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Staff Reports

Three Leon County officials endorse Gwen Graham for governor

Three Leon County officials are throwing their support behind Gwen Graham.

Leon County Commissioners John Dailey and Kristin Dozier, and Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor Tabitha Frazier have endorsed Graham for governor, her campaign announced Tuesday. In a statement, Graham said she was “proud to have the support” of the local leaders, and pledged to support “elected officials on all levels to diversify our economy, invest in our schools, and protect our land and water.”

Dailey has served in District 3 since 2006, and currently serves as the chairman of the board. Dailey said he got to know Graham while she was working for the local school district.

“She fought to find common ground and solutions to the challenges we faced, while always putting our children first,” he said in a statement. “She’ll bring that same approach to state government and work with cities and counties to get things done.”

Elected in 2010, Dozier represents District 5 on the Leon County Board of County Commissioners. She served a stint as chairwoman of the board for 2013-14.

“Gwen understands that to diversify Florida’s economy in the 21st Century, we must start by investing in education, from technical training in middle schools to robust community college programs,” said Dozier, who spearheaded the Domi Station incubator project in Tallahassee, in a statement. “As governor, Gwen will partner with local leaders to develop job training and create good-paying careers.”

Frazier, an environmental activist, said she was backing Graham because she “understands the environmental issues Florida is facing and genuinely listens to all the people she represents.”

“The North Florida farmers I work with as a Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor credit Gwen for taking the time to learn about and work on the issues affecting them on her Workdays and during her Farm Tour,” she said in a statement. “To meet Gwen is to love Gwen. She is passionate about protecting Florida’s environment while creating opportunities for its citizens. She has the ability, perseverance, and intelligence to be the honest change we need here in Florida and to bring a Democrat back to the Governor’s Mansion.”

Graham, a former congresswoman and the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, is one of three Democrats running for governor in 2018. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have also thrown their hats in the race.

SalterMitchell launches ‘Fluent in Floridian’ podcast

There’s a new podcast on the block.

SalterMitchell is launching Fluent in Floridian, a new podcast featuring state leaders talking about issues important to the people of Florida and the people who visit the Sunshine State each year.

The podcast will tackle issues like economic development, environmental protection, transportation, tourism, politics and taxes. Released weekly, each episode features interviews with political leaders, influences and innovators from around the state.

“News is consumed so quickly now that it’s become hard to get to know our leaders and understand their motivations, so we’ve created a show that allows listeners to hear more than simply soundbites,” said Chris Cate, the podcast’s host and the senior public affairs director at SalterMitchell. “Fluent in Floridian is conversational, much like NPR’s Fresh Air, except we’re talking to Florida’s top leaders, innovators and influencers about their backgrounds and visions for our state.”

The podcast launched Tuesday, with SalterMitchell releasing episodes featuring interviews with Florida State University President John Thrasher, Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith, and Sally Bradshaw, a longtime senior advisor to former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Future episodes include interviews with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; Publisher Peter Schorsch; Florida Chamber of Commerce Chairman Syd Kitson; Attorney General Pam Bondi; ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon; and Craig Pittman, a Tampa Bay Times reporter and New York Times bestselling author.

Cate knows a thing or two about the inner workings of the capital city. He served as spokesman and speechwriter for former Gov. Charlie Crist, and as communications director for CFO Jeff Atwater and Secretaries of State Kurt Browning and Ken Detzner. He was also helped implement communications strategies for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Prior to joining SalterMitchell, he served as vice president of corporate communications for 180 Communications, where he led media relations efforts and conducted media training and social media etiquette around the country.

April Salter, the company’s president and COO, and Peter Mitchell, the company’s chairman and chief creative officer, serve as the show’s executive producers.

Episodes are available on, or you can subscribe on Apple podcasts or on your Android devices.

Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Gwen Graham endorse ‘rockstar’ Darden Rice for re-election

St. Petersburg City Council Chair Darden Rice’s re-election effort received a boost Monday with major endorsements from three Florida Democratic leaders.

On Monday, Rice received thumbs-up from former Governor and hometown Congressman Charlie Crist, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, and Congresswoman Gwen Graham, currently a Democratic candidate for governor.

