Bob Buckhorn Archives - Page 3 of 43 - SaintPetersBlog

Joe Henderson: Homestead exemption increase would be great politics, lousy governing

Increasing the state’s homestead exemption by $25,000, which is a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his merry band of tax-slayers, would no doubt be popular with voters.

If the measure gets past the legislative hoops and on the 2018 ballot as a constitutional amendment, I imagine it would easily break the 60 percent threshold required for passage. Corcoran and like-minded Republicans would celebrate. Homeowners would have more cash.

And local governments, where the real heavy-lifting is done to provide needed services to the home folks, would have a meltdown. One estimate said it could reduce property tax proceeds by about $700 million overall. Bigger cities would likely be affected more. Something would have to give.

In Hillsborough County, property taxes help pay for things like public libraries, water management, special lighting districts, storm water drainage, and basic services like firefighters.

One of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s favorite sayings is that big-city mayors love infrastructure. For instance, Tampa has opened several new fire stations on Buckhorn’s watch. Local officials in Tampa warn that there might not be as many options like that in the future if this becomes law.

Perhaps a homeowner trying to put out a blaze could just call their local legislator to come over with a hose.

Yes. That’s an exaggeration — but this isn’t. Tallahassee lawmakers routinely complain when Washington tacks on expensive requirements without providing a way to pay for them. Those same lawmakers do the same thing to cities, though.

Property taxes are a critical piece of funding for public schools in each of Florida’s 67 counties. A new exemption likely would chip away at funding for education at a time when Corcoran and other lawmakers keep diverting larger and larger chunks of public education cash to private charter schools.

Clever, aren’t they?

That’s one way to put it.

As Jim Rosica of FloridaPolitics.com reported Sunday night, the House made sure the proposed increase in the exemption has been tied to some of the Senate’s priorities, and the message is clear – approve putting the exemption on the ballot, or else.

In case you haven’t noticed, Florida is growing by like, well, a lot. This probably would be a good time to be planning for growth like that by building the infrastructure Buckhorn has talked about.

Instead, Tallahassee responds with something that, if passed, could make it harder for local leaders to provide the services people expect. But hey, Republicans would celebrate the fact that they cut taxes.

It’s great politics, but lousy governing.

Serving life for murder, Tampa man continues legal crusade to get car back

Car lover Michael Glenn

A Hillsborough County man serving a life sentence for murder is continuing his 14-year battle with the Tampa police over the seizure of the car — 10 years old at the time — that he used in the crime.

In 2003, police arrested and charged 21-year-old Michael Gerard “Mickey” Glenn Jr. with first-degree premeditated murder. Glenn was accused of killing 25-year-old Antonio Powell in a drug-related shooting.

Three years later, Glenn made a minor uproar in local media by announcing he would act as his own attorney, becoming the second known person in 30 years to defend himself in a Hillsborough County murder trial.

“Glenn fired a string of lawyers to represent himself and took the stand to tell his story to the jury,” wrote the Tampa Bay Times in 2013. “News reports described him during the trial as plodding, stammering and — often — objecting unsuccessfully. But he scored some points on cross-examinations.”

Nevertheless, in 2006, Glenn was found guilty of first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm; he was sentenced to life. Glenn is now at the Calhoun Correctional Institution in Blountstown.

Glenn first filed suit against the Tampa Police Department in 2004, while in Hillsborough County jail awaiting trial. He alleged that upon his arrest Sept. 17, 2003, the TPD gang unit illegally searched, seized and impounded his 1993 Nissan Altima, which he used to go to the crime scene.

Four years into his life sentence, a judge dismissed Glenn’s lawsuit May 19, 2010.

Glenn was undaunted, even though he will most likely never drive again.

He filed an amended complaint in 2012, against then-Tampa Police Jane Castor, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the TPD detectives and sergeant involved in the case. The complaint — which sought unspecified “damages” — appeared to indicate the vehicle may have been auctioned.

On April 10, 2017, however, Glenn filed a notification with the court that he is appealing the 2010 judgment, adding now-TPD chief Eric Ward as a co-defendant.

Although Glenn will spend the rest of his life in jail, he could benefit financially from his lawsuit, if successful.

Florida Young Democrats to hold annual meeting in Tampa next month

Florida Young Democrats will hold their annual convention in Ybor City, just outside downtown Tampa, on May 19-21.

Speakers and panelists include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Florida House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, Winter Park State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, former State Rep. Ed Narain, felon rights restoration activist Desmond Meade, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp.

