Mitch Perry - 5/324 - 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

Activists express concern about transparency of Tampa CRC meeting Wednesday

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) stops in Tampa Wednesday for public comments on potential changes to the state Constitution.

However, progressive groups are once again calling upon the Rules Working Group to improve what they say is a lack of transparency in how the CRC conducts these meetings.

The Constitution Revision Commission is a group of 37 people appointed to review and recommend changes to the Florida Constitution. Every 20 years, the Commission examines the Florida Constitution, holds public hearings and recommend possible changes to the Constitution, which then goes up for voter consideration.

But a coalition of progressive groups says the proposed draft rules for the Tampa meeting “deviate” from the rules “in some significant ways” compared to earlier CRCs.

In a letter sent Monday to the CRC, the group decries a lack of transparency and respect for Sunshine Rules; a lack of articulated provisions for meaningful public engagement; the potential for leverage and influence over commission members, and an unclear track for approval of proposals.

“Transparency and a clear set of ground rules are essential to the credibility of the CRC. As members of the Rules Working Group, you have an opportunity to enhance public confidence in the work of the CRC,” reads the letter, signed by several officials from groups ranging from the ACLU of Florida, Planned Parenthood, Florida AFL-CIO, Indivisible Tampa Bay and Progress Florida, among others.

The first CRC meeting was in Tallahassee in March. A week later, activists chided the CRC for the lack of transparency in a news conference.

In earlier CRC meetings, citizens have come before the Commission to discuss potential constitutional amendments: opening up of primary elections; requiring that a certain percentage of power generated be from renewable sources; recall initiatives for elected officials and require anyone running for president provide five years of income tax returns.

Chairing the Constitutional Revision Commission is Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff, best known for challenging (and losing) to Marco Rubio in the 2016 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

The CRC meeting will be at Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus DSTU Auditorium, Room 111, at 4001 W. Tampa Bay Blvd. The meeting begins 5 p.m.

Brandi Gabbard qualifies for St Pete City Council race by petition

For St. Petersburg City Council hopeful Brandi Gabbard, there was little doubt she would collect enough signatures to be on the ballot for District 2 this year.

“To me, there was never a question that I would choose to qualify by petition,” Gabbard said in a campaign statement Monday. “This district belongs to the residents and their voices deserve to be heard!”

“I wanted the opportunity to introduce myself, hear their concerns, and earn their support,” she continued. “I am grateful to have had the chance to speak with so many voters since I began this journey on January 23rd. I will continue to walk door-to-door throughout the campaign and hold local events in an effort to connect with as many people as I can face to face. I will work hard to continue to earn their trust and eventually their vote!”

Gabbard, a Realtor who has lived in St. Petersburg since 2003, is vying to succeed term-limited Jim Kennedy. To do so, she will face banker Barclay Harless.

To qualify for the ballot, the Indiana native submitted more than 500 verified petitions to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.

In addition, Gabbard enjoyed her finest month of fundraising last month, bringing in $6,626 for April.

However, Harless continues an overall lead in campaign contributions with $31,655 so far. Gabbard has brought in $22,660 to date.


Rick Baker recognizes previous stances on LGBT community will be campaign issue; Will it make a difference?

Near the end of Rick Baker‘s 36-minute speech announcing a re-election challenge to Mayor Rick Kriseman, the former two-term mayor invoked his mantra of St. Petersburg being a “seamless city” — and that includes the LGBT community.

“A lot has been said about me and the LGBT community by my opponent and by others,” he said on the steps of City Hall last week, without acknowledging why that was an issue when he was mayor and continues now as a candidate. “I want you to know that I believe that the LGBT community is a vital and important part of our community. I believe that when we work together, we have to work together with everyone.”

During Baker’s first go-round as mayor, from 2001-2010, he showed little interest in reaching out to that community.

As St. Petersburg’s annual Gay Pride parade grew to become one of the biggest celebrations of its kind in the entire Southeast, Baker assiduously eschewed attending the event. Nor did he ever hang the Pride flag over City Hall, a gesture Kriseman undertook during his first year in office.

“Personally, I don’t support the general agenda of the Pride event,” Baker told the then-St. Petersburg Times back in 2005. “And there are mixed feelings in the community. I’ve gotten petitions signed by hundreds of people who oppose the festival.”

One day after formally declaring his candidacy, a group of about two dozen activists gathered on those same City Hall front steps to denounce Baker’s historical relationship with the LGBT community.

The event was organized by Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Susan McGrath, a major backer of Kriseman.

