Mitch Perry - 6/324 - 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 mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Hillsborough Commission candidate Elvis Pigott explains his arrest record – again

Last week, SPB published a story about 29-year-old Elvis Pigott, a Democratic candidate for the District 5 countywide seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. The seat will be vacated next year by a term-limited Ken Hagan (who will run again in District 2).

The story referenced Pigott’s arrest record, where he is listed as having been charged with five separate felonies, including charges of grand theft and dealing in stolen property and providing false information on secondary metals recycling.

Pigott denied that he was guilty of any of the charges, saying that, in fact, he took the rap for his twin brother who was already in trouble with the authorities.

Patrick Manteiga of La Gaceta also reported on Pigott’s arrests, and now the candidate is responding in an “open letter,” where he is doubling down on his previous statement that falsely admitted to the crimes in an attempt to help change his twin brother’s troubled life.

“To be honest, I don’t believe I would have made a different decision had I had to do it again,” Piggott writes in his email, addressed to this reporter and Manteiga.

Here are the key paragraphs:

I am 29 years of age and a twin.When my brother and I were younger my Mother and Grandmother taught me to forever look out for my  brother, as I told you before, we were raised by my grandmother who at that time could not walk so I was responsible for not only caring for her, but my twin brother as well. As a young man faced with so many challenges, I chose to face those challenges head on. I got a job at 10 rounding up shopping carts for a local grocer just to make a lil money to buy food, in-order-to take back home, to cook for my little family. As I became older I began working at McDonalds and remained there for 9 years all while preparing myself to go into ministry full-time. My twin brother however, decided that he would take a different path in life. Whereas I embraced the mantle of provider early on to do what was necessary for the family; my brother became lured to the fast and easy life.

“My twin and I are very close, so when I was told that he had been arrested for several actions and was looking at some very hard time for his wrongs, I made a decision at that time to help save him. I had never been in trouble with the law and prior to any of the posted information had never intended on ever blemishing my reputation, but I loving my brother, traded my life for his in the attempt to give him one more opportunity to change his life. I am not writing this as a man that’s looking for the public’s sympathy, understanding or forgiveness. I am however, writing this as a form of accountability. Accountability not just for the decisions that I made so many, many years ago regarding my brother, but accountability to all those that I am willing to lay my life and interest down for in-order-to see them win and succeed. I made decisions that I am not proud of and I am no different than many of you who can reflect and find reasons how certain actions should have or should not have been addressed in a different manner; I will say this, my decision to serve this wonderful county and to bring with me that same sense of accountability in my opinion is one of the best places to start.”

Whether Pigott’s arrest record – and/or his explanation about it – slows down his candidacy will be determined over the course of the next year, if he can keep himself viable in a race that should attract other candidates.

Outgoing District 2 Republican Victor Crist is also term-limited next year and is rumored to already have decided to run in the District 5 seat in 2018.

With the Democratic primary for District 5 still more than a year away, the onus is on Pigott to convince voters that he is believable and can be the best candidate to represent them at the Board of County Commission.

Former police chief Goliath “Go” Davis co-hosting Rick Baker’s first campaign event this weekend

Former St. Petersburg Police Chief Goliath Davis is among the hosts of Rick Baker‘s first campaign event set for Saturday.

The event includes a picnic at Lake Maggiore Park between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Baker announced Tuesday he is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman to win back the job he held from 2001-2010.

Other officials listed on a promotional flier include a host of retired and present black officers who were part of a generation who served at a time of improved race relations at the agency.

They include Al White, Cedric Gordon, Donnie Williams, Reggie Oliver, Mike Hawkins and Hope Crews.

The black vote is considered crucial to any citywide candidate’s chances of being elected in St. Petersburg. Davis’ endorsement, in particular, is newsworthy.

At Tuesday’s campaign announcement at City Hall, Davis told SPB that, “I’ve always been a Baker guy.”

When asked about the fact that he endorsed Kriseman against Bill Foster in 2013, Davis said simply, “I’m not excited about what has occurred.”

Davis had an infamous falling out with Foster in 2011 when he was serving as a city administrator after Davis opted not to attend the funerals of three police officers who were killed in the line of duty. Davis’ subsequent support for Kriseman against Foster (as well as Kathleen Ford) helped boost his stock in Midtown in 2013.

