Phil Ammann - 6/384 - SaintPetersBlog

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

Donald Trump embraces legacy of Andrew Jackson

It was an ugly, highly personal presidential election.

An unvarnished celebrity outsider who pledged to represent the forgotten laborer took on an intellectual member of the Washington establishment looking to extend a political dynasty in the White House.

Andrew Jackson‘s triumph in 1828 over President John Quincy Adams bears striking similarities to Donald Trump‘s victory over Hillary Clinton last year, and some of those most eager to point that out are in the Trump White House.

Trump’s team has seized upon the parallels between the current president and the long-dead Tennessee war hero. Trump has hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office and Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who has pushed the comparison, told reporters after Trump’s inaugural address that “I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.”

Trump himself mused during his first days in Washington that “there hasn’t been anything like this since Andrew Jackson.”

It’s a remarkable moment of rehabilitation for a figure whose populist credentials and anti-establishment streak has been tempered by harsher elements of his legacy, chiefly his forced removal of Native Americans that caused disease and the death of thousands.

“Both were elected presidents as a national celebrity; Jackson due to prowess on battlefield and Trump from making billions in his business empire,” said Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University. “And it’s a conscious move for Trump to embrace Jackson. In American political lore, Jackson represents the forgotten rural America while Trump won by bringing out that rural vote and the blue collar vote.”

The seventh president, known as “Old Hickory” for his toughness on the battlefield, gained fame when he led American forces to a victory in the Battle of New Orleans in the final throes of the War of 1812. He did serve a term representing Tennessee in the Senate, but he has long been imagined as a rough and tumble American folk hero, an anti-intellectual who believed in settling scores against political opponents and even killed a man in a duel for insulting the honor of Jackson’s wife.

Jackson also raged against what he deemed “a corrupt bargain” that prevented him from winning the 1824 election against Adams when the race was thrown to the House of Representatives after no candidate received a majority in the Electoral College. Even before the vote in November, Trump railed against a “rigged” election and has repeatedly asserted, without evidence, widespread voter fraud prevented his own popular vote triumph.

Jackson’s ascension came at a time when the right to vote was expanded to all white men — and not just property-owners — and he fashioned himself into a populist, bringing new groups of voters into the electoral system. Remarkably, the popular vote tripled between Jackson’s loss in 1824 and his victory four years later, and he used the nation’s growing newspaper industry — like Trump on social media — to spread his message.

Many of those new voters descended on Washington for Jackson’s 1829 inauguration and the crowd of thousands that mobbed the Capitol and the White House forced Jackson to spend his first night as president in a hotel.

Once in office, he continued his crusade as a champion for the common man by opposing the Second Bank of the United States, which he declared to be a symptom of a political system that favored the rich and ignored “the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves.”

Jackson, as Trump hopes to do, expanded the powers of the presidency, and a new political party, the new Democratic party, coalesced around him in the 1820s. He was the first non-Virginia wealthy farmer or member of the Adams dynasty in Massachusetts to be elected president.

“The American public wanted a different kind of president. And there’s no question Donald Trump is a different kind of president,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this past week. “He’s now comparing himself to Andrew Jackson. I think it’s a pretty good, a pretty good comparison. That’s how big a change Jackson was from the Virginia and Massachusetts gentlemen who had been president of the United States for the first 40 years.”

But there are also limits to the comparison, historians say.

Unlike Jackson, who won in 1828 in a landslide, Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots. Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2008 biography of Jackson, “American Lion,” said Jackson was “an outsider in style but not in substance” and his outlandish public pronouncements would often be followed by hours of deep conversations and letter-writing hashing out political calculations.

“He was a wild man during the day but a careful diplomat at night,” said Meacham, who said it was too early to know whether Trump, like Jackson, “had a strategy behind his theatrics,” and whether Trump had the ability to harness the wave of populism that has swept the globe as it did in the 1820s.

“The moment is Jacksoninan but do we have a Jackson in the Oval Office?” Meacham asked.

