Mitch Perry - 7/324 - 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.

Cameron Magnuson becomes fourth Democrat to challenge Dennis Ross in CD 15

Dennis Ross has not faced a serious challenge since his election to Florida’s 15th Congressional District in 2010, but several Democrats want a piece of him next year — all of whom filed to run in the district before Ross voted for the American Health Care Act last week.

Four Democrats are already running against the Polk County Republican in CD 15, while a fifth — Navy veteran Andrew Learned, is considering putting his hat into the ring.

One of those candidates who officially filed is 28-year-old insurance broker Cameron Magnuson, raised in Brandon but now lives just outside of Washington D.C. as part of his job with Geico (he’ll return to the Lakeland area by summertime).

Magnuson graduated from USF in 2009 with a degree in Business Marketing Management and earned an MBA in Finance from the Tampa-based university a year ago.

A supporter of a single-payer health care system, Magnuson labels Ross’ vote on the AHCA last week “absolutely the wrong move.”

“I think it’s a shame that we’re heading in this direction, but I am encouraged that even Republicans in Congress are acknowledging that we need to look at covering more people,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “They’re trying to make the argument — they’re absolutely wrong in what they’re saying — but they’re acknowledging now that the conversation is moving in that direction, about how do we cover everybody. Now we can start talking about the solutions that will do that, such as the Medicare for All or a single payer system.”

Last year, Ross defeated Democrat Jim Lange by 16 percentage points, 58 to 42 percent, a race where the GOP incumbent massively outspent him. While Democrat Alan Cohn raised more money in 2014, he lost by a bigger margin to Ross than Lange did.

On world affairs, Magnuson calls the Trump administration’s firing off 59 cruise missiles to attack Syria “a little reckless,” but he’s glad at least to see Trump not taking a ‘hands-off approach” to the vexing issue of what to do in that Middle Eastern nation.

“I very much believe we need to be more involved with Syria, with a humanitarian effort,” Magnuson says, acknowledging he hasn’t seen any such movement.

Magnuson says he’s spoken with local party officials in three counties that CD 15 encompasses — Polk, Hillsborough and Lake, and is scheduled to address the Lake County Democratic Executive Committee Thursday night.

Democrats Gregg Williams, Greg Pilkington and Ray Pena Jr. also filed to run for the CD 15 seat. Stay tuned to this space for upcoming profiles on each of them.

‘One more time’ — Rick Baker seeks to unseat Rick Kriseman

Six days after he led a successful push for the Tampa Bay Rowdies to extend its lease at Al Lang Stadium, Rick Baker pulled the trigger on a bid for a third term as Mayor of St. Petersburg, a job he held from 2001-2010.

Baker personally filed his paperwork with the City Clerk’s office Monday. A phone number listed on his intent-to-file form was actually for another candidate who ran for Pinellas County Tax Collector.

Baker’s entry into the contest had been rumored for months, but he steadfastly refused to comment while he engaged in a mini-campaign advocating for the approval of the Rowdies referendum, part of his job working as president of the Edwards Group, led by entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

In addition to eight years as St. Petersburg mayor, Baker previously served as president of the Fisher and Sauls law firm, chair of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and has been with the Edwards Group since December of 2012. He also worked as Vice President of Economic Development at the University of South Florida.

Since ending his second term as Mayor in January of 2010, Baker has been rumored to be a candidate for a number of political seats, but ultimately declined to run for any of them.

Although a series of polls show Baker leading incumbent Rick Kriseman, it will not be easy. Baker hasn’t been in a serious race since his first election in 2001, where he came out on top in what was a nine-person field. He easily defeated Democratic activist Ed Helm in his re-election bid in 2005.

Kriseman has been gearing up for the race for some time and has already raised more than $400,000 for his re-election effort. And his campaign team is prepared to make what is considered a nonpartisan race a very partisan one. Kriseman is a Democrat, Baker a Republican.