In a post published in the Weekly Challenger in February, Davis defended Baker and criticized Kriseman and Foster after the announcement that Wal-Mart would be abandoning its store on 22nd Street South, writing, “As we progressed with the implementation of the Midtown Strategic Plan, feedback from Midtown residents was encouraging. Especially pleasing was feedback from Midtown residents who moved away and returned to what they described as an ‘improved revitalized community.’ The Baker Administration listened, responded and delivered the grocery stores. Subsequent administrations lost them.”

In 2000, Baker hired Davis, the city’s first black police chief, as deputy mayor in charge of Midtown. According to Governing Magazine, both Davis and Baker had worked to improve the neighborhood with a new library, theater, post office, health center and college campus, spurring shopping centers and privately owned retail chains. Businesses began to move in and violent crime dropped, despite persistent poverty and drug abuse.

Adam Putnam touts Florida exceptionalism as he starts his campaign for Governor

With a setting out of a Norman Rockwell painting, Florida Agriculture Commissioner and fifth generation Floridian Adam Putnam formally announced his candidacy for governor on Wednesday morning before hundreds of adoring friends and supporters in his home town of Bartow in Polk County.

Harkening back to an earlier era, Putnam said “some people say that this doesn’t happen anymore – flags flying, high school bands playing, prayer on the court house steps, World War II veterans and children shoulder to shoulder, generations coming together in common cause, people from all backgrounds in every corner of this place, united behind this movement.”

“The American Dream is alive and well and happening right here this morning,” he exclaimed. “I can’t imagine a better place to announce that I am running for governor of the state of Florida!”

Based on his extensive public service in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. at the still young age of 42, Putnam has been considered by the Florida Political Establishment for years as the likely next man to succeed Rick Scott in the governor’s mansion.

“He certainly is the front runner, and part of the reason is that he is  very well known in the local areas and by local county party people,” says USF political science professor Susan McManus. “One thing we’ve learned from the last couple of elections is that support from the grassroots party organizations can be critical to winning a primary, and he’s well known in those circles.”

After serving for a decade in the House of Representative representing Polk County, Putnam quit Washington D.C. (even while he had moved up in party leadership) in 2010 and returned back home to run and ultimately win the Agriculture Commissioner’s race at the age of 36. Immediately afterwards, he was immediately placed on the short list of viable 2018 gubernatorial nominees, and so far everything is playing to script in a so-called “Purple State” that hasn’t elected a Democrat governor in more than two decades.

For years, Putnam has described his home state as a “reward for a life well lived,” a reference to the number of seniors and others from the Northeast, Midwest and other places around the country who end up making Florida their home.  But that phrase is far too passive for a candidate who is hoping to inspire Floridians about the future, resulting in a variant of that expression on Wednesday, where he repeatedly said that the state can be be “the launch pad for the American dream.”

“A state that is the fishing capitol of the world, can also be the state that builds the moats and trains the craftsmen, the state that has trained millions of soldiers and sailors and airmen can retrain our own citizens,with the skills they need to compete in a rapidly changing world and win,” he said. “The state that put a man on the moon can develop the next generation of tools for the next giant leap of mankind. Florida can be the launch pad for the american dream.”

Putnam invoked that signature phrase no less than five times in his sixteen minute address.

While Putnam’s speeches have always had a ring of “Florida exceptionalism,” he literally used that statement on Wednesday as well, saying it’s very real, and said it described “the grocery clerk in Lakeland who revolutionized the supermarket industry, or the cashier on I-Drive who now owns the souvenir shop… It’s the truck driver hauling fruit who saved up to buy an orange grove, and then another… It’s the hotel maid who now runs her own bed and breakfast.”

“Hard-working folks like these have been able to achieve their American Dream right here in Florida,” he said. “I want every single Floridian to be able to tell a similar story. I want people around the country to know this is where it happens.”

Having served in politics for nearly half of his still young life, some critics have said that could be a negative going into the next election cycle, but those in attendance to observe his speech dismissed such thoughts.

“Individual candidates are what makes up an election,” said Hillsborough County resident Nyla Thompson. “It’s not a trend, its whether you have experience or don’t have experience, I think it’s the individual who is the candidate, they are the ones who tell their message or don’t.”

Jim Elliott, a City Commissioner in Wildwood (based in the Villages), made the trek to Bartow to observe Putnam’s speech. He says that while the tag of “career politician” could be a drag on some candidates, he doesn’t think it will stick to Putnam.

