I’m honored that the mayor asked me to be a part of it again. The mayor has accomplished a lot over the last 3 years. We’re excited to talk about how far St. Petersburg has come under Mayor Kriseman’s leadership.”

Philip Levine comes to Tampa but insists he’s still not a sure thing to run for Governor

Despite the fact that he was speaking to a Tampa Bay-area Democratic Executive Committee on Monday night, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants you to know that he is not a candidate for Governor in 2018. Not yet, anyway.

“I’m very undecided. I’m going around the state talking about what I think is important and listening,” he began in addressing the Hillsborough County DEC at the Letter Carriers Hall in Tampa. “One thing I know is you’re the customer, and if you listen to the customer, you’ll understand what you need to do and what’s necessary.”

If that sounds like something a businessman would say, Levine would probably take that as a compliment. He made a fortune as a cruise ship magnate before opting to utilize his political science degree from the University of Michigan to run for Mayor of Miami Beach in 2013, where he’s since become a leader on combating climate change.

“The Democratic Party has historically been the party of working men and women,” he said. “I think it’s important that we learn from our past. Let’s start having candidates who have actually worked,” he said to sustained cheers. He said it could be a bartender, busboy, teacher or technician, but he said that people should for office who have some real life work experience.

Levine began his twenty-minute address by talking about his upbringing, and how he ultimately decided to run for office.

“Some people get swept into office, I got floated into office in Miami Beach,” he said about his decision early on in his mayoralty to do something about sea level rise. Levine got down to work on the issue immediately, and ended up raising stormwater taxes to the tune of $400 million on valves, pumps and raised roads from the public. That effort landed Levine national recognition in places like Vanity Fair and the New York Times, as well as a documentary with Leonardo DiCaprio called Before the Flood.”

“I play the Mayor of Miami Beach. It was a tough role,” Levine joked.

Levine also spent time talking about reforming his police department, which he said lacked leadership before he took over. He said he changed the culture when he hired Dan Oakes, the former police chief in Ann Arbor and Aurora, Colorado.

“When you run for office and you tell the police you’re going to make all kinds of changes, you’re not very popular,” he said. “Needless to say, I didn’t get any endorsements there.”

The other milestone that Levine has done to distinguish him statewide is challenge Governor Rick Scott by passing the first minimum living wage to $13.31 last year, becoming the first city in the state to do so. He said while Democrats are embracing the concept of raising the minimum/living wage, he says it’s actually a conservative principal. “You can’t live on $8.10 an hour. So who’s paying for these people to live? The taxpayers, with social services.”

Levine was in all in for Hillary Clinton , and boasted about being the rare Democrat to appear regularly on Fox News last year as a surrogate. In doing so, he was able to speak to all voters, which he inferred Democrats need to do more of.

“It’s important for us to be represented on Fox,” he said, “we have to reach out, it has to be all inclusive in order to win elections.”

Levine commented on the Enterprise Florida/Visit Florida issue dominating the news cycle in Tallahassee so far in the legislative session. In emphasizing his business worldview, he said it should be renamed “Entrepreneur Florida.”

“Why isn’t NASA the new Silicon Valley of our state?” he asked. He also said that every Florida student should be able to attend college, “Whether they can afford it or not,” without explaining how that plan might be paid for.

He also mourned the loss of film incentives to lure Hollywood productions to the Sunshine State, bemoaning the fact that Georgia now hosts so many film and television productions. “Why would you want to kick out an industry that somehow brings great jobs?”

“I think they’re going to fund Governor Scott’s next campaign,” he joked, saying that state leaders there are grateful for the state leadership’s failure to replenish that incentive program.

Levine took questions after his speech. He told one citizen that even though he possesses a concealed weapons permit, he believes assault weapons should be banned, earning applause.

He said his one of his biggest pet peeves out of Tallahassee is how the Legislature likes to wrestle local control away from city and county governments.

He was a little shakier when asked to weigh in on Rick Scott’s decision to remove Orlando/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s from the Markeith Loyd case in Orlando, after she announced last week she would not pursue the death penalty against the alleged cop killer.

Levine said he wasn’t an attorney, but thought maybe the governor overstepped his boundaries. But then he went on to say that Scott was taking his marching orders from the Trump administration, and then referred to Trump’s mass firing of 46 U.S. Attorneys earlier this month. He then somehow segued into saying that it was a crazy time, and that it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat, “we’re all Americans,” eliciting applause, though it was sort of a crazy ending to the question.

Levine’s appearance in Tampa shows that the unofficial campaign for 2018 has begun. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was in Tampa on Saturday, and attorney John Morgan is scheduled to address a Tiger Bay event in the city later this month.

Gus Bilirakis all in on GOP health care proposal

Gus Bilirakis is sticking to his guns.

After holding three town hall meetings earlier this year, the Tarpon Springs Republican congressman heard strong (and on occasion, impassioned) comments by some constituents urging him not support a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

But Bilirakis stayed consistently clear that he supported killing Obamacare.

So, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that he intends to support the House Republican health care plan when it comes up for a vote later this week.

“The American Health Care Act is the best answer to replace the unsustainable Affordable Care Act and put our nation’s health care system on a viable path,” he said in a statement released Monday. “It will lower premiums, save taxpayers billions of dollars, and give patients more options for care. I do believe more must be done within the bill to help Americans in their 50s and 60s with health care costs, and I recently brought these concerns to House leadership and committee members.”

In his heated town hall meetings held in New Port Richey, Oldsmar and Wesley Chapel, Bilirakis faced strong opposition for his support to repeal the ACA. He won media plaudits by standing the rhetorical line of fire from impassioned advocates for maintaining the current health care law.

But Bilirakis was steadfast in saying he would support a Republican health care alternative, once offered up. And he says he will fight for lower costs.

“Throughout this legislative process, which began in January, I’ve held three in-person town halls, a telephone town hall, a roundtable discussion and numerous one-on-one constituent meetings in my district,” he said.

“I consistently fought to make sure my constituents’ views are represented in the American Health Care Act, namely the need to lower costs, increase choices, protect those with pre-existing conditions, keep children on their parent’s insurance, and more,” Bilirakis added. “As the bill comes up for a vote in the House this week, I will continue these efforts to ensure we better assist the millions of Americans who are not yet eligible for Medicare.”

The bill is on the schedule of the House of Representatives for a vote Thursday.


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