Trump’s appropriation of Jackson came after his victory. Trump never mentioned Jackson during the campaign or discussed Jackson during a series of conversations with Meacham last spring

But it is hardly unique for a president to adopt a previous one as a historical role model.

Barack Obama frequently invoked Abraham Lincoln. Dwight Eisenhower venerated George Washington. Jackson himself had been claimed by Franklin Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, both of whom — unlike Trump — interpreted Jackson’s populism as a call for expanded government, in part to help the working class.

There could be other comparisons for Trump. A favorable one would be Eisenhower, also a nonpolitician who governed like a hands-off CEO. A less favorable one would be Andrew Johnson, a tool of his party whose erratic behavior helped bring about his impeachment.

Trump’s embrace could signal an about-face for Jackson’s legacy. Historians have recently soured on the slave-owning president whose Indian Removal Act of 1830 commissioned the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States. More than 4,000 died along their journey west, a brutal march that became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Jackson’s standing had fallen so much that in 2015, when the U.S. Treasury announced plans to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with Harriet S. Tubman, the outcry in defense of the Founding Father — in part due to the success of the Broadway musical that tells his story — was so loud that the government changed course and opted to remove Jackson from the $20 instead.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Neighbor sues Derek Jeter over ‘excessive’ fence height at massive Davis Island home

Good fences make not make good neighbors, as New York Yankees superstar Derek Jeter faces off with a neighbor over the fence height around his massive Davis Islands property.

Deborah Ann “Debbie” Zomermaand is the 59-year-old treasurer of the Davis Islands Civic Association and vice president of Zomermaand Management Services. In 2006, Zomermaand and husband Randy purchased a $1.35-million, 4,608-square-foot Davis Islands home at 192 Corsica St. Four years later, the couple bought the home next door at 190 Corsica St.

Deborah sued Randy for divorce in October 2016; the case is currently in Hillsborough County court.

Jeter is the 42-year-old former All-Star player who played his entire professional career with the Yankees. In 2009, he built a 21,796-square-foot home at 58 Bahama Cir., which spans three lots on the Davis Islands waterfront. Jeter’s 7-bedroom, 9-bath house was recently appraised by the county at $11.9-million.

Jeter lives at the home with his wife, Hannah; the couple recently announced they are expecting a baby.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that the Tampa Variance Review Board approved Jeter’s request Jan. 10, allowing him to increase the height of the fence around his home to 8 feet and making the fencing opaque.

The variance is to help preserve the Jeter’s privacy and security. Attorney Brad Culpepper, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player who lives next door to Jeter, has supported the request.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Richard Danielson wrote about the height variance, citing intrusiveness and an increasing security risk, with “uninvited visitors get out of their cars to take photos, shoot video, lie down on the sidewalk, damage landscaping, antagonize neighborhood dogs and even fly drones.”

Debbie Zomermaand was the only person opposing the petition.

In a 156-page petition for Writ of Certiorari filed Feb. 6 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Debbie Zomermaand asks to overturn Jeter’s fence variance. She claims the Variance Review Board mistakenly concluded that she has no standing as an “aggrieved party” since she does not live within 250 feet of Jeter’s home.

Zomermaand also argues the Board exceeded its authority and Jeter’s situation does not actually meet the definition of “hardship.” Testimony by Jeter’s representatives, she adds, exaggerated the danger and inconvenience the Jeter family allegedly faces in the Davis Islands home.

This is not the first time Debbie Zomermaand has taken issue with what she considers an unusually tall fence. In 2013, Zomermaand sued over a property at 100 W. Davis Boulevard, claiming the Tampa City Council was wrong to allow the owner to build a 6-foot fence.


In 1st House speech, Charlie Crist vows ‘Commitment to Civility’

Charlie Crist wants to see more of the Golden Rule in Congress, with a call for civil discourse on Capitol Hill.

In his first speech on the floor of the U.S. House, the St. Petersburg Democrat joined a bipartisan class of 46 freshman lawmakers who signed a “Commitment to Civility” pledge.

