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By only 65 votes, Luis Viera defeats Jim Davison in Tampa City Council special election

By just 65 votes, Luis Viera defeated Jim Davison in the Tampa City Council District 7 special run-off election, taking 50.64 percent to Davison’s 49.36 percent, a difference of only a single percentage point.

Viera received 2,588 votes to Davison’s 2,523, just 65 votes out of 5,120 cast.

The special election was held to succeed Lisa Montelione, who was re-elected without opposition to the North Tampa district seat in early 2015. Last fall, Montelione announced that she would run for the state Legislature, creating the opening for a new candidate.

Turnout for the runoff was low on Election Day, with 815 people voting. The clear majority of those who did participate voted by mail — 3,730. In four days of early voting (Thursday through Sunday), an additional 575 people cast ballots.

Viera’s victory maintains an all-Democratic Tampa City Council. If Davison had won, he would have been the first Republican on the board since Joseph Caetano, a District 7 councilmember defeated by Montelione when he ran for re-election in 2011.

Viera was endorsed by top Tampa area Democrats like Congresswoman Kathy Castor and City Council Chair Mike Suarez, a longtime friend. He also received a late endorsement from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said he was irked by Davison’s statement in the last week of the campaign that he would not dismiss the idea of threatening New Tampa secede from the rest of Tampa.

Although some speculated that Buckhorn would have ultimately endorsed Viera anyway, a fellow Democrat, Davison’s “Brexit”-like attitude made for a more dramatic element to the race.

A poll Friday by St. Pete Polls showed the two candidates tied at 39 percent, with 21 percent undecided. Undecideds apparently broke for Viera, if just narrowly.

For the 62-year-old Davison, this is his third loss running for office. He failed at two previous attempts for Hillsborough County Commission in 2002 and 2004.

Davison was also the co-founder of the New Tampa Transportation Task Force and has served on other transportation committees, including the Committee of ’99, which endorsed the idea of a sales tax to pay for transportation improvements.

Viera is a 38-year-old attorney with the downtown Tampa law firm of Ogden & Sullivan. He has been a member of the city of Tampa’s Civil Service Review Board since 2011.

Like Davison, Viera too is a resident of Hunter’s Green in New Tampa.

In the race, Viera raised more than four times the amount of campaign cash as Davison: $107,474 to Davison’s $25,630.

For the first round of voting Nov. 8, Davison won a plurality of votes in a six-person field. Viera came in second, behind by nearly eight percentage points (31-22 percent).

Two of the four remaining candidates – Avis Harrison and Cyril Spiro – endorsed Davison, while the other two Democrats in the contest – retired police officer Orlando Gudes and La Gaceta writer/editor Gene Siudut – opted to stay neutral.

The fact that Viera wasn’t endorsed by competitors “spoke volumes,” Davison charged at a debate in Forest Hills last week.

District 7 includes New Tampa, the University area, Terrace Park, Forest Hills and Temple Crest.

Viera will make $43,139 annually in what is considered a part-time job.

John Morgan torn on possible governor run, in no hurry

John Morgan has powerful split emotions about the prospect of running for governor in 2018 as a Democrat, and figures he has at least a year to decide.

Morgan, the 60-year-old Orlando trial attorney who championed Florida’s Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative this year, said others – not he – are pushing for him to run for governor. And while flattered, he insisted it’s not his idea, and he’s not giving it any serious thought yet.

“I don’t think I have to do anything this year, 2017,” Morgan said in an interview with

But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it now, if only when he’s driving around, kicking it around in his head.

“The advantage I have, for better worse, is they [any other candidates for governor in 2018] are going to have to spend $25 million at a bare-bones minimum to have any name ID. To me that’s a starting number,” he continued. “And so for better or worse, except for Miami and Fort Lauderdale, I[his Morgan & Morgan law firm featuring him in TV and billboard advertising] am in all those markets, and have been for 30 years or so. I also have the advantage of four years of [campaigning statewide for medical] marijuana, and a very big following. When people come up to me, they thank me for marijuana.”

A group of south Florida politicos, led by Democratic operative Ben Pollara, have put together “For The Governor,” a campaign pushing a petition drive to draft John Morgan for governor, through social media and other communications. Pollara was Morgan’s former campaign manager for United For Care, which ran the successful Amendment 2 campaign this year

Pollara said he’s in the process of formally incorporating a For The Governor Political Committee and expects to begin raising money.