Many predict the intensity among progressive voters will have implications in the mayoral contest.

“It’s going to be somebody who stood on stage with people like Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, where Rick Kriseman was out knocking on doors for Barack Obama, right?” Kriseman’s campaign manager, Jacob Smith, told SPB back in March. “I think that is a dynamic that will absolutely come into this race. A lot of the most fired up people right now are the people who stand with Rick on a lot of issues.”

One factor that could also make this race interesting is the city’s black community.

When Baker last won re-election in 2005, he took every precinct in the city, including those areas where blacks were the majority. Much of his success was from his re-election platform — the “Baker Plan” — which addressed five key issues: education; economic development, particularly in Midtown; public safety; neighborhood associations; and improved access to city services. Black voters had been a deciding coalition for Baker in 2001 and successor Bill Foster in 2009.

Baker, who received widespread recognition for his concept of a “seamless city, had made significant strides during his time at City Hall in the relationship with the city’s south side. As mayor, he was able to prove that a Republican can be both tough on crime and strong on the environment.

Upon finishing his final term, Baker opted out decided from mounting a statewide campaign, citing more time to be with family.

Of course, this year, Kriseman is a stronger opponent those Baker has faced before, as well as an advantage as the incumbent.

In a campaign statement, Kriseman responded to Baker’s entry in the race, pointing out specifically that the former mayor is filing for “a third run.”

“I welcome all candidates to this race,” Kriseman said. “In just a few short years our community has moved forward on issues big and small, creating a city of opportunity and elevating St. Pete as a bold, progressive city. I’m proud of how far we’ve come and look forward to sharing our accomplishments and vision for the future on the campaign trail.”

“Rick Baker had eight years as mayor and is now asking voters for more,” campaign manager Smith added. “Unfortunately for Rick Baker, this city is eager to pursue its future, not turn back the clock and unwind our progress with the Rays, the Pier, the police department, and economic development and opportunity creation in South St. Pete. Rick Baker is simply out of step with St. Pete. His refusal to embrace all individuals in our diverse community, especially our LGBT citizens, and his high-profile work against our first African-American president disqualifies him from governing a city as inclusive as St. Petersburg.”

Baker’s campaign announced they will hold a media event on the steps outside the St. Petersburg City Hall Tuesday morning at 8 a.m.

Environmental attorney calls on Tampa Sports Authority not to use controversial pesticide this week

With just 24 hours before the Tampa Sports Authority is poised to begin applying a controversial pesticide on a city of Tampa owned golf course, neighboring activists have recruited a well-known environmental attorney for a last-ditch effort at preventing the spraying from occurring.

“Please do not apply Curfew to the Babe Zaharias golf course in Tampa,” Cape Canal based attorney Ralf Brookes writes in a letter to the TSA board. “There are too many proximate residents and citizens of Tampa who live too close, and there are biological and other controls for nematodes that can be applied instead of Curfew.”

Curfew is a restricted pesticide that the TSA intends to use to control nematodes (ground worms) at Babe Zaharias, beginning on Tuesday and lasting until Thursday of this week. The Tampa City Council voted last week to have the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission test the air quality at the course 24 hours after the initial application of Curfew.

Curfew is made by Dow AgroSciencies and goes under the technical name of 1,3-dichloropropenene. It’s used primarily to reduce the population of nematodes (round worms) and other soil-borne pests that damage developing root systems of young plants.

In his letter, Brookes says that the TSA’s 48-hour notice of the application is deficient because “it does not meet EPA notification requirements to directly notify residents of the ‘Early signs and symptoms of exposure.'”

He also says that “many” residents who live near Babe Zaharias in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Tampa will be leaving their homes “for at least 72 hours” to ensure that their exposure to the pesticide is minimized.

“These residents of Tampa will retain their travel and living expenses while displaced from their homes and will ask to be reimbursed for their expenses during this self-evacuation,” Brookes writes.