“St. Petersburg is not the same city it was 15 years ago, and we don’t need to look any further than the people who’ve been elected to office,” McGrath says, referring to the fact that there are currently three members of the LGBT community that sit on the eight-member City Council.

McGrath acknowledges that while the total population of the LGBT community in the city is “finite,” a much bigger part of the electorate are the citizens that identify as wanting to live in a fair and welcoming city.

“So, if you’re a candidate for office, and you don’t want people to recognize your record on that,” McGrath muses, “I can run a campaign that might be over in August or November. I’m going to try to sweep some things under the carpet so that I don’t lose any more votes than I have to.”

Over the past two years, St. Petersburg’s reputation as an inclusive city for the LGBT community solidified with a top ranking from the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. The score judged municipalities in five categories: nondiscrimination laws, employment policies, city services, law enforcement and municipal leadership.

Organizers of St. Pete Pride say that since the event expanded to three full days, the economic impact has grown from $10-million to over $20-million.

While appreciating the reference to the LGBT community in his speech, some people in St. Petersburg remain skeptical if Baker has evolved on the issue of gay rights, or if it’s more of an election year conversion.

“Is this just for his political gain now that he knows that the LGBT community is a very vital and important part of our community, or is he genuine?” asks Equality Florida member Todd Richardson. He said that in his conversations with people in the LGBT community in the immediate aftermath of his campaign speech, he’s heard some people want to give Baker the benefit of the doubt on his evolution on gay rights and have the opportunity to sit down with him, but others remain dubious when he’s never been willing to do so in the past.

“I go by what someone’s done in the history of representing a city,” adds Ed Lally, a Democratic Party activist. “And he has a giant ‘F’ on his report card for any advancement of LGBT equality.”

Lally says he doesn’t have to question what’s in Kriseman’s heart when it comes to supporting diversity.

Others in the LGBT community aren’t as judgmental.

Jim Jackson is a Democratic Party activist running in the City Council District 6 race this year who stood behind McGrath at Wednesday’s news conference criticizing Baker.

“I was surprised and really encouraged that he would include that (reference to the LGBT community) in the last part of his speech,” Jackson said. “I very carefully listened to that, and after he was done, I went up and thanked him for being inclusionary in that part of his speech.”

“I will tell you that has never been a single time in all of the years that I have known Rick Baker, when my gender, my sexual orientation or any other personal status was at all significant in the way that he interacted with me, either on a professional or personal level,” says Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan, who moved up the ranks in the SPPD during Baker’s two terms as mayor.

“He was always my boss first, but he was also a mentor and a friend. But in every circumstance, he was fair and accepting of who I was. It was simply a non-issue.”

The two bonded, in part, over the fact that they are both parents of adopted children, Bevan says. Baker was one of the first people to contact her after Bevan announced she would be leaving the St. Petersburg Police Department to take the top job in Bradenton.

Chris Eaton, a local business official and former Democratic candidate for City Council and state representative, says the LGBT community vote is not a monolithic one.

“Not all LGBT members go to Pride and march, and not everybody wants to get married,” says Eaton. “Some people are concerned about the arts, and some people are worried about wastewater. Some people are concerned about straight talking honesty coming out of City Hall. And some people are concerned about their tax dollars that might not be fiscally responsible,” he said, reeling off a list of criticisms of Kriseman.

City Council Chair Darden Rice says she hopes that Baker understands that “the ball is in his court” to demonstrate a deeper understanding of why diversity is important.

“He has to go beyond equivocations, go beyond half-hearted statements, and really demonstrate that he understands and cares why this issue is important, and perhaps even acknowledge why some people in the community aren’t quite trusting him on this issue just yet,” Rice says.

“I like Rick Baker. I think he’s a good person,” adds Annie Hiotis, chief operating officer of the Tampa law firm of Carlton Fields. “I think he did some good things when he way mayor, but he certainly didn’t put diversity in the forefront at all, and when you’re the CEO of an institution, you’ve got to make that a priority for a city to reach its full potential.”

One potential opportunity for Baker to demonstrate his bona fides on the issue is to show up at the Pride Parade next month. Another, suggests Lally, is for the former mayor to sit down with Nadine Smith, the head of Equality Florida. “I think that would be a big signal to the LGBT community,” he says.

St. Petersburg-based political strategist Barry Edwards says Baker’s inclusion of LGBT rights in his speech “shows his sensitivity to the issue in the Saint Petersburg of today.”