He and Morgan both stated that they had not discussed the initiative with each other, though Morgan hasn’t dismissed it.

“You’ve got to be careful because our egos can really get us into trouble,” Morgan said. “Everybody says, ‘I like you. I like you. I like you. I want you to do it.’ All of the sudden you like what you are hearing, and all of the sudden you go off on a venture you shouldn’t go off on, for a lot of reasons.”I’ve got a great life.”

“I’ve got a great life.”

In the interview, Morgan quickly explored several reasons why he wouldn’t dream of running for governor.

* He professes no clear Florida governing platform at this point, other than a strong conviction that something must be done about low wages in Florida. And he’s not convinced that his being governor would be the most effective way for him to address that; he’s exploring another constitutional amendment initiative to do so.

“I would only want to do it [run for governor] if there was something that I thought that I could make a difference in. And what I worry about is, even if I defy all odds, and win, could I even get anything done with a Republican senate and house?” he said.

* He’s very close to U.S. Rep. Gwen Grahamthe most likely Democratic candidate for governor so far, and particularly close with her father, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. And he expressed admiration for other potential Democratic candidates, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn,  and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

* He even likes some potential Republican gubernatorial candidates, citing Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, among others.

“If I find someone who inspired me, then I would go, ‘You now what? the state would be in good hands with this person.’ It doesn’t matter if they’re a Republican or Democrat,” Morgan said.

* His business interests are complex on a level approaching Donald Trump’s, and he’s not sure he wants to unwind, disengage or liquify anything. Besides his law firm, which is in 18 Florida cities and eight other states, his business interests including hotels, real estate, shopping centers, and attractions.

* Finally, he’s not crazy about enduring personal attacks and knows his profession and lifestyle leave him and his family wide open to ugly anti-Morgan campaign smears.

“I’ve been on TV for 30 years, so I’ve had people writing mean things to me, calling me with mean things, discussing my fat face, my, you know, whatever, so I’m used to mean things. But with this [draft John Morgan campaign] out there, the meanness out there ramps up a little. So I’m like, ‘Who wants this?'” Morgan said. “I’m used to the one-offs. I’m used to people writing me: ‘You’re an ambulance chaser.’ But I’m not used to this where everybody can weigh in. That’s been kind of unnerving.

“It seems like in politics people believe they have a special license to be meaner than usual. That’s what I’ve found these last few weeks,” he said, adding it bothers him, “Because I like to be liked.”

But Morgan does see reasons to run.

He’s not convinced Graham or the other Democrats can actually win. He’s at a point in his life when he’s contemplating the difference between being “successful” and being “significant.” He takes his victory with the medical marijuana initiative to heart on a humanitarian level. He likes that feeling. And he thinks more must and can be done.

“You know, there are things I believe very fervently. I believe that the real issue out there in America is people are not paid fair wages for a fair day’s work,” he said. “Now I don’t know what the number is. I don’t know what the number is. But I believe peoples’ frustration is, they go out, they do everything right, they put on a uniform, and at the end of the day they’re further behind than they were before.”

Perhaps the answer is another constitutional amendment initiative, one aimed at creating a living wage in Florida, Morgan said.

“I’ve already started researching what that language would look like. It may be that my best bet to do what I want to do would be to have a constitutional amendment. I now know how to navigate that world, after making lots of mistakes the first time around,” Morgan said. “But is $15 too much? Would that pass? What’s the magic number? I don’t know.”

The lessons Morgan draws from 2016 political victors is that voters are rejecting career politicians and the status quo, whether it’s Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica of Winter Park. Morgan is certain he fits the outsider identity. If he ran and won, he said he’d pledge a one-term tenure and donate the governor’s salary to charity.

He believes voters want someone who’s less partisan and more practical. Morgan has backed Republicans in the past and said he certainly would in the future. He even praised Gov. Rick Scott for being single-minded on jobs, and for delivering on that.

But mostly, Morgan said, voters deserve someone with compassion for them, and that’s a mark he believes he has.

“What I think is missing in politics today is compassion. I think it’s too much not about what’s for us but what’s for them,” Morgan said. “I don’t believe somebody should be a non-violent felon, go to jail, and not have their civil rights restored. That’s a crime. I don’t believe drug addiction is a crime. The leader I’m looking for is someone who is compassionate and thinks about people first. And I think that includes the minimum wage.”