A request for comment from the Tampa Sports Authority was not immediately returned.

Senate President denies ‘moving goal posts’ regarding USF’s drive for pre-eminence

Florida Senate President Joe Negron is firing back at University of South Florida supporters who claim the Legislature “moved the goal posts” when they reverted language in an education conforming bill.

The bill, they say, would prevent USF from reaching the 11th of 12 pre-assigned benchmarks which would qualify them for “pre-eminence,” a status that would have qualified them for millions of dollars in state funding.

“This allegation is incorrect and entirely unsupported by the facts,” Negron says in a statement released Monday morning.

“There is one, and only one, reason USF Tampa narrowly missed pre-eminent designation this year: the university did not reach the current metric of a 70 percent six-year graduation rate,” Negron says. USF came up short on that metric, at 67 percent.

The original bill included language that a university had to achieve a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF has exceeded, qualifying them for ‘pre-eminence’ by reaching 11 of the 12 benchmarks previously established to be eligible for that ranking.

However, in the conforming bill — written after the budget was finalized Friday — the benchmark was amended to what it was previously: a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time, in-college students.

“Upon further reflection and in consultation with the Florida House, we decided it was more equitable to apply this new standard prospectively and not retroactively,” Negron says about the late hour change. “We also raised the qualifying four-year graduation rate to 60 percent. I stand by both of those decisions and would make them again.”

Over the weekend, USF officials rallied their community, making overtures to alumni, business officials and anyone else with any connection to the university to contact their members of the Legislature and call on them to “fix” the change when they returned to Tallahassee to vote on the budget Monday.

“At the last minute, the legislature is planning to make a change — taking away millions of dollars of funding for USF meeting pre-eminent University metrics,” reads the action alert sent Saturday. The alert can also be found on the USF alumni website.

“This late change excludes SOLELY the University of South Florida from qualifying for pre-eminence AFTER the Board of Governors had certified USF met the necessary criteria that had been in the proposed language since January. This change also will badly hurt our downtown Tampa medical school and heart institute as well as other USF Colleges.”

Despite the loss of pre-eminence status, USF fared well in the budget about to be signed by legislators.

Negron shot back, calling it a “banner year” for the university. USF received an increase of approximately $42 million in operation funding, he says, as well as an additional $12 million for the Morsani College of Medicine in downtown Tampa, leading

The University of Florida and Florida State University are the only two Florida universities to have achieved pre-eminent status.

Mike Griffin, the greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce president and a USF alumnus, has been explicitly claiming officials from one of those two universities successfully lobbied legislators to change the language in the bill, shutting out USF.

Charlie Crist: ‘Horrible’ GOP health care bill ‘like they don’t care about people’

Three days after House Republicans passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a group of St. Petersburg residents, joined by Congressman Charlie Crist, is organizing some voter pushback against  the “horrible bill.”

Approximately 70 citizens met up with the St. Petersburg Democrat in North Straub Park Sunday afternoon to announce that they intend to “stand up and fight back” against the bill, viewed by many as the biggest legislative victory in the young Trump presidency.

“It was a horrible bill then — this one is even worse,” said Crist, referring to the GOP’s first legislative attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare that did not get a vote in March.

The House narrowly voted Thursday to support a reconfigured version of the American Health Care Act, 217-213.

“I can’t imagine that anyone would pass it, that anyone would write it, that anyone would support it let alone vote for the darn thing,” Crist said in disgust. “It’s awful. And it’s like they don’t care about people, and I don’t think they do,” he said of congressional Republicans.

Going back to his first electoral victory in the Florida state Senate in 1992, Crist said the AHCA (which he voted against) was the “worst piece of legislation I’ve seen in all those years. The worst!”

Crist specifically called out three provisions of the legislation which upset him. One is that the bill completely defunds Planned Parenthood in its first year of implementation.

Referring to how the family planning organization does more than just perform abortions, Crist said: “the ignorance about that is stunning.”