This pledge seeks to “restore collegiality, trust and civility to Congress, encourage productive dialogue, and work to build consensus and the public’s trust in America’s institutions.”

In the letter, the group promised to remain: “dedicated to showing proper respect to one another and all others, encouraging productive dialogue, and modeling civility in our public and private actions.”

“While we may vehemently disagree on matters of law and policy, we will strive at all times to maintain collegiality and the honor of our office,” they write.

Crist represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“I am honored to represent Pinellas County in Congress, and I promise to fight for the needs of my home county. But I pledge to do so in keeping with the ‘Golden Rule,’ to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Crist said in his speech. “I am proud that our freshman class has put forward this ‘Commitment to Civility’ pledge. It states that despite our political differences, at the end of the day we must work together to move our country forward, putting people over politics and treating each other with respect — even when we disagree.”

Other first-year members of the Florida delegation signing the Commitment include Matt Gaetz of CD 1, Neal Dunn of CD 2, John Rutherford of CD 4, Al Lawson of CD 5, , Val Demings of CD 10, Brian Mast of CD 18 and Francis Rooney of CD 19.

Airbnb becomes target after Clearwater man slips in private short-term rental

As home sharing grows in popularity worldwide, Airbnb is also becoming an increasingly larger target for people who view the network as having deep pockets.

Such as the case in Pinellas County Civil Court, where a Clearwater man who rented a private home in Miami for two nights slipped on a bathroom rug and fell after exiting the shower.

Sophorn Ly, 39, rented the home with seven other guests through Airbnb, the San Francisco-based company leading the peer-to-peer home sharing phenomenon.

After exiting the shower, Ly claims to have tripped on a rug lacking “proper non-slip backing,” leaving him with what he calls “severe and personal permanent injuries.”

But instead of suing the host, 41-year-old Juliana Terra Leite, Ly is turning his sights on Airbnb, claiming the company was negligent

Ly claims that it was Airbnb – not the homeowner – that had a responsibility to “ascertain the property … be in a reasonably safe condition.” Interestingly, he continues by declaring Airbnb “allowed” the rug to be placed at the home at 7712 SW 94th Terrace in Miami.

If Ly is successful in the suit, filed February 2 in Pinellas County, it could result in a significant change in the operation of Airbnb – which already requires individuals hosting through the network to submit any guest injuries to their own insurance companies first. The lawsuit does not indicate if either Ly or the homeowner took this initial step.

St. Pete City Council candidate Barclay Harless hosting young professional fundraiser Feb. 21

A trio of local young professionals are holding a fundraiser next week to support Barclay Harless in his bid for St. Petersburg City Council.

The event is Tuesday, Feb. 21 at the Brewer’s Tasting Room, 11270 4th St. N in St. Petersburg. Suggested contribution is $50.

Harless is running for the District 2 seat, which covers most of Northeast St. Petersburg and is now held by term-limited Jim Kennedy.

Hosting the event are attorney Gill Lazenby, banker Mark Stroud Jr., and wealth manager Brooks Wallington. Both Harless and Stroud serve as vice presidents at the Bank of the Ozarks in St. Petersburg.

So far, Harless will face Brandi Gabbard, a former president of the Pinellas Realtor Organization.

Information and donations to Harless’ campaign can be made through

Primaries for the City of St. Petersburg mayoral race are Aug. 29; general election at-large voting is Nov. 7.

1010 Central condo owners claim ‘defective’ construction, sue builder

Condominium owners in downtown St. Petersburg are hopping mad over alleged “defective” construction of their complex, as well as a variety of building code violations.

The 1010 Central Condominium Association, a nonprofit corporation representing owners in the complex at 1010 Central Ave., are suing the project’s owners and general contractor for what they claim was failure to “employ good design engineering and construction practices.”

Defendants in the case, filed Feb. 3 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, are Georgia-based Batson-Cook of Tampa Inc. and MPI 1010 Central LLC.