Training sessions will cover transit initiatives in the Tampa Bay region, criminal justice reform, how to connect with newly activated progressives, and how to run for office.

“There is a renewed excitement in the Democratic Party,” said Ricky Nettina, president of the Florida Young Democrats. “We hope to bottle up that energy at the 2017 FYD Convention and push it to make progressive change in our own communities”.

“The Hillsborough County Young Democrats (HCYD) are excited to host the 2017 FYD State Convention. Hillsborough and the surrounding counties are essential for developing Democratic leadership in Florida,” said Alvin Jin, Ph.D., president of HCYD. “We look forward to sharing the history of our city with young Democrats from across the state, and encouraging them to get involved locally to shape the current and future direction of the party,” he continued.

 

Bob Buckhorn, Andrew Gillum among the 100 mayors calling on Congress to fix immigration system

Reacting to the Donald Trump administration’s hardline policy on immigration — which has included threats to withhold federal grants from jurisdictions that act as “sanctuaries” — more than 100 mayors from around the country signed onto a letter to Congress calling on it to revisit and pass comprehensive reform legislation.

Among those signing the letter are Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The letter calls on Congress to enact legislation that would strengthen the country’s borders while assuring that local and state law enforcement remains focused on community policing; establishes a streamlined visa process to bring in seasonal, agricultural, lesser-skilled and high skilled workers; provides a uniform system of employment verification and implements a framework that allows the undocumented to come out of the shadows.

“In the absence of federal immigration reform, mayors and their cities continue to seek strategies to protect the safety of all of their residents while ensuring that local law enforcement is focused on community policing,” reads the letter, dated Friday, April 7.

In his first week in office, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at creating more detention centers, added thousands of Border Patrol agents and promised to withhold federal funds from what are known as sanctuary cities — municipalities which do not comply with federal immigration laws.

Neither Tampa nor Tallahassee are officially considered “sanctuary cities,” but both Democratic mayors have criticized Trump for his stance on how local law enforcement should handle undocumented they come in contact with.

“We are not Customs; we are not I.C.E. We are not searching people who have chosen to live here and have not yet got citizenship,” Buckhorn said after the president’s executive order was declared. “That’s not something that we believe in, and not something that I support.”

Gillum also lashed out when informed about Trump’s executive order, saying it was “not a projection of strength, but a reflection of weakness” and calling it “inconsistent with our highest values.”

Florida sheriffs are also fighting back against claims by the Trump administration that they are not cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security published a list of Florida counties accused of refusing to detain undocumented people.

But the sheriffs say that ICE officers have sent requests for detainers to sheriffs and jails asking them to hold someone in custody after their local criminal cases are closed.

“While the illegal immigration debate is complex and emotional, I swore to follow the law, even when it’s inconvenient,” Pinellas County Bob Gualtieri wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times last week. “The federal government also must follow the law even when it’s inconvenient, and it is wrong for the federal government to ask sheriffs to ignore the U.S. Constitution and the law that we are sworn to uphold by illegally keeping people in our jails.”

The other Florida mayors who signed on to the letter are Joe Kilsheimer from Apopka; Derrick Henry from Daytona Beach; Joy Cooper from Hallandale Beach; William Capote from Palm Bay and Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.

Their signatures on the letter come at the same time that there is a bill floating in the Florida Legislature this spring that would compel local goverments to support enforcement of federal immigration law or face stiff penalties.  The bill sponsored by Groveland Republican Representative Larry Metz (HB 697calls on state and local entities, as well as law enforcement agencies to comply with the enforcement of federal immigration law 90 days after the law goes into effect.

If they don’t comply, among the penalties include  the threat of automatic suspension and removal from office for elected state officials accused of violating sanctuary prohibition policy.

Yolie Capin elected chair of Tampa City Council

If you blinked you would have missed it.

Unlike a year ago, when it took 14 ballots and over a half an hour to select a chair, Yolie Capin was elected the next chair of the Tampa City Council on the first ballot Thursday morning.

The voting began with Councilman Harry Cohen, who some speculated was himself interested in becoming chair, nominating Capin.

Luis Viera, the newest member of the Council and a longtime friend of current Council Chair Mike Suarez, then renominated Suarez to serve a second year at the helm.

The vote was 5-2, with Cohen, Capin and the remaining three council members – Guido Maniscalco, Frank Roddick and Charlie Miranda, voting for Capin. After the initial vote, Suarez asked that the vote be by unanimous consent.

“I am honored,” said a humbled Capin immediately after the vote.

