An interesting word popped up at a debate between Tampa City Council candidates for next week’s runoff election — “secession.”
Ever since New Tampa was annexed in the late 1980s, some residents have been frustrated that they aren’t receiving the same city services as other Tampa neighborhoods, particularly downtown.
During Tuesday night’s debate at the New Tampa Regional Library, District 7 candidate Jim Davison did not rule out the possibility of secession from the city of Tampa.
“As far as splitting off and seceding from the city of Tampa, that will be up to the people of the city of Tampa, if they don’t get someone to deliver the services and the hopes and the ideas that they want done,” Davison said as he faced opponent Luis Viera.
“That’s what I plan on doing so we can avoid it,” he said. “If they don’t cooperate downtown, we may have to look at a different tactic.”
Davison went on to say that — if elected next week — his efforts would be to ensure city government invests more in all its neighborhoods.
Viera slammed Davison’s response, calling it the equivalent of “birtherism.”
He said that he could envision Davison going up to Mayor Bob Buckhorn and declaring, “Do what I want, or we’re going to leave.”
“If we want to work within the city for results for North Tampa,” Viera said., “then radical options like that should be respectfully rejected.”
Davison disagreed, saying doing so would give up a leveraging tool to be used against downtown interests.
“He wants to guarantee to people downtown that no matter what they do to us out here, we’re not leaving. That’s not a good negotiation.”
The issue has also been championed by former District 7 Councilman Joe Caetano.
The notion that New Tampa doesn’t get their fair share was a frequent topic of conversation between the candidates and the audience, a week before voters in Tampa’s District 7 race go to the polls to decide between the two candidates. The two men went on to the runoff after neither received the 50 percent plus one needed in the Nov. 8 election.
The candidates did find common cause on the topic when they both slammed the city for not spending $500,000 to fix Kinnan Street, which links New Tampa to Pasco County. It has been a persistent issue for a decade.
“So, you’re stuck in traffic because they didn’t want to bring the $500,000 up here to fix that road,” lamented Davison.
Viera agreed, saying if this problem were in Hyde Park, “it would have been taken care of three weeks ago.”
Throughout the debate, the 61-year-old Davison painted himself as a “disrupter” who bring needed change to City Hall, depicting Viera as being part of the status quo that freezes out District 7 at City Hall In addition to New Tampa, includes the University area, Forest Hills and Terrace Park.
Viera, on the other hand, repeatedly asked the audience attending the forum if they would be content to elect a candidate who would be on the losing end of a lot of 6-1 votes. Davison is a Republican, Viera a Democrat in a nonpartisan race. Both Buckhorn and the other six members of the council are Democrats.
“I don’t know if Luis realizes this, but they’ve had 7-0 votes, seven people of the same party,” said Davison. “Where’d that get us? Right where we are today,” he said disdainfully.
Although technically a nonpartisan race, Davison was the only Republican in the original six-person field, whereas Viera was one of three Democrats in the contest. The two independents in the race, Avis Harrison and Cyril Spiro, were in attendance Tuesday night, and both have endorsed Davison, a development that he said “spoke volumes.”
That led to a whole segment on endorsements, which was punctuated when Spiro questioned Viera about potential conflicts of interest he might have when it comes to negotiating with the Tampa Police Benevolent Association and the Tampa Fire Fighters, two groups who have endorsed his candidacy and given maximum campaign contributions.
“We all interviewed with the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, I don’t think when any of us went in there we starting wringing our hands saying, ‘My golly, we’re going to have a conflict of interest,'” Viera responded. “No, I think we all went in with the idea that it would be an honor of a union.”
Davison has been involved in transportation issues in the District 7 areas for years. He was against the Go Hillsborough transportation tax proposal that never made it on this month’s ballot, and is taking credit for the Board of County Commission’s vote to approve $600 million in road projects.
“I would like to know what Mr. Viera thinks if the GO Hillsborough plan was lying and not telling the truth to the people of this county because he backed it, I fought against it,” Davison said. “I came out with something that raised $600 million in road improvement for Hillsborough County, and it did not cost any of you a penny.”
Viera said he never endorsed Go Hillsborough, saying that while it had some “good features” attached to it, he ultimately opposed the measure because it did not include transit in the original proposal to satisfy his desires.
Late in the debate, an audience member asked the candidates to admit who they voted for president, prompting Harrison to shout out that the question was inappropriate in a city council debate. The moderators overruled her, however.
Davison said he voted for Donald Trump, though he didn’t always agree with everything he’s said. Viera said he voted for Hillary Clinton.
The two candidates differ on having a police citizens review board with expanded powers, specifically the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.
“I would very likely support subpoena power within the next year, as well as other improvements to the board,” Viera said, adding that the board should also have its own attorney.
Davison disagreed, asking, “Do we want inquisitions?” adding that such “quasi-legalistic maneuvers will actually do harm,” and cause them to stop policing.
Both candidates will debate for a second, and final, time Wednesday at the Babe Zaharias Gold Course Clubhouse in Forest Hills.