“However at the end of the day the race for mayor will be decided upon by whom voters feel is a more competent steward of moving St. Petersburg forward,” he says.

Early polling in the Kriseman-Baker race suggests that it will be a close election.

In a city that went for Hillary Clinton last fall with nearly 60 percent of the vote, the demographics favor Kriseman.

In his campaign speech, Baker dismissed partisanship, saying, “that’s all they’ve got,” while betting that deep-seated relations with the electorate and dissatisfaction with the current administration will transcend party affiliation in what is officially considered a nonpartisan race.

HART board members want ‘catalyst’ transit project expedited

Although a potential new transit route connecting people in the Tampa Bay area is still a long way from being a reality, two Hillsborough County Commissioners say that once such a route is identified, it should be built as soon as possible.

That topic came up on Monday at the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) Legislative and Strategic Planning Committee Meeting.

As the search for solutions to improve transportation in the Tampa Bay area slowly moves forward, transit fans received some news last month when five potential routes identified for a future transit system in Tampa Bay were unveiled. Identifying those routes is part of the first step of a much touted regional premium transit feasibility plan in the region being funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Jacobs Engineering is charged with overseeing the report. Last month they identified these five routes as a starting point:

1) Westshore to Brandon

2) Downtown Tampa to USF

3) Wesley Chapel, USF Tampa — St. Petersburg

4) Clearwater, Gateway St. Petersburg

5) South Tampa to downtown Tampa

The Tampa Bay region is defined for this plan as the urbanized areas of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties.

Scott Pringle from Jacobs Engineering told HART board members that his team will soon begin holding public workshops to get more feedback on the proposed routes, with the five projects whittle down to three by this fall.

Step three will focus on how and who are the best projects built, starting next January.

“We’re going to take a step back and fully vet that draft with the community from January to October,” said Pringle. “We’re going to have a lot of outreach at the beginning and spend almost nine months just vetting that.”

“Have you considered adding an element to plan what can be produced the fastest?” asked Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, the chair of the subcommittee.

Murman said that members of the public aren’t willing to wait ten to twenty years to see a transit project be built, and asked if speed to produce a route was a factor in his calculations?

Pringle said that he has thought about an initial “catalyst project” that could generate excitement and would be eligible for federal funding once it was scheduled to be built, adding that the “sense I’m getting is that there might be multiple catalyst projects, and then you start building that network.”

“People really want something more quickly deployed than in decades,” added HART board member and fellow County Commissioner Pat Kemp, adding she hopes that whatever that catalyst project was, it would be “congestion-proof,” a point that Pringle heartily agreed with.

HART board member Kathleen Shanahan wanted to be apprised by Pringle on how many people his agency is communicating with outside of HART and FDOT, saying that “people should know about this study and be able to engage.”

Pringle responded by saying that there has been a business leaders group already formed made up of members of the respective Chambers of Commerce from all three counties, but he agreed with her premise.

“You’re right. We can’t just be talking to ourselves.”

The most immediate step for Jacobs Engineering is a meeting scheduled with the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area Leadership Group (TMA) for Friday, June 2.

Police union leader says morale has improved during Rick Kriseman’s tenure

Although the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association endorsed Rick Kriseman re-election two months ago, a formal press conference touting its backing didn’t take place until Friday – three days after former mayor Rick Baker announced he was challenging the incumbent.

“Senior leadership under the previous administration was one of the main causes of the low morale and tension in the community that we had between some of the police officers and the people that we serve,” said George Lofton, the president of the Suncoast PBA at a press conference at Bartlett Park. “Today under Mayor Kriseman’s administration, we’ve got a renewed vigor in the St. Petersburg’s Police Dept. Our relations with the community are definitely getting stronger and they’re growing everyday.”

Lofton attributed much of the improvement in moral to the selection of Police Chief Tony Holloway, who Kriseman hired as one of his first major decisions.

In his campaign against Bill Foster, Kriseman promised  he would bring back community policing, something that Holloway immediately implemented with his “Park, Walk and Talk” program which designed to get officers more engaged with their beats.

District 7 Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said before Holloway took the reigns of theSPPD, there were serious trust issues between the Midtown community and the police.

“We would see the police riding in our area, windows right up tight,” she said. “Now we have a visual of police officers walking in our neighborhood, speaking to us so that when residents see that, when the police officers come up and talk to them and say ‘Hi,’ that’s relationship building.”