Crist also decried the parts of the bill that permits insurance companies to charge as much as five times a person between the ages of 50-64, compared to costs to a healthy 20-something. The bill proposes more than $880 billion proposed in Medicaid cuts.

On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, House Speaker Paul Ryan defended those proposed cuts, saying the Medicaid system isn’t working (an argument echoed by state GOP lawmakers one was in defense of their opposition to Medicaid expansion in Florida).

“Doctors aren’t taking Medicaid, hospitals can’t survive with Medicaid alone. So by giving the states the ability to customize their Medicaid population their program to work for them,” Ryan said.

As an “eternal optimist,” Crist remains hopeful that the GOP Senate can substantially improve the bill. Republican Senators like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Lamar Alexander, are among those speaking out about the bill, he noted.

Crist also asked the crowd to contact Sen. Marco Rubio, prompting comments from the partisan crowd that they’ve tried, but couldn’t leave a message.

Others spoke to the crowd in defense of the ACA. Erica Behr, who said that when her husband’s kidney began to fail two years ago, she gave him one of hers. That is an act that the Republicans will punish her for, Behr said.

“This is a pre-existing condition for me,” she explained, adding that after kidney surgery, she developed autoimmune problems. “I would be on disability without my health care,” she said, “and that’s what the Republicans are trying to do if the ACA is repealed.”

“When you, your family or friends develop an illness, it becomes a pre-existing condition if your health care policy changes. People shouldn’t be punished financially for getting sick,” said Dr. Juan Dumois, chairman of the division or infectious disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Sunday’s rally was one of more than 75 demonstrations scheduled to take place this weekend in opposition to the passage of the AHCA. Women’s March Pinellas and Awake Pinellas led the demonstration in St. Pete.

USF community outraged after last-minute budget language is inserted to keep it from achieving ‘preeminent’ status

Officials associated with the University of South Florida this weekend are fervently seeking to change the language in an education conforming bill that will keep the university from achieving ‘pre-eminent’ status next year.

A loss of the pre-eminent status for USF could result in losing much as $15 million in state funding.

“The amount of people who are upset about this as of this morning is like anything else,” said Mike Griffin, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a USF alumnus.

In 2013, the Florida Legislature created the Preeminent State Research Universities Program, granting an extra $5 million to $15 million in state funding to universities that could meet 11 of 12 performance benchmarks used by the state to measure success. Measures include the ability to retain freshmen enrolled beyond their first year, the timely graduation of undergraduates, and the financial growth of the institution.

Since its inception, only the University of Florida and Florida State University have achieved such “pre-eminence,” but the state Board of Governors produced data last week that showed that USF was well on its way to breaking into that exclusive club, having achieved 11 of the 12 benchmarks.

Heading into this year, the university reached 10 of those 12 benchmarks, but its path to pre-eminence was paved by legislation passed by the Florida Senate that changed one of those benchmarks that a university had to achieve to a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF exceeded.

However, in the conforming bill written after the budget was finalized Friday, that benchmark was amended to what it had previously been — a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time, in-college students. That statistic exceeds USF’s graduation percentage rate for the last six years, now standing at 67 percent. USF’s Annual Work Plan says that the school’s 4-year graduation rate is unlikely to meet the new 70 percent threshold until at least 2020.

Griffin, currently chair of the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, is calling on local leaders and lawmakers to petition Senate President Joe Negron to repeal the new conforming language.

“The mistake by some at the University of South Florida was assuming that the Legislature would adopt the 50 percent graduate rate to be immediately applied retroactively,” Negron told the Tampa Bay Times. “As everyone knows, legislation is changed throughout Session.”

