Eric Lynn wins endorsement from Florida NOW PAC in HD 68

The political action committee for Florida NOW (National Organization for Women) has endorsed Eric Lynn for the Florida State House District 68 in St Petersburg. NOW Pinellas chapters also announced support for Lynn.

“NOW Florida is proud to endorse Eric Lynn for Florida State House District 68.  We know Eric Lynn will continue to the fight for rights for women and families as our State Representative, just as he always has.” said Ruth Whitney, Pinellas NOW Elections Chair.

“NOW Florida has all the confidence that Eric Lynn will make a great Representative in House District 68 and we truly appreciate his past and continued support for women.” said Terry Sanders, President of Florida NOW.

“I am honored to have earned the support of NOW and of so many women across Pinellas County,” replied Lynn a statement issued out by his campaign on Monday. “The people of Pinellas can count on me to continue to fight for our families, equality for women and to defend a women’s right to choose.”

Lynn is running against attorney Ben Diamond in the HD 68 Democratic primary that takes place on Aug.30.

Lynn also was endorsed this weekend by the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County, as was Diamond.

However, Diamond’s campaign sent out a press release early Monday making no mention of the fact that it was a joint endorsement.

“I’d like to thank the Stonewall Democrats for their endorsement and I look forward to continuing to fight for LBGT rights as I have throughout my career, like when I was part of the team at the Pentagon that ended ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,'” Lynn told Monday afternoon.

In Seminole, recreation is about more than sports or exercise

Seminole Digital DenSeminole has opened its “Digital Den,” a state-of-the-art digital arts studio that’s the first of its kind in a municipal recreation setting.

The studio, which opened Monday, is designed to appeal to kids who might be more interested in art and technology than in sports or exercise.

The studio is the brainchild of Mark Ely, the city’s community development director. Not only did Ely come up with the concept, but he also funded the studio out-of-pocket. Thus far, he’s put between $90,000 and $100,000 of his own money into the studio, and there’s more to come once the studio starts functioning full-time and the city discovers what, if anything, is needed to fill any “holes” in the offerings.

“Mark not only opened up his wallet, he opened up his heart to this project,” Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters said. She called Ely “visionary” and said the studio is the first of its kind in a municipal setting. Similar high-tech digital arts centers can be found at universities, she said.

Waters agreed the studio would likely lure in kids — and adults — who normally don’t hang out at rec centers.

“Not every kid wants to be out there on the basketball court,” she said.

Kids who don’t want to be on the court, or who want to take a break from the court, will find lots to do in the studio. It houses ten iMac computers with creative software that provides users the full ability to paint, sculpt, illustrate, do graphic design, create animation and comics, and do two- and three-dimensional modeling. Users are also able to create music, movies, books, and games.

There’s also a partnership with the Digital Arts Program at St. Petersburg College’s Seminole campus. The partnership is designed to foster student interns who will help supervise the Digital Den and teach classes there.

“The likelihood that you’re going to outgrow this program means you’re in Hollywood making movies,” Seminole recreation director Becky Gunter said.

Her job, she said, is to create digital arts-based recreation programs for kids and adults. The target user, she said, is anyone from elementary school on up.

Ely, 56, said he got the idea while in Rio de Janeiro about three years ago. He was watching a television show about a rural Brazilian community that was scavenging old computers to put together a community computer center. His imagination took off.

He began doing research about computers and the arts and how to set up a digital arts studio at the city’s recreation center and found that what he envisioned just “doesn’t exist.” So he created it. He spent two years learning about digital arts, then began buying components of the system.

After he’d gotten in a few pieces that he was storing in his city office, Ely went to then-City Manager Frank Edmunds to tell him about the idea. Edmunds asked him what Ely would have done had the idea been nixed.

“I said I’d have nieces and nephews who’d be really happy kids,” Ely said.

Anti-TBX activists accuse Tampa Bay Partnership of conflict of interest and intimidation

Tensions between supporters and critics of the Tampa Bay Express haven’t tempered after last week’s vote by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to put the TBX  into the organization’s Transportation Improvement Project (TIP).

An email sent out by a member of the Tampa Bay Partnership to the members of the MPO and members of the TBX Yes coalition thanked the members of the MPO who supported the proposal. The letter also listed all of those on the board – both pro and con- who are up for re-election this year in Hillsborough County. Now some anti-TBX critics say that email was a form of intimidation, and they want the Partnership to be investigated for its lobbying efforts.