“I have had the honor for the past six years to work side-by-side with some of the most prepared, informed and hard working colleagues anywhere,” she said. “Thank you for the vote of confidence and I look forward to chairing city council this year.”

The chair position itself does not pay anymore than a regular council position. It’s considered a step up in prestige, but the fact that was a lack of dramatics compared to a year ago is due to the fact that Mayor Bob Buckhorn isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

A year ago the backdrop was that it was very possible that the mayor might not be around to finish up his term (which doesn’t end in 2019). That’s because of the speculation that he was in a position to be considered for a gig in Washington if  Hillary Clinton were elected president.

That didn’t happen obviously. Also overhanging the proceedings was whether Buckhorn would run for governor in 2018, which would have made this year’s vote even more critical.

If the mayor were to leave office early, City Council chair becomes the mayor. If there are less than 15 months remaining in the mayor’s term, the chair serves out the term as mayor. If there are more than 15 months left, the city charter requires a special election to be held.

With Suarez, Capin and possibly Cohen thinking of a mayoral run in 2019, there would have been intense jockeying this year if Buckhorn had declared himself a candidate for governor, which had been strongly considered a possibility for the past couple of years.

But Buckhorn ended that speculation a month ago, saying he would not pursue a statewide office in 2018.

Meanwhile, Cohen was elected to be chair pro-tem for the council. Again.

“I think the clerk is going to have to find this out for sure, but I think I’m the longest continuing serving chair pro-tem of the Tampa City Council in the history of the city,” Cohen joked.

Rick Scott, Titus O’Neil to join area students at construction job fair

Gov. Rick Scott and WWE wrestler Titus O’Neil will be the top-billed guests at the second annual Build Tampa Bay Tradeshow and Job Fair at the Port of Tampa Thursday.

In addition to Scott and O’Neil, organizers expect other state leaders and 900 students from across the Tampa Bay region to come to the event promoting careers in the area’s construction industry. The job fair is scheduled to go from 9 am to 1 pm at the port’s cruise terminal.

“Build Tampa Bay is proud to host the second annual event to educate area county students about the many professional opportunities available in the construction industry,” said Associated Builders and Contractors CEO Steve Cona. “As the Tampa Bay area is primed for tremendous growth with many development projects taking place across the region, students have a unique opportunity to put their stamp on this community by pursuing an enriching career in the building sector.”

The Gulf Coast chapter of ABC teamed up with Hillsborough County Public Schools, Pasco County Schools and the School District of Manatee County to put on the event, which will give students the chance to network with more than 50 employers in the Tampa Bay region.

The first Build Tampa Bay brought in about 700 students and had 40 employers on-site, alongside Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik and Mayor Bob Buckhorn who encouraged students to pursue trade careers.

ABC said it’s putting on the event to help curb the deficit in trade workers. The group said four out of five of its member companies are not bringing in enough skilled workers despite an annual investment of $1.1 billion in apprenticeships and workforce training.

Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show the skilled worker shortage in the construction industry is expected to grow to 1.6 million workers by 2022.

More than 500 attend Planned Parenthood annual luncheon in Tampa

Planned Parenthood has never been more under fire from congressional Republicans than in recent years.

Nevertheless, since the election of Donald Trump, the public is demonstrating they remain firmly behind the family planning organization.

According to a Quinnipiac survey conducted earlier this year to coincide with the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, 62 percent of voters oppose cutting off federal funds to the organization, while only 31 percent support that action.

Females are leading the Trump resistance, starting with massively successful women’s marches on January 21. Lake Research Polling found 86 percent participating in anti-Trump events are female; 66 percent were over the age of 45 — with 72 percent of women saying they’d already took part in a protest against the Trump administration. Seventy-seven percent say that they were very likely to protest in the future.

All that served as a backdrop for the annual Planned Parenthood Choice luncheon at Tampa’s Jewish Community Center, where over 500 people (mostly females) packed the fundraising event Tuesday.

Keynote speaker was Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate and the host of the podcast Amicus. For the past 18 years, Lithwick has covered the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senate Democrats say later this week they will filibuster the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a fact that Lithia told the audience she wouldn’t have believed possible, even as recently as two weeks ago.

“It is in large part because folks like you are calling and calling and calling and making this an issue,” Lithwick said.

One of those Democrats voting against Gorsuch’s nomination is Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

Barbara Zdravecky, the longtime CEO of Planed Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said a Nelson aide contacted her last week before making the announcement.