“I think  he’s got excellent knowledge of the state of Florida and what their needs are, and I think he’s smart enough to figure out what the solution is and I know that he can work with the people necessary to get the job done,” Elliott enthused.

Sarasota County State Committeeman Christian Ziegler says it’s too early to predict who the 2018 GOP nominee will be, but says that Putnam’s announcement last year that local residents can apply for or renew state concealed weapon licenses at their local tax collector offices was a bit hit with Second Amendment enthusiasts, and will help him in a Republican primary.

“I had to drive an hour and a half south, and now it makes it a little bit more accessible,” said Ziegler.

Putnam is the first major Republican to get out of the gate and announce his candidacy. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala are also considering their own runs for office.

One Florida Republican not impressed with Putnam is Latvala’s son, Chris, a state representative in Pinellas County. After Putnam’s speech, Latvala tweeted, “The guy who wants to build the American Dream in FL is the same guy who oversaw the largest decline in agriculture in FL history.”

Putnam will immediately hit the campaign trail, with a 22-city, 10 day tour scheduled to begin on Thursday.

Photo credit Kim DeFalco.

Activists blasts Rick Baker’s ‘backward thinking’ on LGBT rights

A day after Rick Baker announced he would run again for St. Petersburg mayor, a group of LGBT leaders is scheduled to blast his record on LGBT issues.

At a press conference set outside of City Hall, the activists are expected to note that during Baker’s tenure leading the city from 2001-2010, he banned the gay pride flag from flying at City Hall, refused to attend gay pride events around the city and “refused to offer any support for the LGBT community,” according to a press release sent out early Wednesday.

“St. Petersburg has moved forward the past 3 years. We can never go back to a time when discrimination was ok in the mayors’ office,” said Susan McGrath, organizer of the event and the chair of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee. “We will be discussing the stakes in this election, and the type of candidate our community cannot stand with in August. We can’t go back to a mayor who is uncomfortable with the LGBT community, or any other.”

Baker is well aware that his record on gay rights will be a topic during his campaign against incumbent Rick Kriseman. Near the conclusion of his 33-minute speech announcing his candidacy on Tuesday, Baker noted that the issue is sure to come up, but affirmed his belief that the LGBT community is “a vital and important part of our community,” and said he had LGBT staffers working for him when he was previously mayor.

“If you were to look at my administration, we had people from the LGBT community at every level of my government, through the cabinet level,” he said, adding that he “hated to talk about groups like that, but I have to, because I’m being called this.”

“I think St Pete is a very diverse, welcoming community and some of the policies in the past weren’t as welcoming,” Kriseman said in reaction to Baker’s entrance in the race on Tuesday. “We have tried to open our doors to everyone, make everyone feel comfortable here and recognize the importance that everyone plays as a resident of the city and in the community, and so some of the policies of the past belong to stay in the past.”

Update:

Rick Baker responded this afternoon, saying in a statement:

“To reiterate my statements yesterday, I want residents to know St. Petersburg is better and stronger today because of our LGBTQ community, and as Mayor I will seek and protect equality for all.  I’m proud of the fact that my administration included members of the LGBT community in every level of government up-to and including the cabinet level, that I actively supported the re-election of the first openly gay member of City Council, who Rick Kriseman opposed, and that Kriseman himself has defended me in the past saying, ‘I know from person conversations that the Mayor clearly recognizes the positive impact the LGBT community has had on St. Petersburg.’ (6/24/09) Today, in his campaign to divide our city with Washington style partisan politics and hate, he apparently has changed his mind.

“I want the LGBTQ community to know I stand with and for them, and that while I may not have the support of every member of that community, I support them.”

St. Petersburg activists call for more work on safer, ‘Complete Streets’

Wednesday is “Bike to School Day,” but more work needs to be done to make anyone feel safer riding a bike on St. Petersburg’s streets, according to a new report by the Florida Consumer Action Network (FCAN),

“The design of our streets have consequences for our health,” says FCAN campaign organizer Lisa Frank.

Specifically, the report says nearly half of all adults in Pinellas County don’t get enough exercise, contributing to heart disease and diabetes. People living in neighborhoods with inadequate walking and biking infrastructure were less likely to walk or bike to work and more likely to suffer from health problems related to inactivity and air pollution.