“Darden is a rockstar, and I’m proud to call her a friend. We’ve worked together for years to make St. Petersburg a better place to live, work and play,” said Crist who represents St. Petersburg as part of Florida’s 13th Congressional District. “She has an impressive track record creating innovative solutions to the issues facing our community. We need her leadership on council, and she has my steadfast support.”

“Council Chairwoman Rice is committed to improving the quality of life for residents of St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay,” Castor said. ” I have great respect for her leadership on transportation and a clean and healthy environment – both of which are key to our economic success. That’s why we need her to continue her leadership on the St. Petersburg City Council for the next four years.”

“I’m proud to support Darden. She’s exactly the kind of leader we need in St. Petersburg,” Graham said. “She sets a strong example of thoughtful and courageous leadership that local government leaders around the state can look to and emulate.”

“I’m honored to have the endorsement of these special and dedicated Florida leaders who look out for our working families. ” Darden said. “We’re very fortunate to have such dedicated leaders fighting for us in Washington. I’m excited to continue our work together.”

George Sheldon now taken to task by hometown paper

George Sheldon‘s hometown newspaper now has weighed in on the former Florida politico, putting in newsprint the latest ethics woes of the now-director of Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services.

The Tallahassee Democrat’s Monday edition (online version here), with help from the Chicago Tribune’s estimable reporting of the last few weeks, documented Sheldon’s travails as head of Illinois’ DCFS.

The lede, by the nearly 20-year Democrat veteran Jeff Burlew: “George Sheldon, a well-known figure in Florida politics who took over Illinois’ troubled child welfare agency in 2015, is embroiled in ongoing state ethics probes and facing scrutiny over contracts given to past campaign donors and consultants.”

Sheldon, a Democrat who lost a challenge to incumbent GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2014, was secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families from 2008-2011 under then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

He also has served in the state House, as a deputy to Attorney General Bob Butterworth, and as acting assistant secretary for the federal Administration for Children and Families under President Barack Obama.

The upshot: Sheldon now is looking at a beating a retreat to Miami, to head the Our Kids nonprofit that provides child services in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Not that Sheldon—still listed as owning a home in Tallahassee that last sold for $409,000—talks much to the Florida media these days.

Sheldon, who was a reporter’s best friend during his AG campaign, now has taken to largely shunting press inquiries to right-hand man Neil Skene, a former St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) Tallahassee bureau chief. Skene joined Sheldon’s leadership team in Illinois.

“George’s leadership has won widespread, bipartisan support, including an outpouring from people in the General Assembly and the child-welfare system urging him to remain in Illinois and complete that work that is under way,” Skene told the Democrat, adding that Sheldon “saw no personal financial benefit from any of the Florida contracts.”

They include Gary Yordon, a political consultant and former Leon County commissioner, and Adam Corey, part-owner of Tallahassee’s Edison restaurant.

Yordon got “$35,000 to produce two television public service announcements about child drowning danger and safe infant sleeping practices,” the paper reported, and Corey “lobbied for a company, Presidio Networked Solutions, that was awarded more than $1 million in contracts with (Illinois’) DCFS.”

Sheldon did tell the Tribune last week he “can’t not give serious consideration to Florida. It’s home, but I also feel an obligation to Illinois.” He said he expects to make a decision “in the coming weeks.”

Rick Scott announces record tourism numbers, criticizes marketing budget cut

A record number of tourists — 31.1 million visitors — came to Florida during the first three months of 2017, a 2.5 percent increase over the same period in 2016.

Gov. Rick Scott released the latest numbers Monday at Miami’s Jungle Island.

Nearly 113 million tourists — most of them from the United States — visited last year.

However Scott warned that potential cuts to Florida’s tourism marketing agency could doom continued growth. State legislators recently voted to cut funding to Visit Florida by 67 percent.

“This historic number would not have been possible without the significant funding we have invested in Visit Florida over the past few years,” Scott said.

“Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. In business, you would never stop marketing when you start to see great results. Instead of decimating funding to Visit Florida, we should be investing in tourism marketing so we can continue to bring record visitors to our state,” Scott said.

Scott has signaled that he might veto the Legislature’s $83 billion state budget. Otherwise, it would take effect on July 1.