Wheeler-Bowman is backing Kriseman’s bid for a second term and stressed what is becoming a theme of his campaign – that going back to the future with Baker would be a return to when St. Petersburg’s quality of life wasn’t so good, at least for residents in Midtown.

“We can’t go backwards to a City Hall that has not invested in strengthening our police department,” she said. “We can’t go backwards (to an era) that didn’t care if the police and the community worked together to solve crimes and to make everyone safer.”

Since Kriseman took over in January of 2014, crime has decreased by 6 percent, and violent crime dropped by 26 percent. That’s in sync with a national reduction in crime over the past two decades, though the last available report from the St. Petersburg Police Dept. for the first quarter of FY2017 shows a 21 percent increase in crimes from the previous quarter, and a 12 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal year 2016.

Perhaps that’s why Baker told SPB on Tuesday that in his dozens of meetings with neighborhood associations over the past few months, “I’m hearing about the police reports … about the spike in crime going on in the city.”

“You’re going to have fluctuations on a month-to-month basis,” Kriseman said on Friday, but stood behind the overall reduction in crime since he took office.

“We still have a lot of work to do, obviously,” the mayor admitted, but said that it’s not just the enforcement of crime that his administration is working on, but the prevention as well. “We’re doing a lot of things in the community to try to lift people up to reduce poverty, to work on education issues, make sure there are jobs that pay living wages, so that there’s alternatives to crime.”

Chuck Harmon was the Police Chief in St. Petersburg for almost the entire of Baker’s two terms in office. The PBA’s Lofton said that he was the problem that led to such poor morale within the department.

“The previous administration and some of the senior management had their own agenda, and it wasn’t a healthy agenda for the city of St Petersburg as a whole, and it wasn’t  a healthy agenda for the SPPD and that’s what trickled out into the relations between the police Dept. and the community,” said Lofton. He praised Holloway for being a “street cop” who hasn’t forgotten from where he came from.

“He doesn’t sit up in the chief’s office and forget that,” said Lofton. “The morale is better because the relationship between the senior staff and the 911 responders is open and 911 responders see the senior administration and especially the chief and the assistant chiefs now as cops.”

Steve Schale on the night the lights went out on Hillary Clinton in Florida

On Election Night 2016, at approximately 7:45 p.m., Steve Schale was at an Orlando brewpub.

The Democratic strategist opened his laptop to review his state’s election returns.

“It’s in real bad shape,” Schale told Hillary Clinton pollster John Anzalone and campaign consultant Jim Margolis in a phone call.

“What the f**k are you talking about,” Anzalone asked disbelieving, according to “Shattered,” a riveting look behind the scenes of the Clinton campaign.

Shattered is now the No. 1 non-fiction book on the L.A. Times best-seller listand sits at No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list.

“Trump’s numbers weren’t just big, they were unreal,” say co-authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

They write:

“In rural Polk County, smack-dab in the center of the state, Hillary would collect 3,000 more votes than Obama did in 2012 — but Trump would add more than 25,000 to Mitt Romney’s total. In Pasco County, a swath of suburbs north of Tampa-St. Petersburg.

“Trump outran Romney by 30,000 votes. Pasco was one of the counties Schale was paying special attention to because the Tampa area tended to attract retirees from the Rust Belt — folks whose political leanings reflected those of hometowns in the industrial Midwest.

“In particular, Schale could tell, heavily white areas were coming in hard for Trump.”

A couple of paragraphs later, Allen and Barnes note:

“You’re going to come up short,” Schale told Margolis and Anzalone.

The book also reports Schale “set off an alarm bell” — unnecessarily — in the eyes of some of Clinton’s senior aides.

“They demanded to know what data he was using to determine that the race was over so early.”

As the world would learn, of course, Schale was right.

Despite polls saying otherwise, and despite a supposed surge in Latino voters in early voting that was to be the hidden weapon to bring Clinton a victory in Florida, Donald Trump won the Sunshine State by 1.2 percentage points.

When it was clear that Trump would win Florida, other states began falling in line, setting off one of the greatest political upsets in U.S. history.

In an email Thursday, Schale told

“The first returns from Pasco were horrendous, and I initially thought she was done, but very quickly, urban counties came in, and she was well ahead of all the benchmarks.

“She was also doing well in places like Seminole, and her absentee numbers in places like Sarasota and Pinellas were looking fine. Margolis and Anzalone called me at about 7:15 to ask if I was seeing the same thing they were, and I confirmed that I was, and I was cautiously optimistic.