Ryan Patmintra, the VP of Public Policy and Advocacy for the Partnership, sent an email to all members of the MPO board and other Partnership members on Thursday. At the end of the letter, he noted the five members of the MPO who are up for reelection this year, and noted that he had attached a file that included contact information for the MPO members “in case you wanted to reach out to them.”

Those five members were Sandy Murman, Cindy Stuart, Kevin Beckner, Lisa Montelione and Les Miller.

That last comment by Patmintra apparently irked some TBX critics. Referring to how the Partnership receives funding from the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County, and the Hillsborough County School board, and has been lobbying for the MPO to support the TBX, Rick Fernandez and Lena Young Green – two members of the coalition who are against the Tampa Bay Express being built – assert in a press release that the Partnership “failed to recognize and disclose this conflict of interest” before the MP vote last week and has “tainted” the TIP review and approval process.

“While this may all seem to be politics as usual, it is not what we expect of a 501(c)(3) Not For Profit Corporation partially funded by public money,” their statement reads. “We call for an investigation of Tampa Bay Partnership’s involvement in the TBX lobbying effort including its relationship with FDOT, all discussions with MPO Board members and representatives of member organizations and all inducements promised or political “payback” threatened or implied.”

Fernandez and Young Green also say that “one source has learned TBP intends to form a PAC to oppose candidacies of individuals who voted against TBX.”

Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, said the statement from the critics of TBX was “riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations.”

For one, he says the Partnership is a 501 (c)(6), not a 501(c)(3), which allows the Partnership to lobby and get involved in campaigns. In fact, the Partnership was the leading agency supporting the Moving Hillsborough Forward transportation tax measure in Hillsborough County in 2010.

Fernandez counters that the Partnership receives public funds from organizations whose members sit on the MPO board. “That’s a conflict of interest,” he maintains.

And Homans completely dismisses the suggestion that the Partnership was thinking of creating a PAC, saying that there has never been any such discussions on the subject, and adding, “I cannot begin to tell you where this group makes up what process they go through to make up these charges.”

Regarding the email sent by Patmintra, Homans says it was factual and “left it to our members to decide to get involved in any other way.” Fernandez counters that it was “intended to be chilling in its impact.”

Anti-TBX critics are noting how shortly after the Partnership’s email was sent out, Brian Lamb, the president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank, announced that he was supporting Republican Shawn Harrison in his battle against Montelione in the HD 63 seat this fall.

Lamb told in an email that Harrison is simply “the better candidate” in the HD 63 race.

When asked if Monteleone’s vote opposing the TBX influence his decision in endorsing Harrison, Lamb wrote that, “Shawn has some history and early leadership with this critically important regional project.  He has consistently supported the TBX project, yet another example of where he and I are aligned.  I’m sensitive to the number of stakeholders with various views on TBX and those that are impacted in different ways.  That being said, the status quo for transportation in Tampa Bay is obsolete and taking no action for change is not a position I can support.”



Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County endorse both Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn in HD 68 race

St. Petersburg attorney Ben Diamond announced Monday that he’s being endorsed by the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County in the race for the House District 68 seat in Pinellas County.

“I’m so grateful to have the support of the Stonewall Democrats,” said Diamond in a statement. “While we were all thrilled when a year ago the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, there’s still so much work to do. When I get to Tallahassee, I’ll continue to fight for the rights of our friends and neighbors in the LGBT community.”

Because the statement came from Diamond, however, he neglected to say that the Stonewall Dems also endorsed Eric Lynn, the Democrat running against Diamond in the Aug. 30 Democratic Primary. The original version of this story only mentioned that Diamond had won the party’s endorsement.

Last month, Lynn dropped his bid to succeed U.S. Rep. David Jolly, choosing instead to run for state House in the mostly Democratic district held by Dwight Dudley.

Many expect the primary between Lynn and Diamond to be contentious and expensive, given that both are prominent Democrats with real fundraising ability.

A former Obama campaign staffer and official with the Defense Department official, Lynn had been building support for his congressional before former Gov. Charlie Crist entered the race. Lynn also had about $625,000 in his congressional campaign account, which could be moved over to a political committee to back his state House effort.

As for Diamond, the grandson of former U.S. Rep. Dante Fascell, he has been a longtime supporter of several Democratic candidates, and can count on the backing of some big-time Democrats in his ambitions for HD 68.

According to, Diamond has already collected endorsements in his House campaign: former Florida CEO and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink; former Sen. Bob Graham, P, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Pinellas County Commissioners Charlie Justice and Ken Welch, and City Council members Karl Nurse, Darden Rice and Jim Kennedy.

The winner will face Republican JB Bensmihen in November.