Meanwhile, the agency would “continue to focus on the task at hand, which is successfully marketing small, medium and large communities so the tourism industry can continue to create jobs,” Visit Florida president and CEO Ken Lawson said.

“Our organization is going to have to make tough decisions in the coming weeks and will not be able to compete with destinations like California and Texas,” Lawson said.

“We will strive every day so Florida does not become another case study like other states who lost billions of dollars in revenue due to cutting tourism marketing dollars.”

Legislative leaders have defended the cuts by pointing to questionable Visit Florida contracts.

According to Scott, a record 27.1 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida during the first quarter of the year, a 3.2 percent increase over last year’s first quarter.

There were 2.7 million overseas visitors and 1.3 million Canadians.

Total boardings at Florida’s 18 major airports increased by 1.6 percent, reflecting a record 22.7 million passengers.

There was a 2.2 percent increase in the number of hotel rooms sold, for a 0.7 percent increase in the occupancy rate compared to this time last year.

Airbnb Florida policy director Tom Martinelli issued a written statement congratulating the governor “for infusing economic development and jobs through increased tourism.”

“We are so proud to have contributed to this progress, having welcomed a record-setting 657,000 guests in Q1 via our home sharing platform, representing 69 percent growth over Q1 2016,” Martinelli said.

“Gov. Scott has our commitment that we will continue doing our part to grow the pie and help elevate Florida’s brand as a global, family-friendly tourism destination.”

This article contains material republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott names two to Southwest Florida Water Management District

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott named two to the Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Joel Schleicher, 65, of Sarasota, is the founder and executive chair of Focal Point Data Risk, a risk-management firm based in Tampa. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota.

Schleicher fills a vacant seat for a term ending March 1, 2019.

Rebecca Smith, 57, is the president and chief executive officer for the A.D. Morgan Corporation, a Tampa-based construction firm.

Last year, Smith mounted an unsuccessful bid for Florida House District 60. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida and will serve a term ending March 1, 2021.

Both appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Tampa Bay Rowdies overpower Louisville City FC in 2-0 win

On the night that Georgi Hristov became the new record holder for most appearances for the modern Tampa Bay Rowdies, Georgi Hristov did what Georgi Hristov does best.

Hristov scored the first goal of the night as the Rowdies knocked Louisville City FC from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 2-0 win in front of 5,410 fans at Al Lang Stadium.

Hristov entered the match tied with Takuya Yamada on 120 official appearances for the Rowdies and entered the match in the 53rd minute to take sole possession at the top of the record book.

His entrance changed the whole tone of the match and it didn’t take long for the Bulgarian — who also holds the Modern Era scoring record — to put his team ahead.

Just six minutes after entering the match, Hristov received the ball on the left wing and cut in on his right foot before launching a picture-perfect right-footed shot that curled around Louisville goalkeeper Tim Dobrowolski and into the side netting to put Tampa Bay ahead.

It was Hristov’s team-high fourth goal of the season and his 42nd as a member of the Rowdies.

“I knew I was going to make an impact,” Hristov said. “I know it sounds a little bit cocky, but I felt that way. I wasn’t sure if I was going to score a goal, but I really believed I had to make an impact because we needed it. … It was a great win against, what I personally think, is one of the best teams in the league.”

Deshorn Brown would double Tampa Bay’s lead in the 72nd minute, collecting a masterful pass from Joe Cole and beating Dobrowolski one-on-one to score his third goal of the season.

The win is Tampa Bay’s fifth in six home matches this season. It was the Rowdies’ sixth clean sheet in nine games. Prior to Hristov’s goal, Louisville hadn’t trailed a match all season.

“Georgi is a top-drawer player,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with him and we’re fortunate to have him in our ranks because he could play at the very highest level.”

It was a quiet first half for both sides, with just two total shots on goal in the opening 45 minutes, both for the Rowdies.

In the second half, the Rowdies were clearly the much better side.

Nearly from the moment Hristov entered the match, Tampa Bay piled the pressure on Louisville.

“In the second half, we felt opportunities would arise because they couldn’t keep pressuring us at the level they were,” Campbell said. “It was nice to get a result against (Louisville.) They took three points off us in the first game and we spoke about how we wanted to get those points back.”