“I think he sees this as an opportunity to separate himself and go more toward supporting the progressive arm of the Democratic Party because we are mobilizing, and we are engaged,” Zdravecky said. She added that Nelson took part at a Planned Parenthood event last month in Sarasota, with more than 700 people in attendance.

As has been often mentioned, Democrats lost hundreds of seats in state legislatures over the past eight years; Lithwick says that translates into hundreds of pro-life/anti-choice bills proposed around the country: 346 to be exact, including 46 just since January.

“It’s easy to get distracted and think the only thing that matters is what happens at the (Supreme) Court. I assure you, that is the thin edge of the wedge, and what is really important, is that in state after state, clinics are closing.” She said that there are currently 788 such health clinics in the country, from a total of 851.

Among the bills floating in the Florida Legislature that particularly concern Zdravecky includes a 20-week abortion ban and a proposal that holds abortion providers to a different legal standard for malpractice and emotional stress.

Tuesday’s event celebrating Planned Parenthood took place at a time in history where abortion rates are at the lowest in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade, as are teen pregnancy rates.

It wasn’t a female only event, as both Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren made brief speeches.

“I see a room full of powerful women and a few smart men who are here because we believe in something bigger than just ourselves,” Buckhorn said.

The mayor spoke about how proud he was about his wife, Dr. Catherine Lynch, the Associate Vice President of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the USF Morsani College of Medicine.

“In the current political climate has raised many questions not only about the immediate future of the court but of judicial independence and the separation of powers that serve as a critical defense in our society against the tyranny of the majority in order to protect the rights of the minority,” said Warren.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood officials are bracing for the next proposal from D.C. Republicans seeking to ban the group from receiving any federal funding.

Such a defunding provision was included in the recent American Health Care Act, the GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, which divided House Republicans. It never came up for a vote last month.

“We are watching very closely when it will appear again, because it will appear again,” Zdravecky warned.

 

Bob Buckhorn looks forward (and back) in 2017 State of the City address

With less than two years before being term-limited, Bob Buckhorn fought off the temptation to wallow on his accomplishments as Tampa mayor, versus what’s left to come, during his State of the City address.

Speaking Tuesday morning for exactly half an hour at Kiley Park (after a 23-minute pregame show featuring a performance by the Tampa City Choir, as well as an appearance by City Councilman Guido Maniscalco), the speech was vintage Buckhorn — down to the passages adapted from his stump speech about how the city has come clawing back furiously from the depths of the Great Depression of the late aughts to flourish under his regime.

“Together we brought this city back from rock bottom,” he intoned. “Together we rose up from the ashes of an economic apocalypse.”

There were plenty of statistics thrown into the mix to illustrate how the city has progressed since he defeated Rose Ferlita in a runoff election for mayor just over six years ago: employment up 24 percent; over $11 billion in construction projects; $24 million invested in computing infrastructure and upgrades to the city’s technology dept.

And there was more. More than a million square feet of new commercial development in Ybor City; More than 6,000 residential units in downtown, nearly 300 hotel rooms, and 800,000 new square feet of commercial space in the Westshore business district.

More than 92 miles of new bike lanes, 45 miles of new sidewalks, 400 acres of new green space, including 10 new parks and over 9,000 new trees planted.

The lure to spend more time looking backward than forwards is something Buckhorn will increasingly be called to stave off over the next 24 months.

At a news conference last month announcing he would not run for governor, the mayor bristled slightly when a reporter asked him to look back at his achievements, joking he still had plenty of fuel left in his tank.

Buckhorn did use the speech to introduce a new program called Autism Friendly Tampa, in association with USF’s CARD program (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) to make Tampa one of America’s most inclusive cities.

“One in every 68 individuals are diagnosed with Autism,” he said. “And each one of those impacted have their own unique challenges. A seemingly simple trip to the pool or downtown event can be complicated. Finding a summer program could be impossible. As Mayor, I am committed to making our public spaces, city facilities, parks, and programs more friendly for those touched by Autism and related disabilities.”

He also talked about the future, and how autonomous vehicles will be a part of that equation. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway is working on a “Connected Vehicle” projects on the Selmon Expressway that would allow cars to talk to each other and the infrastructure.

“This technology will improve pedestrian safety, address traffic congestion, improve transportation operations and prevent wrong-way crashes, and Tampa — our Tampa — is the test bed,” he said.

City government is much leaner over the past decade since the wheels came off both Florida and America’s economy; Buckhorn noted how much less property revenue is coming into the city, due in part to that state’s three percent cap on property tax hikes.