“This is unfortunate for USF, and for our entire region,” Griffin said.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford commented on Twitter: “It was unfair to move the pre-eminence goal post on @USouthFlorida at the last moment …”

Last June, the Florida Board of Governors formally designated USF as the state’s first “emerging pre-eminent state research university,” resulting in $5 million in targeted research investments, which the University has spent on enhancing heart health and medical engineering,

“It is important that our state leaders fully understand the effects of arbitrary changes to our Preeminence goals and metrics,” said USF Board of Trustees Chair Brian Lamb in a statement issued out by the University. “Shifting the goal posts at the endgame impacts the resources and facilities of USF’s students, our ability to attract the best and brightest to our university and city, the success of the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa, and the economic growth and competitiveness of our region.”

The Legislature is scheduled to vote on the final budget on Monday in Tallahassee.

USF lobbyist Mark Walsh said he has been in contact with the Tampa Bay delegation to alert it about the financial implication of what the budget language does.

Walsh said the university had issued a “call to action” Saturday to students, faculty and alumni to contact the delegation for help.

“At the last minute, the Legislature is planning to make a change, taking away millions of $$ of funding for USF meeting pre-eminent university metrics,” the alert said. “This late change excludes SOLELY USF from qualifying for pre-eminence AFTER the Board of Governors had certified (that) USF met the necessary criteria that had been in the proposed (bill) language since January. It will also badly hurt our downtown Tampa med school and heart institute and other USF Colleges.”

Tampa Republican state Sen. Dana Young called the change in the conforming bill, “very concerning,” and said Saturday afternoon she has a been working “to get to the bottom of it.”

This is a developing story …

Peter Schorsch contributed to this story.

Tampa Police say ‘no credible threats’ against TSA over using controversial pesticide

Tampa Sports Authority’s intention to use a controversial pesticide on Babe Zaharias Golf Course next week has caused some heated rhetoric from neighborhood opponents.

But the Tampa Police Department says an investigation so far shows no ‘credible threats’ have been posed from those critics against officials associated with the TSA.

On Thursday, Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick said that there had been threats made to him, as well as Tampa Sports Authority Eric Hart and County Commission and TSA board member Ken Hagan’s children over  Curfew, a pesticide that will be sprayed at Babe Zaharias beginning Tuesday.

Dow AgroSciences makes Curfew, with the technical name 1,3-dichloropropenene, used primarily to reduce the population of nematodes (round worms) and other soil-borne pests that damage developing root systems of young plants.

While prohibited from use on golf courses in environmentally conscious California, Curfew is approved for use on golf courses in five particular Southern states: Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and Florida.

Tampa residents in the Forest Hills area, organized under the name “Green Cities Alliance,” have been fighting against the chemical since it was first used years ago at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course. A 2008 incident led to the state penalizing the applicator for spraying it too close to a home.

TSA’s action to allow Curfew prompted angry complaints from local residents near the golf course, but City Councilman Frank Reddick said Thursday that those critics went too far when they targeted the children of TSA head Eric Hart and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, a TSA board member.

“You’ve got a group of three, four, five people, who are causing this disturbance,” said Reddick, who also serves on the TSA board. “These same anonymous people have utilized social media to invoke the kids of two members of that board.”

Reddick called it “disturbing” several times, saying he hoped that law enforcement “tracks down” those anonymous people.

“I hope they go to jail,” he said.

A review of emails shows nothing rising to the level of a “credible threat or any type of criminal activity,” TPD spokesman Eddie Durkin said Friday. 

Durkin said those emails had “some mention of the kids” of TSA officials.

Hagan said neither he nor his children, had been a target of critics.

Reddick acknowledges he was incorrect and mentioning Hagan’s kids; he was referring to another man named “Ken” on the TSA board. However, there isn’t any other board member named Ken.

“I apologize for naming the wrong Ken,” he said.

Activists have targeted TSA officials on social media and in letters, Reddick said, putting his picture and office phone number on a flier distributed to residents near Rogers Park, which sits inside his district.

“I’ve been flooded with calls,” Riddick said.

TPD’s Durkin said he had not seen those fliers, but by Reddick’s own description of including contact information, they would not seem to contain any threat.