A pair of back-to-back corner kicks in the 55th minute saw both Darwin Jones and Joe Cole have shots saved by Dobrowolski.

Louisville’s best scoring chance of the night came in the 70th minute when Kyle Smith put a header on target from point-blank range, but Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens got down quickly to make the save at his left-hand post. It was Louisville’s only shot on target all night.

The win saw the Rowdies keep pace with the Charleston Battery atop the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay sits in second place with 17 points, two behind Charleston.

For now, though, the Rowdies will turn their focus toward the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which begins Tuesday night for Tampa Bay. The Rowdies host Jacksonville Armada FC U23 in the second round at Al Lang. For free tickets, call (727) 308-5203 or email

Tampa Bay will be back in league action next Friday tonight, when it visits Toronto FC II. The Rowdies’ next home USL game is May 27 against Saint Louis FC.

Scoring Summary
Rowdies: Georgi Hristov – 59th minute (Assisted by Joe Cole)
Rowdies: Deshorn Brown – 72nd minute (Assisted by Joe Cole)

Caution Summary
Rowdies: Darnell King – 46th minute
Rowdies: Damion Lowe – 70th minute
Rowdies: Neill Collins – 73rd minute
Rowdies: Marcel Schäfer – 78th minute
Louisville: Paco Craig – 87th minute
Rowdies: Matt Pickens – 89th minute

Starting Lineups
Rowdies XI (4-2-3-1): GK Matt Pickens; D Darnell King, Damion Lowe, Neill Collins, Marcel Schäfer; M Justin Chavez, Martin Vingaard; M Darwin Jones, Joe Cole (c)(Michael Nanchoff 89′), Leo Fernandes (Georgi Hristov 53′); F Deshorn Brown (Martin Paterson 78′)

Louisville City FC XI (4-2-3-1): GK Tim Dobrowolski; D Kyle Smith, Sean Totsch, Paco Craig, Oscar Jimenez; M Guy Abend, Paolo DelPiccolo (c); M Brian Ownby (Cameron Lancaster 71′), George Davis IV (Ilija Ilic 79′), Mark Anthony Kaye (Richard Ballard 65′); F Luke Spencer.


David Rivera banks another $110,000 for April

Former state representative and congressman David Rivera banked $110,750 last month toward his 2018 run for House District 105, campaign finance records show.

The April take follows a $100,000 loan. Rivera is looking to replace term-limited state Rep. Carlos Trujillo in the Republican-leaning district.

His only competitor, Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez, collected $36,800 for April, bringing her total to $51,425.

Rivera served in the Florida House for four terms before heading to the U.S. House where he served 2 years before losing his re-election bid to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

Rivera was the subject of a federal investigation alleging he ran a campaign finance scheme in his 2012 congressional re-election campaign, but the Miami U.S. Attorney’s office has so far declined to indict him.

He attempted to get back into the Florida House last year, but fell 54 votes short in the HD 118 contest against Democratic Rep. Robert Ascensio.

Transportation board settles on three for next FDOT head

The list of names to be the next secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation is down to three.

The Florida Transportation Commission, the department’s advisory board, interviewed five applicants Thursday and is set to recommend three to Gov. Rick Scott.

They are Richard Biter, a former assistant secretary of the transportation department; Phillip Gainer, FDOT’s District Secretary for northwest Florida; and Florida Transportation Commissioner Ron Howse.

The panel will officially vote to recommend those candidates next week.

More than 120 people had applied for the open position, created when former Secretary Jim Boxold resigned in January to join Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting firm.

Adam Putnam fundraising panel notches over $800,000 for April

The political committee of Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam posted more than $800,000 in contributions for the month of April, the state’s campaign finance website shows.

Florida Grown reported $809,156 in fundraising and $276,479 in expenditures for the month.

That brings the committee’s total take since its February 2015 formation to $11.3 million in contributions. It also spent nearly $3.1 million, records show, for a cash-on-hand amount of about $8.2 million.

Putnam, the sitting Agriculture Commissioner, announced his candidacy Wednesday in his home of Polk County.

August A. Busch of Anheuser-Busch fame gave $100,000 in April, as did the Florida Chamber of Commerce‘s political arm.

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