Tampa attorney and political activist Stacy Frank dies at 61

Stacy Frank, a Tampa-based attorney and small business owner and the daughter of Hillsborough Clerk of the Courts Pat Frank, died on Saturday, June 25, at the age of 61 from lung cancer.

Frank was very involved in Hillsborough County politics, including assisting in her mother’s campaigns for Clerk of the Courts.

“Stacy was a fighter, a believer and an inspiration to many. I always looked up to her as a strong woman and a successful businesswoman,” wrote Ashley Walker, the Fort Lauderdale political strategist who ran President Barack Obama’s re-election effort in Florida, on her Facebook page.

“She helped guide me through many difficult decisions, and she was one of my first calls when making big professional decisions,” Walker added. “But most importantly, she had a huge heart and was always up for a good time. She’ll truly be missed.”

Frank’s friends say she was a big political junkie, and she told this reporter back in 2010 that she recalled watching committee meetings and votes while her mother was serving in the Florida Senate back in the 1970s. She graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington D.C. and told me at that time that, “I had these great visions of going abroad.” But she lost her enthusiasm for going overseas after the Iranian hostage crisis unfolded, and ultimately attended Florida State University to get her law degree.

Frank was an attorney and later in her career became president and CEO of Collier Enterprises II, which negotiated leases and constructed cell towers. When the Hillsborough County school district hired Collier Enterprises II to build such towers on school campuses, it became a contentious issue with some South Tampa parents, who said the towers were not safe.

That issue emerged as Frank began her campaign for the one and only political office she ever attempted to win, the House District 57 seat being vacated by Faye Culp in 2010. The matchup between Frank and Republican Dana Young was fiercely fought, with both parties putting in considerable resources to take what was considered a swing seat.

Young ultimately won the seat in November of 2010, 56 percent to 44 percent, in a huge year for Republicans in Florida.

“She was an amazing woman,” says Tampa Democratic strategist Ana Cruz. “She was an understated intellectual who was fiercely loyal with an incredible sense of humor and a unique giggle that was contagious.

“Stacy Frank was an American entrepreneur, a mentor and a role model to young women,” said Alan Clendenin, vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party, current school board candidate and a close friend. “She embodied what every dad wants their daughter to be: strong, self-made, passionate, independent, generous and kind. In the office, across a negotiating table, or on a campaign she was a fiery competitor.

“But to many of us, she was a true friend. Generous and kind, she was an intense flame that drew people towards her. Once you were in her life you were never left out. “

Mitch Perry Report for 6.27.16 — The auditioning begins to be Hillary’s VP pick

First of all, our condolences go out this morning to the family and friends of Tampa’s Stacy Frank, who died over the weekend from lung cancer at the age of 61.

Well, we’re less than a month away from both political conventions taking place. Traditionally, the biggest news there (or in the days before) is the revelation of the running-mates of the respective nominees.

We can speculate about who might be the Republican VP nominee later, but let’s focus this morning on the Democrats.

Among those getting lots of love in the rankings is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who had a job interview of sorts with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet The Press on Sunday.

Kaine is considered a solid if safe pick. The 58-year-old former Governor of Virginia and chair of the Democratic National Committee, the Virginia Senator was viewed as a possible pick for Barack Obama in 2008 as well.

A Harvard Law grad, he took a year off from college to head a Jesuit technical school in Honduras, and later opened a legal practice specializing in housing rights for the poor and disabled. He also speaks Spanish.

He’s also a white male, which may or may not help him get the nod. He admitted yesterday that he might be a little boring, with a lack of charisma being considered one of his minuses. That and his stance on abortion, at least for some Democrats. When asked about it yesterday, he said, “what matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

In other words, my position is nuanced enough to satisfy pro-choice Dems.

Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Tom Perez appeared on ABC’s This Week. Previously, Perez was head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department. The son of Dominican immigrants, he’s very popular with liberals within the party, and after Julian Castro, is probably the highest ranking Latino on Clinton’s short (or medium) list.

Perez demurred when asked by George Stephanopoulos if he would accept the VP job, if asked, meaning he definitely would. Although Perez has definitely shown some pizazz in some interviews, he was relatively low-key yesterday, though he certainly fulfilled the requirements of bashing Donald Trump.

In other news …

While the weekend was relatively quiet, Friday there was lots of news when it came the to qualifying deadline. Among the highlights:

Senate District 19 candidate Augie Ribeiro made it official that he ‘s in that race Read more about him here.

We also said goodbye to Todd Wilcox’s dreams to become the next U.S. Senator from Florida.