There were 14 pedestrian fatalities last year, nine of them occurring in South St. Petersburg.

At an FCAN news conference late Tuesday morning at Perkins Elementary School on 18th Avenue South, several speakers were drowned out at times by speeding motorists driving by.

“Many streets in St. Pete were designed decades ago for the fast movement of cars,” Frank noted. “If you want to ride a bike on 18th Avenue South, you have the choice of dodging pedestrians on a sometimes narrow sidewalk or taking your chances on the road.”

“Whatever you choose,” she adds, “there’s conflict between the different route because the city wasn’t really set up to accommodate people on bikes.”

Activists want St. Petersburg officials to embrace “Complete Street” initiatives.

Complete Streets are defined as streets designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

“We’re proud of the investments we’ve made throughout the city, including the more than 100 flashing crosswalk beacons to help people of all ages cross the street safely, but we know we need to do more,” says Mayor Rick Kriseman. “That’s why we are embracing Complete Streets: a new approach to build, maintain, and operate streets that are safe for people of all ages and abilities, while balancing the needs of multiple travel modes like using a wheelchair, biking, or accessing transit.”

But Kriseman says the city can do more, adding that transportation officials are continuing to find more locations around the city to create safe crossings to schools, parks and grocery stores.

Frank says the report lays out four recommendations, including creating more protected bike lanes (where there is a buffer between a cyclist and a motorist), lowering speed limits in parts of the city, creating more neighborhood greenways and investing “adequately” in complete streets annually.

 

Say hello to Jay Fant, first major Attorney General candidate for 2018

Jay Fant has only been in the Legislature for three years, but based on his experience as a Jacksonville attorney, he believes he’s as qualified as anyone to become Florida’s next Attorney General.

On Tuesday, the Florida House Republican from Jacksonville visited Tampa as part of a four-day statewide blitz to begin his candidacy, starting the campaign tour less than 12 hours after the Florida Legislature commenced its 2017 Regular Session.

Speaking with FloridaPolitics.com at Sheltair Aviation, just north of the International Mall, the 49-year-old attorney and father of four emphasized he’s all about fighting for the little guy against what can be an obtrusive federal government, even if it now run by Donald Trump, who Fant supports.

“Even President Trump, who I’m a supporter of, can’t control everything his agencies do, or cover every rule that they come up with,” he said about the federal government. “And when they get it wrong, I’m going to fight it. I’m going to stand up for the state of Florida and say, ‘we don’t want that. We can do that ourselves.’”

Fant says he admires how Pam Bondi went after the Obama administration, joining other Republican Attorneys General in filing lawsuits on a number of issues over the past few years. He says if the situation presents itself, he’ll do the same thing. “The federal agencies get it wrong, and when they do get it wrong, I’m going to stand up them.”

“The federal agencies get it wrong, and when they do get it wrong, I’m going to stand up them.”

After graduating from the University of Florida law school, the Jacksonville native joined his family business at First Guaranty Bank, a bank he helped run until 2012.

Fant says what small banks like his went through during the Great Recession was a searing experience, as he saw big banks whose work led to the decline of the economy get bailed out by the feds to the exclusion of small mom and pop operations like First Guaranty.

“There was no way that companies like ours could survive and we didn’t, and many companies like ours didn’t, and that had an effect on me,” he says. “I saw how big government doesn’t care about Main Street, and I said I’m not going to let this happen to anyone else, and that was one of the main reasons I ran.”

On his brief excursion in Tampa, Fant visited Port Tampa Bay. He says Florida’s ports, which drive so much into the economy, are essentially our “borders,” and thus play a critical role when it comes to contending with illegal immigration and drug interdiction.

He said he was worried about the “cultural shift” that has taken place in recent years when it comes to law enforcement. Thanks to citizen derived home videos, there has been an explosion of police violence against black men that has led to civil unrest in some quarters of the country.

“It’s hard to believe that the media portrayal of some things that occur in the course of law enforcement doesn’t affect behavior, but it could also affect rules of evidence, too,” he warns about the prevalence of video recording of law enforcement’s interactions with the public. “The public does have a right to know, but we don’t want to incite enmity against law enforcement by very conveniently clipping pieces,” he says of such video coverage.

When asked if thinks that is what has happened, he says not “in any conspiratorial way,” but believes it’s “tempting” in a news cycle to selectively edit as such.