Request for comment from the Tampa Sports Authority was not returned.

 

Joe Lopano: Tampa International master plan is about living up to George Bean’s legacy

As Tampa International Airport’s master plan expansion moves through Phase One, the Hillsborough Aviation Authority is now looking toward Phase Two.

This week, the Authority approved more than $132 million to pay for construction of a retail and office space area near the airport’s new rental car facility, which is also still under construction.

Over the past month, TIA CEO Joe Lopano has been making the rounds in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, keeping various local governments and agencies informed of all the latest developments.

On Friday, the road show took Lopano to the Oxford Exchange, where he spoke with approximately 70 people assembled as part of the weekly Cafe Con Tampa lecture series.

He began, as he usually does, by praising the man behind the creation of TIA, George Bean, who Lopano said possessed two qualities sadly missing with leaders today — vision and courage.

Lopano, referring to how the original cost for the airport came in one-hundred-percent over budget, said Bean “not only had the vision to say this is where we’re going to go, he had the courage to march through that and get it done … even though he got a lot of bad press and a lot of criticism.”

In calling for his TIA master plan, Lopano challenged planners to transcend what Bean envisioned in the late 1960s. Those planners came back with a “cheap” plan, he said, one that was unsatisfactory to him.

“I could have kicked the can down the road and did nothing if I wanted to, but it wasn’t responsible,” Lopano said, adding it wouldn’t be living up to the legacy of TIA.

“We’re doing what we said we would do.”

That includes adding direct international flights, one of the mandates the Aviation Authority was looking for when they hired Lopano in 2010. He accomplished that, in part, by offering economic incentives to the airlines, a tactic eschewed his predecessor, Louis Miller.

As an example, Lopano talked of how incentives helped attract one carrier, Edelweiss Airlines.

“You remember the naysayers said, ‘they’ll be gone after the incentives are over, this is another crazy idea. You know, this guy from Dallas,'” Lopano told the audience. “Well, after a year, when the incentives were over, they doubled their capacity to two a week. Now they’re at four a week.”

Lopano also lavishly praised key members of his team, including Vice-President of Marketing Chris Minner and Janet Zink, who he called “the best public relations government vice president in the country.”

Last month, Tampa Bay area Republican lawmakers — including Dana Young and Jack Latvala — appeared stunned when state Sen. Tom Lee went on the Senate floor to request a state audit of the TIA master plan. Lee, a Brandon Republican, pointed to allegations of “public corruption” made in the Tampa Bay-area media.

Lee cited one report from WFLA-News Channel 8 in March, which claimed the airport was four months behind in the billion-dollar-plus master plan.

To that, Lopano basically said: And your point was, exactly?

“An investigative reporter just recently said we were behind schedule,” Lopano said. “The investigative reporter discovered that I had told my board a month before that, that we were four months behind on a four-year project.”

“So, that’s really Pulitzer Prize winning stuff,” he added sarcastically to laughter in the crowd.

The airport is, in fact, currently under budget, Lopano reported. He expects the public to begin riding the people mover — part of that grand master plan to take people from a newly constructed rental car building to the main airside — by February 2018.

In addition to the WFLA piece, Lee told FloridaPolitics.com the source who put some “meats on the bones” on the story was none other than former Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board Member Martin Garcia. 

Since his mysterious departure from the board after just six months in 2014, Garcia, who heads a Tampa-based investment firm, has been a constant critic of  airport management, and, along with a few other South Tampa residents, frequently complained at Aviation Authority meetings about the jet noise from planes landing on the runway nearest their homes on the southeast side of the terminal.

But as Lopano frequently repeated over the years, the airport has no control over those flights.

“The airplanes land on the runway that the control tower tells them to land on. I have no discretion on where an airplane lands,” he said. “My responsibility is to provide a runway, markings and lights. The captain decides where he wants to put the airplane down.”