Pollara and others pushing the draft-Morgan campaign have many of the same concerns about a Morgan run that Morgan himself expressed. Yet they also have his same concerns about the Democrats’ prospects without Morgan. The next governor will oversee another redistricting, which could lock a party’s power in Florida for another decade, Pollara cautioned.

The draft Morgan effort, he said, is “a product of anxiety we Democrats feel about this upcoming governor’s race. Now we’re looking at 2020 redistricting,” which could lead to a “generation of irrelevance” for Democrats.

Morgan also expressed a clear, proud sense of accomplishment, having pushed medical marijuana into Florida’s constitution.

“I got beat with the marijuana the first go around [in a failed 2014 campaign.] I learned my lessons,” Morgan said. “And I think the people who are supporting e the fact I didn’t quit, and I won, and I didn’t just win, I won in a big way.

“And what I did in four years was more than any legislator has done in the last 40 years.”

By-law change adds controversy to Monday night’s Hillsborough DEC election

Viewed from a certain angle, the Democratic Party resembles a smoking pile of rubble in the wake of last month’s general election. Not only will Donald Trump become president in less than two months, but the Senate and House (and soon the Supreme Court) are in Republican control.

Instead of giving up, however, there appears to be a grassroots revival in certain quarters of the party, such as in Hillsborough County.

At their first meeting after last month’s election debacle, several hundred people showed up at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee’s November meeting — a crowd so large that an auxiliary room needed to be opened to provide seating for them at the party’s regular meeting quarters in Ybor City.

But an intra-party squabble regarding their by-laws has the potential of turning off many of those newcomers to the process.

This coming Monday, the local party will hold its reorganization meeting, where DEC members will vote for local party officers, including chair, vice chair, treasurer and state committeeman and state committeewoman. However, a dispute about who is eligible to vote is causing some members to criticize Hillsborough County DEC Chair Ione Townsend, after she sought an interpretation regarding the by-laws regarding whether locally elected Democrats can vote in the election.

Townsend said that her review of the Hillsborough DEC by-laws were not clearly stated about whether Democrats who won nonpartisan elections are eligible to vote in these elections. That would include people like Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and the entire City Council, currently all Democrats, but who don’t run as Democrats because the Tampa municipal election is considered nonpartisan.

Because of that uncertainty, Townsend asked for a clarification from the the Florida Democratic Party Rules Committee. Townsend says that the two-co chairs of the Rules Committee and the Vice Chair of the Rules Committee sent her an opinion – sent directly to her by Rules Co-Chair Rick Boylan – “that the by-laws do not clearly define or even imply that nonpartisans are included in that definition.” (Boylan did not return our request for comment).

That’s raised the ire of some local Democrats who were involved in writing those actual by-laws in 2012, such as former Hillsborough County DEC Chair Chris Mitchell.

Mitchell chaired the Hillsborough County DEC from 2011 to 2013 before departing to run the House Victory office of the FDP. He says that along with recently-elected state Representative Sean Shaw, they wrote the by-law revisions in 2012 “to make elected officials more part of the party, more accountable, which was why we took some steps to include them in the leadership of the party.”

“Ione is obviously interpreting it the way she sees fit politically, but it was not the intent of the authors – which were us – and it was not the intent of the committee that amended the bylaws back then with a more than two-thirds vote,” says Mitchell. “We realized that the success or failure of the party would rely on making sure that those elected officials that Democrats had worked so hard to raise money for were part of the solution to move our party.”

Alma Gonzalez, who is running against Donna Fore for State Committeewoman, agrees with Mitchell and says “it’s difficult to to understand her interpretation of this by-law to exclude and in fact disenfranchise (local Democrats) in selecting party leadership.”

Townsend counters that the Florida Democratic Party, in its December of 2012 reorganization meeting, also found “that people who held nonpartisan office were not included in the definition.”

“There’s something awry here with people’s recollections of what went down and what the intent was,” responds Townsend. “We have to go with what is written, and my interpretation is that it does not specifically include office holders of nonpartisan races.”