In 2007, the city generated over $166.2 million in property tax revenue. That’s more than $12 million than the $153 million the fiscal year 2017 budget submitted to the City Council.

Buckhorn said the city won’t get back to 2007 levels until the fiscal year 2019.

Buckhorn also took shots at the Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran led state government, and Donald Trump‘s federal government, saying their policies are more of a burden for cities like Tampa.

“Sources of revenue that are reduced or eliminated, partnerships eviscerated, and programs decimated are potentially looming, all of which have potentially have an impact on our bottom line,” Buckhorn said.

“This is a different city than it was six years ago,” he said in conclusion. “And its last chapter has yet to be written … We have work to do, because our future begins today.”

No doubt, Buckhorn was also talking about his own tenure.

At economic lunch, Bob Buckhorn blasts ‘Koch Brothers led ideology’ in Tallahassee

Bob Buckhorn announced last month that he won’t run for governor next year, saying it wasn’t worth separating himself from his family over the next couple of years. It’s certainly not for lack of how he would run his campaign, based on remarks he made on Monday in Tampa.

Appearing with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the two mayors of the Tampa Bay area’s two largest cities took turns bashing the state Legislature at the Florida Economic Forum Luncheon.

Hundreds of local members of the business community gathered at the Brian Glazer Family Jewish Community Center in West Tampa for the lunch, and with the local business leaders in the audience, Buckhorn used the opportunity to advocate for the continuing existence of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, the two state organizations in the line of fire this legislative session due to the influence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and nearly two dozen tax incentive programs. The House passed an additional “corporate welfare” bill that would subject Visit Florida, the state’s taxpayer-funded tourism marketing corporation, to higher accountability standards that any other state government agency while cutting its annual funding from $76 million to $25 million.

“All of you need to get your phone and call your legislators and say, ‘stop this foolishness. Stop it now,'” said a disgusted Buckhorn.

When only a few people in the audience began clapping quietly, Buckhorn exhorted them to clap louder. “You eliminate those organizations, and you’re going to put all of us at the local jurisdiction at risk.”

But Buckhorn was just getting warmed up. A little later in the Q&A (hosted by Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper), the Tampa Mayor tore into the libertarian oriented Americans for Prosperity, though not by name.

“What you’re finding in the Florida House is an ideological attempt, driven by the Koch Brothers and paid for by one of their think tanks, to reduce government down to virtually nothing,” he proclaimed. While acknowledging that offering tax incentives to lure businesses “don’t always make the case,” he nevertheless insisted that it would be universal disarmament for cities in Florida not to have that tool available to work with.

“If there’s problems with Enterprise Florida, they’re fixable,” agreed Kriseman.

Buckhorn later unloaded to this business-friendly audience that Tallahassee Republicans were hypocrites for their zeal in trying to take away control from cities, mostly controlled by Democrats, he asserted.

“I have never seen the assault on local government on all fronts,” the Tampa mayor said, insisting that his comment wasn’t political in nature. Buckhorn accused states like Florida that have both a Republican governor and Legislature of “cutting and pasting” state legislation that preempts local governments ability to do anything on issues like gun violence, LGBT rights and immigration.

“It is a frontal assault on us, because we happen to be Democrats and because many of these legislators are rural and they don’t get votes in the city. So they are punishing us,” Buckhorn said, adding, “Leave us the hell alone.”

Kriseman said he feared that the Legislature will eliminate Community Redevelopment Agencies, governmental bodies created to promote affordable housing, economic development, health and safety in under-served neighborhoods. St. Petersburg is devoting major resources to a CRA in the city’s Southside.

Buckhorn later blasted the fact that the Legislature is no longer in the business of offering tax incentives to lure film productions to Florida, specifically lamenting the fact that the Ben Affleck/Denis Lehane adaptation of Live By Night was filmed in Georgia, even though the novel was set in Ybor City, where Affleck and the producers wanted to film parts of the movie, but chose not to when there weren’t any incentives available.

On transportation, Buckhorn said that Hillsborough County may be ready to put up another half-cent sales tax referendum on transit in 2020, but not anytime sooner, a notion that Kriseman agreed with. As he has done in the past, Buckhorn blasted the critics of any such referendum, labeling them either as largely limited to living in the eastern provinces of Hillsborough County or as “disaffected former washed up politicians and PR firms who will try to throw any amount of sand in the gears to distract people from the fundamental question, which is, we need more mobility options.”

Kriseman again brought up the notion of the Legislature changing state law that would allow big cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa to hold their own transportation referendums, a familiar complaint that has gone nowhere for years in Tallahassee. In fact, he admitted that it wouldn’t happen in the near term, and said that meant St. Petersburg and Tampa need to get creative for themselves.