In 2004, Miles Properties of Atlanta announced plans for a five-story mixed use condominium complex, featuring 112 one- and two-bedroom apartments and retail stores on the ground floor.

To develop the project, Miles created MPI 1010 Central. In 2010, Miles declared bankruptcy.

Batson-Cook was the general contractor on 1010 Central. Residents began occupying the units in 2007, and Batson-Cook went on to develop other projects in the Tampa Bay region. 

As the owners’ representative, the Association claims many Central units have “defects and deficiencies,” first hidden from owners, who later found it would take large sums of money to fix.

While the Association is blaming both Mills Properties and Batson-Cook for alleged violations of building codes, court documents do not specify the problems at the now-decade-old building. They do say the issues were “hidden and/or concealed and were not discoverable by reasonable and customary inspection.”

Per the suit, Baston-Cook “breached implied warranties by failing in designing or constructing the buildings and the improvements, to comply with the requirements of applicable building codes, failing to design or construct in accordance with proper and approved construction plans and specifications, and failing to employ good design, engineering and construction practices.”

The Association is demanding a jury trial.

Rick Scott salutes Jeff Atwater’s work as CFO

Gov. Rick Scott praised the work of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who announced Friday he will be joining Florida Atlantic University after the 2017 Legislative Session.

“I got to know CFO Jeff Atwater well in 2010 on the campaign trail, and like me, he has been laser-focused on keeping the cost of living low for all Floridians,” Scott said in a statement. “I am proud that the state has paid down over $7.6 billion in debt since 2011,” adding that Atwater “aggressively helped us achieve that goal.”

Scott noted Atwater’s fight “to reduce burdensome regulations that hinder job growth, protect families from financial fraud” and as well as his efforts to return $1 billion in unclaimed property to the rightful owners.

Calling Atwater “a proud Floridian, father, husband and friend,” the governor said he will “truly miss” working with him.

“The role of the CFO is incredibly important to our state,” Scott said, “and I will begin the process to appoint someone to serve Florida families.”

Former East Lake High baseball player accuses coaches of shaking him down for cash

Robert Michael “Rob” Lober

A former East Lake High School baseball player is suing the Pinellas County School Board, accusing two coaches of shaking him down for cash in 2015.

Robert Michael “Rob” Lober — also known as Robert Michael Schembri — is a 20-year-old Pinellas County resident. Lober works customer service at a Tampa Publix, according to his LinkedIn bio, and is currently a student at USF studying finance.

In early 2015, Lober was a catcher and third baseman on the East Lake baseball team, when coaches Dan Genna and Rafael Perez allegedly began pressuring him give or lend them money on several occasions.

The coaches knew Lober had recently settled a personal injury claim; he repeatedly rejected their demands for money. Lober accuses the pair of retaliation by benching him for most or all of the 2015 season as well as failing to treat him “fairly and honestly.”

Genna was East Lake High baseball coach for five seasons when he resigned in June 2015. He had a 102-39 record while at East Lake, leading the Eagles to the Class 7A state final in 2014. Before joining East Lake, Genna coached at Tarpon Springs High for seven seasons.

“I feel this is the best time to step away from the program,” Genna told the Tampa Bay Times. “I just don’t want to do the all-year grind.”

After his resignation, Genna continued to teach at East Lake, 1300 Silver Eagle Dr. in Tarpon Springs. As of February 2017, Carmela Haley is the school’s principal and Zach Roper is head baseball coach.

In a lawsuit filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court Feb. 6, Lober says the benching cost him a shot at a college baseball scholarship, among other financial benefits. Lober is asking for a jury trial.

Records suggest Lober is the son of Debra DiStefano-Schembri, a Palm Harbor resident who married Peter Schembri in 2012. Police records show that in August 2013, DiStefano-Schembri was arrested by Pinellas County sheriffs on a single charge of child abuse.

Senate Rules Committee stands its ground on Stand Your Ground

A Florida Senate committee overwhelmingly approved the latest attempt to expand the state’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law.