“By about 7:45, the border counties on I-4 — those around the urban ones — started to report more complete returns, and it became pretty clear, when combined with less than robust Election Day returns from the base counties, that she would not go into 8 p.m., when the Central time zone counties report, with a big enough lead to offset what was going to happen there.

“I called those guys back, to tell them she was going to be short in Florida, and the book basically takes it from there.”

In “Shattered,” the authors report that when the Clinton camp learned they would probably lose Florida, they also heard they were losing in North Carolina. They were “keystone states for two of Hillary’s three paths to victory.”

A short time later, Bill Clinton called Craig Smith, the first person hired for Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and the co-founder of Ready for Hillary, the super-PAC formed at the beginning of 2013 to support a Clinton presidential run.

From Shattered:

“’Sorry to be the one to tell you,’ Smith said in an Arkansas drawl echoing the former president’s, ‘but we’re not going to win Florida.’ Bill hung up and called Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was eager to depart Virginia for the victory party at the Javits Center. Don’t bother coming, Bill told him.”

According to a post on his blog after the election, Schale said Clinton had a roughly four-point edge in early voting and vote-by-mail tallies going into Election Day.

Trump won by 360,000 votes — 13 points — more than enough to overtake Clinton’s early vote lead.

Tampa City Council wants lawmakers to explain bill that would have gutted CRA’s

A proposal by Lithia Republican Jake Raburn (HB 13) calling for an end to all community redevelopment agencies (CRA’s) died in a legislative committee in the Florida House last month.

And members of the Tampa City Council are happy about that.

Raburn’s bill didn’t go as far as a related proposal by Brandon Republican Tom Lee in the Senate (SB 1770). That bill would have placed much stricter requirements on CRA’s, but it also stalled in a committee as well.

At Thursday’s Tampa City Council CRA meeting, Councilman Mike Suarez expressed annoyance about the proposal and that Hillsborough County lawmakers never informed them about it.

That prompted Councilman Frank Reddick to suggest that the council invite the two GOP lawmakers to attend an upcoming CRA workshop, so that board members could inform them about all of the positive aspects of what those agencies do for Tampa. The Council voted to hold that workshop on August 10.

CRA’s are geographic areas that meet certain physical and economic conditions and thus receive special designation and attention by local governments. That usually results in receiving tax revenues from increases in real property value, referred to as “increments” that are deposited into a CRA Trust Fund and dedicated to the redevelopment area.

Historically they were created to focus attention and resources in a particular area characterized by blight and disinvestment. But a 2015 Miami-Dade grand jury report from 2015 came down hard on local CRAs, saying that they acted almost like a “slush fund” for the elected officials who were in charge of doling out millions in property taxes diverted from general revenue for the purpose of eliminating slum and blight.

“Some of these CRA’s around the state are an absolute embarrassment to me as a public official, and as someone who really believes that there ought to be an opportunity to direct some of this revenue into blighted areas to help improve the living conditions of the people who live there,” Lee commented at a Senate committee discussing the bill last month.

Tampa has seven separate CRA’s. St. Petersburg has four, with more than 200 overall in Florida.

“This is both alarming and disturbing that this was even brought up at the state level for CRA’s,” said Councilman Guido Maniscalco.

Councilman Harry Cohen applauded the move, but said that city also needed to be concerned about the Legislature’s approval of a 2018 voter referendum that would increase the homestead exemption by another $25,000, which would effectively cut local property taxes and make a major negative impact to cities and counties throughout the state who rely on those taxes to fund their governments.

“Whatever guests that are coming to the City Council this year from the Legislature, I would also talk to them at the same time about why they view it as being a good idea to take more money out of the hands of local governments,” Cohen said.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told the Tampa Bay Times this week that the county could lose as much as $30 million annually if the measure is approved by the voters next year.


Brandi Gabbard has bigger April, but Barclay Harless remains leader in St. Pete District 2 fundraising

While Realtor Brandi Gabbard had a bigger month of fundraising, rival Barclay Harless continues to lead overall in their one-on-one race for St. Petersburg City Council District 2.

Gabbard raised $6,626 in April, more than three times the $1,855 that Harless brought in last month.

However, Harless, a banker, took in $31,655 so far. Gabbard’s total is $22,660.

Gabbard is a Realtor with Smith & Associates; nearly half the 44 individual contributions she received in April were from those listing realtors as a profession.

The two are running this year for the seat now held by term-limited Jim Kennedy.

District 2 encompasses most of St. Petersburg’s northeastern neighborhoods in the city into the Gateway area.