Shawn Harrison scores second ‘seismic’ endorsement from Brian Lamb

If the best endorsement is one you’d love but never have the nerve to ask for, then the latest from Shawn Harrison is a particular coup.

Brian Lamb, Fifth Third regional bank president, head of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees, immediate past president of the Tampa Bay Partnership and, not insignificantly, a Democrat, is supporting the New Tampa Republican’s re-election to the Florida House of Representatives.

Lamb became the second prominent black Democrat in recent days to declare his support for Harrison, joining Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick.

Lamb, a point guard on some very good Bulls basketball teams from 1994-98, buttonholed Harrison at a recent awards ceremony for USF alumni, telling his longtime friend, “Whatever I can do, Shawn.”

If Reddick’s endorsement was “seismic” — the incumbent’s term — Harrison is counting on Lamb’s voluntary aftershock to help him with the largest employer in District 63, a notoriously swingy puzzle piece stretching from Pebble Creek and across New Tampa to Lake Madeline and Carrollwood.

The particular challenges for Harrison in District 63, with an electorate that convulses depending on whether we’re electing a president, featured prominently in “Hot Air” editor Ed Morrissey’s “Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President — and How Conservatives Can Win Them.”

Seeking his third win in four cycles — he was swept out in the 2012 Obama wave — Harrison figures the formula for hanging on in another presidential election year includes untraditional endorsements such as Reddick’s and Lamb’s that signal bipartisan appeal.

“I think [Lamb] will signal that USF is behind me,” Harrison said. “That’s a powerful thing, to have the leadership of the university on your side.”

In a release, Lamb credited Harrison as “an avid USF supporter and alumnus” who “understands firsthand” the university’s importance “to our local economy and our state’s education system,” citing his sponsorship of budget items “crucial to the continued funding of those vital services.”

“Beyond our university,” Lamb said, “Shawn is a dedicated public servant who always listens to his constituents and weighs each and every issue with the thought it deserves. We are well served by having him in the State House and I enthusiastically endorse him and believe his continued service in Tallahassee will serve our University and community well.”

Harrison, 51, faces Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who became the Democratic Party’s nominee Friday when Equality Florida activist Mike Reedy dropped out.

Clearly, the game is afoot. As Harrison vowed Saturday, “I’m not done. We’re going to have more of these [endorsements] from high-powered Democrats.”

House ethics panel finds no wrongdoing by Vern Buchanan

The House Ethics Committee on Friday ended a four-year probe into Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, finding no evidence that the lawmaker violated House rules.

The ethics panel said in a report that there is not enough evidence to conclude that Buchanan himself was aware of unlawful payments made by companies affiliated with him to reimburse campaign contributors. Still, the committee cautioned Buchanan to “exercise more diligence over affairs related to his campaign.”

Buchanan, in his fifth term representing the Sarasota area, said in a statement that he was pleased the ethics committee had dismissed a campaign finance complaint dating back to 2008.

“The committee conducted a thorough review of the facts and reached a unanimous and bipartisan conclusion that I did nothing wrong,” he said.

Buchanan had been under scrutiny for several years after a former business partner alleged that Buchanan used straw donors to funnel thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to his campaigns via employees at two car dealerships Buchanan owned.

Buchanan denied the allegations by Sam Kazran, as well as Kazran’s claim that Buchanan pressured him into signing a false affidavit regarding illegal campaign contributions.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics asked the ethics panel to investigate Buchanan in January 2012 after finding there was “substantial reason to believe” that Buchanan attempted to influence Kazran’s testimony in a proceeding before the Federal Election Commission.

The ethics panel said in its report that there was insufficient evidence “to show precisely what role … if any” Buchanan had in drafting an affidavit used in the FEC proceeding.

The committee said in its 26-page report that Buchanan “could not explain the unusual pattern of reimbursed contributions from multiple corporate entities with which he was affiliated.” The committee said it does not believe that such violations are “bound to occur” in any campaign, as Buchanan asserted in testimony before the ethics panel.

The committee’s report was issued by Reps. Charles Dent, R-Pa., and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. Dent chairs the ethics panel while Sanchez is its senior Democrat.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

City, county point fingers as sewage creates smelly problem for Tampa resident

Sewage can be a real issue in St. Petersburg, as Tropical Storm Colin recently illustrated.

A blocked pipe, where things get backed up, and people get messy.

On the other side of Tampa Bay, this very same problem is making life difficult – and no doubt smelly – for one Tampa resident.

Janice Albury, 53, owns and operates See Saw Junction, a Hillsborough County day care center located at 8720 N. 40th Street in Tampa.