“It inflames passions,” he says of such video. “At the end of the day when criminal activity takes place, the criminal justice needs to happen in a fair way for those who (not only) have been accused of a crime, but also those who are executing the arrest.”

As for Tallahassee’s just-concluded Regular Session, Fant has enormous respect and reverence for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but is dead set against his calls to zero out Enterprise Florida and give VISIT Florida a significant haircut in the state budget.

“I think we’ve made a critical mistake in not fully funding up VISIT Florida because that works,” Fant says.

Regarding substantial cuts to Enterprise Florida, the public-private business incentive entity, Fant says if Florida becomes the only state that doesn’t include some component to help a company move here, “we will not get these companies.”

Following his Tampa visit, Fant was off to Orlando for a roundtable discussion with small-business owners, followed by a press availability Tuesday night near his Jacksonville home.

Rick Kriseman on Rick Baker announcement — it’s about moving St. Pete forward, not back

This morning, Rick Kriseman was working and thus didn’t hear Rick Baker blast his nearly three-and-a-half year tenure as St. Petersburg mayor.

It was an aggressive performance by the former mayor against the current one, and Kriseman — without knowing the exact contents of Baker’s fusillade, opted to maintain a theme that it’s about moving the city forward, not back into the last decade.

“Well, I think it’s up to the voters to decide if they don’t like what’s happening,” the mayor said following a news conference he held with members of the Florida Consumer Action Network on a Complete Streets program in St. Petersburg (story to follow).

“We have record economic growth, and quality of life has improved,” Kriseman said. “We’ve invested in issues of homelessness and in our small businesses, investing in our kids in the community, brought crime rates down. Out police and fire departments are as strong as it’s ever been, and we’ve done it without raising taxes … so I leave it up to the voters to decide if we’re doing a bad job. “

A big element of the Kriseman re-elect theme is that he and the city are more socially welcoming of all types. Baker referred to that aspect in his speech, mentioning in the final minutes that he had members of the LGBT community who worked with him when he served in City Hall. But Baker notably never attended a Pride march, and that is something that Kriseman noted on Tuesday.

“I think St Pete is a very diverse, welcoming community and some of the policies in the past weren’t as welcoming. We have tried to open our doors to everyone, make everyone feel comfortable here and recognize the importance that everyone plays as a resident of the city and in the community, and so some of the policies of the past belong to stay in the past.”

When asked specifically what he was referring to, Kriseman said, “Not only raising the pride flag over City Hall to walking in the parade to holding the city’s first Iftar dinner … we are diverse, and intolerant of intolerance.”

Krisemans’ former colleague on the City Council, Leslie Curran, announced Tuesday her support for Baker, after endorsing Kriseman four years ago, mentioning that she was “disappointed” in his tenure at City Hall.

“There’s going to be people who support me, and there’s going to be people who don’t support me,” Kriseman said in response. “And that’s OK.”

 

Announcing another bid for St. Pete mayor, Rick Baker savages Rick Kriseman

Speaking in impassioned tones Tuesday, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is ready to tangle head on against incumbent Rick Kriseman.

“You’re going to hear a lot about Republicans and Democrats over the next few months,” Baker said as he formally announced his bid for mayor on the steps of St. Pete City Hall. “Because that’s that’s the only thing they have.”

Baker was referring to earlier statements from Kriseman’s campaign manager about Baker’s support for Republicans like Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Herman Cain in what has become a very Democratic city.

“They have no record that they can run on. They have no successes,” Baker added, before blasting Kriseman for failing to build a new Pier.

Surrounded by former mayors Bill Foster, David Fisher and Bob Ulrich, as well as former and current City Council members Wengay Newton, Leslie Curran, Bill Dudley and Jim Kennedy, Baker said that it was never his intention to run again for City Hall after two successful terms from 2001-2010.

But Baker heard too many critical things about the city he loves while on the campaign trail for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in recent months. That, he said, motivated him to get back into electoral politics.

Curran endorsed Kriseman for mayor in 2013, but since, she said she has become increasingly disappointed.

“Rick (Kriseman) ran on a platform of leadership, and I have seen none of that,” she said, endorsing Baker’s “proven leadership.”

The first part of Baker’s 36-minute speech was a nostalgia-filled recital of programs and initiatives accomplished during his two terms at the beginning of this century, parts of which he practiced talking about in recent months while campaigning for last week’s referendum expanding Al Lang Stadium for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. It was a part of his effort in working with Rowdies owner and St. Pete entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

About halfway through, however, he pivoted sharply into a detailed and brutal attack on the Kriseman administration.