“Whether it’s grant funding for state and federal governments or it’s governments coming together and working together and saying, ‘we’ve got to try something.'”

That then provided Kriseman with one of his passion projects – the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project which runs boats daily for passenger travel between Tampa and St. Petersburg, and which has seen an uptick in business in the past few months. “We’re going to have to bite off pieces that we can do on our own until we get significant funding.”

Whenever you get the two mayors together, inevitably the conversation moves towards the Tampa Bay Rays and their continued search for a new location in the Bay area. Buckhorn gave major props to Kriseman for coming to terms with the franchise to allow them to sniff around for possible sites in Hillsborough County, adding that “I don’t have a couple of hundred millions dollars laying around to pledge for a baseball stadium.”

“I have confidence in Pinellas County and in particular, St. Petersburg,” said Kriseman, who continues to advocate that the best place for the Rays to play is back at the Tropicana Field site, though with a different stadium and more development at that site.

Longtime friends and disciples of the centrist leaning Democratic Leadership Council of the 1980’s, the two  spoke often about how they are not in competition with each other, but are working together to make the entire Tampa Bay area a better place for the business community.

“You will never hear us disparage each other, you will never hear us disparage our respective communities,” Buckhorn said. “We’re here to grow together.”

It was all Kumbaya on Kriseman’s part as well, saying that if a company he is recruiting ultimately opts not to do business in St. Petersburg, “I want them to go over to Tampa.”

 

Politicos celebrate at Tampa Pride

Ybor City was the site of Tampa’s Pride celebration Saturday, the biggest event since organizers revived it in 2015.

“When Carrie (West) said we want to bring the Pride Parade to Tampa, I said let’s roll!” yelled an exuberant Bob Buckhorn in kicking off the festivities.

West and longtime partner Mark Bias are founding members of Tampa Pride and helped create the GaYBOR District Coalition in the aughts. He was inspired to bring the event back to Tampa after the Hillsborough County Commission repealed their infamous ban on gay pride events back in June of 2013.

Over the past decade, the St. Petersburg LGBT Pride parade has become one of the biggest celebrations in the entire Southeast, generating crowds of over 150,000. While Tampa’s event is nowhere near that scale, this year’s event featured 80 percent more booths than in 2016, with additional stages added as well.

The day featured a tribute to the survivors first responders and bar staff from last year’s shooting tragedy at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, which killed 49 people, the deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11.

“Pulse was our home. It was our safe place, but in mere moments, the place that we knew as our sanctuary had been taken from us,” Neema Bahrami, the entertainment manager of Pulse, told the crowd. “It was easy to feel defeated, empty, exhausted and hopeless, but through our tragedy comes strength, a strength as a community to come together in time of crisis, a strength to be resilient in the face of adversity, a strength to love one another in spite of our differences.”

A few local politicians were in attendance.

While Senator Bill Nelson was not there, Digna Alvarez, his Tampa aide, read a statement from her boss. “Although I’m unable to attend, I thank you for your leadership and support in the aftermath of last year’s Pulse shooting tragedy,” Alvarez read. “I hope that the festivities serve not only as a celebration of past triumph but also as an inspiration for future ones.”

Luis Viera, the newest member of the Tampa City Council, said he looks at the issue of LGBT rights as a father.

“I’ve got a ten-year-old son, and you know what? If I ever had a son or daughter who was gay or lesbian, I wouldn’t want anybody to tell that they’re a second-class citizen, because of how God made them as. That’s how I see this issue,” he said.

Councilman Guido Maniscalco was also there; he had recently introduced an ordinance banning conversion therapy in Tampa. That’s the controversial practice used to try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

As voted on by the Council earlier this month, state-licensed therapists and counselors would be fined $1,000 for a first offense and $5,000 for repeat offenses.

“In 2012, the previous Council moved forward to make a domestic partner registry, and this just builds along the lines of that community support, the support for human rights,” said Maniscalco. He told the crowd he decided to bring the issue to the forefront after speaking with his friends in the gay community about how similar ordinances has been passed in Miami Beach and West Palm Beach.

“Tampa has been so forward thinking and progressive, we should do it here. Hopefully, we can continue inspiring other cities or if they take it to the state level, then great,” he says. “I just want to maintain that reputation where people are welcome, we want you here. Tampa is stronger together.”

A second hearing on the ban on conversion therapy is set for the council’s April 6 meeting.

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