Ninety-six percent of the time, Lopano said, airlines don’t even land on the southeast side.

Rick Kriseman picks-up major endorsements from South St. Pete leaders

Rick Kriseman announced a number of high-profile endorsements from St. Petersburg’s African-American community Friday as he continues to build momentum for his re-election.

State Senator Darryl Rouson, County Commissioner Ken Welch, School Board member Rene Flowers and City Council Vice-Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman all said they would be supporting Kriseman.

“Mayor Kriseman has led on important issues and confronted big challenges” said Welch, who has served on the Pinellas County Commission since 2000. “His leadership has helped to bridge what was once a considerable divide between St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Working together, we have established the South St. Pete Community Redevelopment Area and provided the necessary funding for major projects. Mayor Kriseman deserves four more years.”

“The mayor understands the importance of public education and has fought to protect our public schools throughout his career” said Flowers, who served on the city council with Kriseman back in the aughts. “As mayor, he has not only been a presence in our schools but a regular mentor to students. Partnerships are the backbone of a strong and vibrant community where our youth can thrive, imagine, and grow. I look forward to continuing to work alongside him to ensure our students are being well-served.”

“I ran for city council to make our neighborhoods safer and to expand opportunities in a part of town that had long been under resourced,” said Wheeler-Bowman. “Mayor Kriseman has been a strong leader, a forceful advocate for sensible gun laws, and has worked tirelessly to bring economic development to my district.”

“The Kriseman Administration is creating opportunity south of Central through sustainable economic development and opportunity creation,” added Rouson, who has represented parts of South St. Pete in the Legislature since 2008. “I am especially grateful for his decision to ‘Ban the Box’, allowing for job applicants to simply be judged on their ability to do the job. I know Rick Kriseman and I know he is the right choice for St. Petersburg.”

Kriseman said he was proud of the endorsements.

“Working together, we have begun to make real progress for the residents and business owners of South St. Pete,” he said. “Due to numerous initiatives, including the 2020 Plan and our innovative community redevelopment plan, poverty is down and jobs and new business registrations are up. But there is still much more to do.”

Kriseman has a handful of opponents who have declared their intention to run against him this year, but his most formidable opponent, former Mayor Rick Baker, has yet to declare whether he will challenge Kriseman.

Polls indicate that Baker is the only candidate who could stop Kriseman from getting another four years as St. Pete’s mayor. The two men pushed aside their partisan differences and celebrated together this past week, as the Tampa Bay Rowdies overwhelmingly won a referendum that could allow them to expand the seating capacity at Al Lang Stadium.

It’s the end of the road for the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission

Legislation that would effectively kill the controversial Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission (HB 647) passed in the Florida House on Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Tampa Bay Republican Jamie Grant, was first introduced as a local bill at the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting last December.

Although the PTC has reaped a slew of negative news stories over the past three years in its attempts to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft in Hillsborough County, widespread antipathy to the organization goes back years, if not decades.

Attempts to end the agency have been discussed by Hillsborough County Republicans stretching back to 2010, when then-Senator Ronda Storms threatened to do so. Grant first talked about ending the agency’s life in the summer of 2013.

Among the previous lowlights that had saddled the PTC came in 2010 when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.

There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, who was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo service during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.

Those lawmakers became incredibly irritated with the PTC and its (now former) chairman Victor Crist over the past few years, as Uber and Lyft refused to comply with PTC regulations. That led to PTC agents citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.

The most recent full-time PTC executive director, Kyle Cockream, resigned at the end of last year.

In February, the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement confirmed that they were conducting an inquiry into missing texts sent from Cockream’s personal phone and seven other PTC phones, going back to last October. Text messages are considered public records, and deliberately deleting them is a misdemeanor crime under state law.

The PTC was created by the state legislature in 1976 to regulate taxis, limousines, vans and basic life-support ambulances in Hillsborough County. No other such entity exists in the state of Florida.

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