He began by blasting Kriseman for hiring a chief of staff, a public information officer, and a neighborhood liaison; all those positions Baker said he didn’t need because he was in charge when running City Hall from 2001-2010.

“We have a chief of staff (Kevin King) now, that I think a lot of people wonder, who’s running the city now, right?  Baker said. “A lot of people wonder that.”

“Did anybody wonder that when I was running the city?”

Baker accused Kriseman of dividing the city, and the results have been “disastrous,” specifically referring to how Midtown is doing these days. He brought up the recent departure of Wal-Mart there, leaving the area to become a food dessert.

“We worked so hard in Midtown,” he said. “We put so much effort into Midtown, and we did it because it was the right thing to do.”

While undoubtedly Team Kriseman will contest that, among those in attendance at the news conference was former Police Chief Goliath Davis, who endorsed Kriseman in 2013 but has also backed Baker in his earlier runs. He’s with Baker this time around.

“I’ve always been a Baker guy,” he said. On Kriseman, he simply said: “I’m not excited about what has occurred.”

One of Kriseman’s lowest moments as mayor occurred late last summer when heavy rains brought massive sewage dumps. Over 200 million gallons made way into local waterways.

Baker contested Kriseman’s charge that previous administrations ignored infrastructure issues in the city. At the time, he had spent $160 million on water and sewer capital improvements, he said, claiming the city was named the state’s best big city sewer system in 2010.

Sewage came back up when Baker stated that Kriseman would talk a lot about the past versus the future. “Backward is dumping 200 million gallons into the Bay,” he said.

Baker insisted he’s not been somnolent in the years since leaving City Hall, referring to his work with the Rowdies as well as helping the people in the Warehouse Arts District.

He also prominently discussed his involvement in local schools, criticizing Kriseman for not taking the same initiative.

As for problems depicted last year in South St. Pete schools dubbed “failure factories,” Baker didn’t blame the current mayor for that situation but wondered where his passion was in trying to ease the problems.

“Where is the involvement? Where’s the plan? Where is the all in response? I promise you, I will give a response. I will go into the schools and work with the school system, and work with the school board.”

At the end of his speech, Baker spoke to the LGBT community.

Over the years, the former mayor’s refusal to attend Pride events became an issue when he was in office. Baker knows, undoubtedly, it will be brought up again this year, with a City Council that includes three members of that community.

“I believe that the LGBT community, is a vital part of our community,” he said, noting that while in office, he had LGBT staffers at City Hall.

Before the speech, a crowd of a few dozen protesters held anti-Baker signs across the street from City Hall.

Pinellas County Democrat Bill Bucolo said he wasn’t there as a Kriseman supporter but as a Baker detractor.

“When he was mayor, we were known as being a very mean place. I think ‘mean’ is bad for business,” Bucolo said, specifically citing the incident where St. Pete Police officers ripped the tents of the homeless. “St. Pete’s not known for being a mean city anymore.”

(Rick Kriseman responds).

Democratic hopeful Ray Pena says voters in CD 15 ‘not happy with Dennis Ross’

Although Ray Pena Jr. worked in law enforcement his entire life, he resents that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is “ripping families” apart deporting undocumented immigrants under the Donald Trump administration.

“We need a fair and just immigration reform policy right now because what we have is unfair and unjust,” says Pena, who became the first Democrat to file to run for Florida’s 15th Congressional District seat earlier this year. That’s the seat comfortably held for the past six years by GOP incumbent Dennis Ross.

The nearly 60-year-old Pena has spent much of his professional career in San Jose, California, where he worked as a police officer from 1981 to 2007.

In 2010, he received a FAA Certified Flight Instructor Certificate and created Guardian Aviation LLC in Winter Haven.

When asked about Ross’ support last week for the American Health Care Act, Pena says he’s not about to “vilify” the incumbent. That doesn’t mean that he won’t pass on what other voters in CD 15 have to say derisively of their congressman.

“I think Mr. Ross’s actions or inactions are what’s going to vilify him,” he told SPB in a phone conversation Monday. “The people I shake hands with every day, they are not happy with Mr. Ross, and they are not happy with his voting record, and in some respects, I have to concur with the public.”