On four separate occasions between January 2015 and February 2016, sewage and wastewater backed up into the day care. Albury owns both the business and the property on which the day care is built.

Not wanting to get her hands dirty, Albury hired Roto-Rooter to investigate the cause of the problem. The plumbing company found nothing amiss with the pipes on her property, but allegedly identified a blocked pipe just outside the property, maintained by either Hillsborough County or the City of Tampa.

Therein lies the problem.

Armed with this information, Albury contacted the City of Tampa about the leaking sewage.

According to court documents, she received this response: “Based on our investigation it has been determined that this area is maintained by Hillsborough County, and it appears that there was a section of pipe that was directionally bored into the sewer lateral which may have caused debris to accumulate and potentially caused a blockage.”

The city then suggested Albury contact Hillsborough County directly.

Albury did indeed contact Hillsborough County, which also responded – unsurprisingly – that it was Tampa’s problem.

“Our investigation has determined that the area in which your client’s loss occurred is [under] the jurisdiction of the City of Tampa and not Hillsborough County,” County officials wrote. “Please direct your claim for damages to the City of Tampa.”

Frustrated by the failure of either side to take responsibility, Albury filed a lawsuit for negligence against both the city and county. She claims they failed to properly maintain the pipes and water system, which resulted in waste backing up into her property and causing damage.

Albury, in a continuing case, is seeking damages for both legal costs and those associated with repairing the problem.

Civil justice attorney Augie Ribeiro says he can make a difference if elected in SD 19

As the deadline for state legislative candidates expired at noon on Friday, there were four Democrats on the Aug. 30 ballot in the Senate District 19 race that encompasses both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. Three all relatively well known — Ed Narain and Darryl Rouson currently serve in the Florida House, and Betty Reed previously held Narain’s HD 61 seat.

Add to that mix one Augie Ribeiro, 52, the Chief Executive Officer of the law firm of Ventura, Ribeiro & Smith, who has only lived full-time in St. Petersburg for the past three years, and has never run for political office.

Ribeiro says that it was after he attended a candidates forum in South St. Pete earlier this month that he came away convinced that he could offer something different to the voters in SD 19. “I listened to their answers, and I came home, and I had a discussion with my wife, and I said, ‘I think it’s time for us to step up.'”

Ribeiro’s wife is Dr. Sarah Lind, who served as deputy mayor of Schools and Policy for the city of St. Petersburg for Rick Baker back in the aughts. She also worked at Gibbs, Lakewood and St. Petersburg high schools. She’s the reason Ribeiro left the Northeast to come to live, work and play in the ‘Burg.

A recent poll of the SD 19 contest showed Narain and Reed splitting the Hillsborough vote, allowing Rouson to catapult to the top of the field. While Narain has the endorsements from eminences in the Tampa Democratic machine like Kathy Castor and Mike Suarez, Rouson has countered with the public support of nearly every elected Democratic official in Pinellas County.

There is also the fact that the district consists of a strong minority makeup, something that doesn’t faze Ribeiro, the son of Hispanic immigrants from Portugal who emigrated to New York City (he grew up in Lower Manhattan). He says his cultural values are aligned perfectly with the district.

“As a civil justice lawyer, I’ve represented thousands of people of minority families,” he says, adding that he speaks Spanish and Portuguese fluently. Among the cases he’s been involved includes representing several Pinellas County cities after the BP oil spill in 2010. He also created a team of high-profile national attorneys to go against General Motors for its ignition-switch recall.

Ribeiro says he won’t take campaign contributions from the insurance industry, payday lenders or utility companies in Florida in his campaign, and later in the conversation says the money that he will invest in the campaign will come only from himself, friends and family.

“I’m not going to be susceptible from any influence from corporate lobbyists,” Ribiero says, “and I think my record of fighting big corporations is how I’m going to represent the kids and the families of this district in Tampa, when I fight against the entrenched interests that have hurt the health, education and welfare of this district.”

When asked about the issues he cares about, Ribeiro speaks passionately about public education, which he calls the “fundamental pillar for the American Dream.”

“It troubles me that education is on a downward spiral,” he says. “It troubles me that 15,000 children in this district go to the bed hungry every night.”

Ribeiro believes one should be inspired to get into the political arena, and he believes with his leadership qualities, he can fill that bill.

Nevertheless, the challenge is significant for him.

With the district’s demographics overwhelmingly Democratic leaning, the winner of the Aug. 30 primary is the likely next state Senator from SD 19. The winner will take on Republican John Houman in November.