On Thursday, the Senate Rules Committee passed the measure after advocates said it would stop unnecessary prosecutions.

Opponents alleged it would stop a lot of necessary prosecutions, as well.

Senate Bill 128 would allow gun defendants to demand pretrial hearings on their claims of self-defense, putting the burden of proof on prosecutors to prove the defendants used the guns not in self-defense.

After more than an hour of debate, SB 128 won committee approval with just a smattering of no votes, mostly from Democrats.

Sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley and others pushed the bill as a response to a 2015 Florida Supreme Court decision that established pretrial rules and procedure for stand-your-ground defenses, but placed the burden of proof on defendants. Bradley argued it was never the Florida Legislature’s intent to make stand-your-ground a burden for the accused to prove. The intent, Bradley said, always had been that the state — prosecutors — needed to prove that self-defense wasn’t the reason for the gun use, even if it results in the death of an alleged attacker.

The ramifications have partisan and racial overtones, as well as high emotions. Democrats and others who’ve advocated for restrictions on gun usages have argued that many stand your ground cases involve white defendants shooting or threatening black alleged attackers.

And the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford made Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, passed in 2005, a national debate.

Yet the ramifications also go the other way, as suggested by the case of Marissa Alexander, who is black, and who was denied a Stand Your Ground defense when she was prosecuted and convicted of firing a warning shot at her abusive husband in 2012.

SB 128 could have prevented either of those cases from ever going to trial if the prosecutors had not been able to disprove a self-defense claim, beyond a reasonable doubt, during a pretrial hearing.

Alexander, who was freed in January, testified Thursday for SB 128.

“I’m just going to give you three numbers. Number one. Number 12. And number 20. For me, one shot, a 12-minute verdict got me 20 years,” she said. “I did go through a Stand Your Ground hearing. And in that hearing, you could tell the court and the prosecution struggled with that because it was difficult. With that said, putting a defendant in the position where they have to bear the burden of proof, in my opinion, removes your Constitutional right, the 5th Amendment.”

Bradley argued that the bill is not an expansion but a fix, to the Supreme Court decision made in Bretherick v. Florida, which put the burden of proof squarely on the defendant to show, by a preponderance of evidence, that there is a self-defense case.

“Since our country’s finding, our criminal justice system has certain basic premises that are timeless. These are principals that every American intuitively understands. You are innocent until proven guilty. The government carries the burden of proof from the beginning of a case until the end,” Bradley said, arguing that the Bretherick decision goes against that.

Others, including state Sens. Perry Thurston Jr., Oscar Braynon rebutted that, saying there are many situations in which defendants pursuing “affirmative defenses” — which also include alleging entrapment — have the burden of proof in pretrial hearings. Braynon also pressed Bradley to name one other state that puts the burden of proof on prosecutors in Stand Your Ground hearings, and Bradley said he could not.

Pinellas County sends more than 26K mail ballots for March 14 elections

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark announced her office mailed 26,512 ballots Tuesday to domestic voters in the 10 municipalities holding elections March 14.

Those municipalities include Gulfport (3,615); Indian Rocks Beach: (1,439); Madeira Beach (1,252); North Redington Beach (548); Redington Shores (220); Safety Harbor (5,606); South Pasadena (2,093); St. Pete Beach (3,506); Tarpon Springs (6,742) and Treasure Island (1,491).

Clark says that all eligible registered voters can request a mail ballot and voted mail ballots must be received at one of the three county elections offices by 7 p.m. Election Day. Additional mail ballot requests will be fulfilled as received.

Changes in postal delivery service mean voters must allow at least one week for mail ballots to arrive at the Supervisor of Elections office. Voted mail ballots cannot be accepted at polling places.

Domestic voters are identified as civilian voters in the United States and active-duty military voters residing in Pinellas County.

To request a mail ballot, visit, call 727-464-VOTE (8683) or email

The deadline to request a mail ballot is 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 8.


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