Pena says that consulting with doctors and other health providers, he’s convinced that while the ACA needs to make “some adjustments,” he is emphatic that it did not need to be completely overhauled, which is what the GOP House passed last week.

Pena served in the Coast Guard from 1974-1978 which included a stint in Vietnam. He now considers himself “anti-war,”  nearly losing his son in Iraq in 2005. And he says that’s past time that the U.S. get out of Afghanistan.

“There’s no reason for us to be there,” Pena says. “We should be gone and let the Afghanistan government and administration handle their own internal problems and bring our kids home.”

Current and former Defense Department officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Reuters News Agency last month that the Trump administration is carrying out an inter-agency review, and while there has been no decision, discussions revolve around adding 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

Pena is derisive of Trump’s recent military attack on Syria, calling it a “dog and pony show.”

Although passionate in talking about the undocumented immigrants he met in all of his years working in San Jose and California’s Central Valley, Pena admits he’s not aware of the U.S. Senate’s 2013 legislation that would have paved the way for citizenship for the millions of undocumented people in the country.

The GOP-led House of Representatives ultimately declined to take up that bill.

While working as a police officer, Pena went back to school and earned two educational degrees: an Associates of Arts in Public Safety and Administration of Justice and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice Management.

He’s working the grassroots early on, attempting to get on the ballot by gathering the 4,737 signatures needed to qualify by petition.

Pena is one of four Democrats who have filed to run so far for the CD 15 seat, which encompasses Polk County and parts of Lake and Hillsborough County. The others are Cameron Magnuson, Greg Williams and Greg Pilkington.

Democrat Greg Williams says Dennis Ross ‘sold his soul’ representing CD 15

Greg Williams

Greg Williams says he’s been “progressively more frustrated for the last decade” on the goings on in Washington D.C.

But after closely working with Democrat Jim Lange‘s unsuccessful congressional campaign against Dennis Ross in Florida’s 15th District last year, Williams believes the community needs a “real voice and a real change” from what’s been going in the district.

CD 15 encompasses Northern Polk County, as well as parts of Hillsborough and Lake Counties.

Lange had lost to Ross in 2016 by 16 percentage points, spending only $40,000 in the effort.

Williams has “no illusions” about matching Ross’ ability to fundraise, but believes he can do better than Lange in raising campaign cash over the next year and a half.

“By starting earlier and organizing better at the beginning, we will certainly have a larger war chest than Jim did,” Williams says, adding: “I’m not going to sell my soul like our current representative has in order to get out-of-state and special interest money. That doesn’t help the people in this area.”

When asked what exactly he means by Ross “selling his soul,” the Charlotte, North Carolina native cites the Lakeland Republican’s vote last week for the American Health Care Act, as well as the financial contributions he’s received over the years from the insurance and security and banking industries.

“He sits on the Financial Services Committee where they’re looking at repealing the Dodd-Frank Act,” Williams says. “I think Dennis will do anything for a contribution.”

On health care, Williams says the Affordable Care Act was “never” a finished product. The problem was that the GOP-led Congress spent the past six years trying to repeal it instead of looking for ways to improve it. The ultimate solution is a single payer system, Williams believes.

Williams cares deeply about maintaining Social Security, the environment, and equality issues, which he says encompasses a plethora of other issues, such as LTBGT and women’s rights.

“It boils down to every American should be given equal opportunity under the law, and nobody should be discriminated against,” he says.

As a liberal on immigration, Williams says he’s not met a single person “that I come into everyday contact with who lost their job to an immigrant.” He feels much of the talk about immigration are “scare tactics,” and says while the issue needs to be addressed, building an expensive wall on the Mexican border is not the way to do that.

He calls President Donald Trump‘s recent cruise missile attack against Syria a “giant PR stunt,” attributing his reaction to reports that the administration “cleared” the action with Russia beforehand, and warning that it was going to happen.

On the Syrian question overall, he believes that the U.S. should have become more involved but adds that “it needs to be something effective.”

“We need a consistent foreign policy that promotes democracy and freedom and human rights,” he says.

Currently, Williams teaches graphic design at Keiser University (and has since 2000) had has lived in Lakeland for about 12 years, and in the district for more than two decades.

He’s one of the four Democrats so far filing to run for the CD 15 seat. The others are Cameron Magnuson, Ray Pena and Greg Pilkington.

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