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Elvis Pigott says he’s the fresh new face that the Hillsborough Commission desperately needs

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

If elected to the Hillsborough County Commission next year, Elvis Pigott would become the first millennial — Americans under the age of 35, as recently defined — to serve on the board.

The 29-year-old Riverview resident has filed to run for the countywide District 5, which becomes vacant next year after GOP incumbent Ken Hagan term-limits out. But Hagan hopes to stick around for another eight years, having filed to run for the North Tampa District 2 seat currently held by fellow Republican

But Hagan still hopes to stay for another eight years, having filed to run for the North Tampa District 2 seat currently held by fellow Republican Victor Crist, also term-limited next year. Although he hasn’t announced yet, Crist is expected to file to run for Hagan’s seat.

Although he hasn’t announced yet, many expect Crist to file to run for Hagan’s seat.

“We need new blood, we need a fresh face, we need a fresh set of eyes, we need new energy, we need another force that can relate to our now generation, that can relate to where we’re going in the future, not where we’ve been in the past,” says Pigott, who has served for the past 11 years as the pastor at Triumph and Deliverance Cathedral Church of God in Christ in Brandon.

Pigott, giving Crist his due, calls him a “phenomenal person” who could “advise” him and others, but he says it’s for Hillsborough County to put the fate of its future in the hands of “capable people before it’s too late.”

Pigott is running on a platform that puts an emphasis on education, economic development and affordable housing.

“What we call affordable housing is not really affordable housing for the economic state that we’re in,” he says of conditions in Hillsborough County. A study by The New York Times in 2015 ranked Hillsborough 98th out of the nation’s biggest 100 counties regarding potential earning power for low-income people.

Pigott emphasizes that it’s not just about finding affordable housing for county residents, but quality affordable housing. After reviewing some available affordable housing units, Pigott says he found them wanting: boarded windows, plumbing problems and graffiti strewn on walls. Rarely are they available immediately, he adds, with perspective renters having to go on waiting lists that run as long as three years.

County Commission candidates generally don’t talk too often about education, since that’s generally the purview of the school board. Pigott doesn’t accept that hands-off approach, though. He says it’s necessary to prepare kids to be ready to go to Hillsborough County schools.

Pigott specifically refers to how the cost to get a child into a HOST program can be expensive for parents barely able to pay the rent.

“This is our tomorrow,” he says of Hillsborough youth. “We must bridge the gap between ‘F schools, ‘ and we must not just sit on the board and say, ‘that has nothing to do with commissioners.'”

On issues like transportation, Pigott speaks admiringly of the BOCC’s newest member, Pat Kemp, a public transit advocate. “It’s important that we get light rail,” he says. “We have enough highways. The more highways you build, the more traffic you get.”

Led by former Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the BOCC passed legislation addressing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, after an earlier decade of being considered the worst major county in the state on such issues. The strongest opposition to such legislation has come from parts of the religious community, but Pigott says that’s not what he’s all about.

“When I decided to run for county commissioner, I want to run for that office, I did not run to push my religious beliefs,” he says, emphasizing that he is a “voice for the people.”

A simple Google search brings up Pigott’s name and face as being arrested by Hillsborough County Sheriff deputies for five different felony violations back in 2010. Pigott says he was arrested, but says it was his twin brother, not himself, who actually committed the crimes of which he was accused.

“I do have a twin brother, who actually lives in a different world that I do,” Pigott says, adding that his brother was looking at serving hard time. “I jumped in and said that was me.”

Pigott says that he was actually in Miami when the alleged offenses occurred, but he took the rap, bonded out and served three years on probation, all in the name of protecting his brother. He’ll probably need to clarify and refine that story as the campaign starts up next year.

Although the county has had African-American representation on its board, those representatives have usually come from District 3, a minority-majority district currently held by Chairman Les Miller. Pigott says he believes that a combination of minority and millennial voters can drive his candidacy, but he agrees it will be about turnout. “We’re going to have an Obama experience or a Hillary Clinton experience,” he says in referring to the difference in young/minority voters in 2016 vs. 2012 and 2008. “We’re going to have an Obama experience where people are going to come out for change and making things different.”

Speaking of the 44th POTUS, Pigott says Barack Obama is the person he most admires in public life.

“I want to be like him because he knows how to react under pressure,” he says. “I want to be like him because he teaches you patience. I want to be like him because he teaches you values in life, that no matter how high you get, hold on to morals, hold on to your values. He’s been a big inspiration for me.”

Although it’s impossible to break down how 2018 will play out locally nearly a year-and-a-half before the election, the fact is that Hillsborough definitely skewed left in 2016, helping Andrew Warren pull out a major upset for State Attorney over Mark Ober, and Hillary Clinton defeating Donald Trump by more than six percentage points. Whether that means county voters will choose youth over experience (and a Democrat over a Republican) in this countywide seat is a mystery for now.

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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.

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