Justin Bean top fundraiser in St. Pete City Council District 6 field with $12K haul for April

St. Petersburg District 6 City Council hopeful Justin Bean is reporting more than $12,000 in campaign contributions since he entered the contest last month, by far the most raised of anyone in the eight person field.

In fact, the $12,000 is more than what any of the other candidates have raised overall this year, with Corey Givens second with $9,304.

Among those contributing to Bean, a registered Republican, were Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Nick DiCeglie, who chipped in $500. Green Bench Brewery co-owner Nathan Stonecipher and Pinellas County Commission candidate Mike Mikurak also made contributions.

“I am blown away by the support I have received for this campaign in only twenty days,” said Bean in a statement issued out by his campaign Wednesday night. “I sincerely appreciate my family, friends, community leaders and generous donors for their financial contributions.”

Of his $12,000 total for April, $8,689 came from the public, $1,513 were in-kind contributions, and $2,000 came from a loan Bean made to his own campaign.

“I believe that any candidate who asks others to contribute their hard earned dollars should be willing to do so themselves,” Bean said.”This is our city and we all must have skin in the game.”

Givens raised $630 in April.

Next up was James Scott with $2,6550; Jim Jackson raised $2,250, Eritha”Akile” Brandis Cainion raised $1,563, while both Sharon Russ and Maria Scruggs raised $250 in April.

The other candidate in the field, Gina Driscoll, just entered the contest last week, and did not file a financial report for April.

The District 6 seat is currently held by Karl Nurse, who is term limited from running for another term.

The district begins in the Old Northeast, spreads west to 22nd Street, and then south into Midtown and ultimately stretches to Pinellas Point.


CD 15 hopeful Greg Pilkington believes 2018 will be big for Democrats — including himself

Greg Pilkington

is one of a handful of aspiring Democrats who have filed to challenge Dennis Ross in Florida’s 15th Congressional District next year.

Nevertheless, Pilkington may be the best organized of the bunch at this early point in the election cycle.

Since entering the race, he’s hired some political pros to help him in his attempt to win the crowded Democratic primary next summer. That includes campaign manager Stephen Madden, Blue Ticket Consulting’s Tom Alte as his campaign finance fundraising director, Laura Williams as his communications director, and Phyllis Whitney (who served as campaign treasurer for Democrat Alan Cohn in his 2014 race).

The 54-year-old Indian Lakes Estate resident comes to the race with extensive overseas experience, with his last position being an executive officer for budget and strategy at World Customs Organization, an intergovernmental organization based in Brussels, Belgium.

He also worked as a global project manager for DHL Worldwide Express, and as a program management adviser for FedEx Express.

“I think I have the skill set to be the kind of legislator that Polk County needs,” Pilkington said in an interview late Tuesday afternoon. He thinks the Democrats gains next year will be “impressive” and doesn’t believe the Trump presidency is going to improve before the 2018 congressional elections.

“If anything, I think things are going to get worse,” he said, about an hour before news broke that President Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey. “I think there’s something in the Russian dossier. I think there may be other stories that we don’t know about, and certainly the president has ample opportunities to continue to make the kind of poor decisions that he’s already made, so I think the Democrats have a very strong chance in 2018 — especially since Dennis Ross has aligned himself as a surrogate for Mr. Trump.”

On health care, Pilkington says he believes that the Affordable Care Act (which he says is a more appropriate term to describe it than “Obamacare”) had the right “intention,” but because it was subjected to approximately 60 attempts to be repealed vs. being improved, “that it became a very flawed piece of legislation.”

However, he’s a much bigger critic of the Republicans’ American Health Care Act that Ross helped pass last week and predicts that the Congressional Budget Office will surmise that between 24 million to 30 million people will be booted out of their insurance if it were to be implemented. Instead, he backs a single payer health care system.

On social security, Pilkington wants to eliminate the maximum Social Security tax cap from $127,200 to no limit on earned income. He also believes that the law mandating that people begin accepting their Social Security benefits at 67 be repealed to go back to age 65.

He supports comprehensive immigration reform and is vehemently against the measures the Trump administration has been talking about.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous that we would talk about spending $20 billion on a wall when what we should be talking about is using that money on renovating the 430 Veteran Administration facilities that are closed throughout the country, and maybe even converting them to public clinics-immigration centers, where people can actually go and apply for citizenship,” he says.

The other CD 15 Democratic candidates that have already announced include Ray PenaGreg Williams and Cameron Magnuson. 

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