Townsend says that in fact there haven’t been any of these nonpartisan office holders at any meetings over the past year, with the exception of Councilman Guido Maniscalco, who applied for membership and was elected and sworn in and signed a loyalty oath. She also says she understands there is a perception that she is trying to limit participation in next week’s election, but adds that others have said that she shouldn’t loosen the rules. “I am caught right square in the middle,” she says, adding that she’s had “angst over this for three weeks.”

Perhaps no one is more affected by Townsend’s interpretation than Alan Clendenin, who is running for State Committeeman against Russ Patterson. Clendenin is seriously considering running for the Chairman of the Florida Democratic Party next month, a race that he fell just short of winning four years ago. In order to run for state party chair, candidates must be local party chairs or a committeeman or committeewoman.

After being informed about Townsend’s decision to review the by-laws, he said in an email last week that, “I am quite perturbed about it. They have always been allowed to vote. How on earth can we not allow Mike Suarez, State President of the Democratic Municipal Officers, Harry Cohen,Yolie Capin or Bob Buckhorn? It is crazy what people will do to try to win a party power struggle.”

Townsend insists she’s not trying to exclude anyone from participating in the election. “I want to run a fair and open election and one that will stand up against scrutiny of state statues, FDP by-laws and our own by-laws.” She’s invited all of those Democrats elected in nonpartisan races to attend Monday’s meeting, where she will pet them to vote on a provisional ballot, in case her ruling of the by-laws is overturned if appealed.

Townsend herself is on the ballot as chair, but is not being opposed.

Gonzalez says she’s disappointed about the in-party fighting, and worries it could be a turnoff to Hillsborough DEC newcomers.

“It’s unfortunate that we have this kind of distraction  going on at at time when there are many folks who are interested and who are coming and who are putting  forward their time and their effort and raising their  hand and saying we want to be a part of a solution,”she says.

Monday’s meeting will take place at the Letter Carriers Hall, 3003 W. Cypress Street at 6 p.m.

Mitch Perry Report for 12.2.16 – The Rock in 2024?

Rick Kriseman’s appointment of former WTFS weatherman Bill Logan to serve in the newly created position of communications director for the public works department is getting (predictably) negative reviews in the Pinellas County GOP world, who think it is more “big government” from the Democratic-leaning administration. It naturally fuels speculation about who will the Pinellas County Republican prop up to challenge the mayor next year, if Rick Baker opts not to not to get into the race. As is usually the case with the former St. Pete Mayor, no one on the outside is clear where he is on such a big decision, and he’s likely to play the Hamlet card with those of us in the media before making that decision. If not Baker, is there anyone else viable?

While the world waits to figure out how far Donald Trump will go on some of the (few) specific policies that he enunciated during his successful campaign, immigration always rises to the top. Trump has promised to deport the two-million plus undocumented immigrants who have criminal records, but that’s going to be a problem. According to the NY Times, there is a backlog of more than 520,000 in the 56 nationwide immigration courts around the nation. The paper reports that at least hundreds of thousands of those deportations would have to be approved by immigration judges, which means the most efficient way to clear the backlog would be to hire more immigration judges. Except that there was another promise made on the trail – that he intends to freeze federal hiring new resources.

“Now in Denver, the court with the longest wait times in the country, most cases drag on more than five years, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group studying federal data, has found,” the Times reports.

The Democratic National Committee won’t choose their chairman for two more months, but the early front-runner, Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, says he’s getting smeared about some of his comments going back to the early 1990’s.  The Anti-Defamation League says that his 2010 comments about about whether Israel controls U.S. foreign policy are “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”

You’re hearing from a lot of blowhard baseball purists today, hailing the decision by Major League Baseball to award home field advantage in the World Series to the pennant winner with the best regular-season record, and not the representative from the League that won the All-Star game. Sure, it makes sense, but do you know what the rule was before 2002, when Bud Selig made the change? It alternated between the leagues, with zero consideration about who had the best record in the game. So there.

And forget about Kanye West in 2020, what about The Rock? The man just declared the Sexiest Man Alive by People and the highest paid actor by Forbes tells Sports Illustrated that he’s thinking of running for office. “I’m something I’m very serious about in the future,” says the 44-year-old registered Republican.

In other news..

Davison’s loose talk about using secession of New Tampa from the rest of the city has prompted Bob Buckhorn to come off the sidelines and endorse Viera, a fellow Democrat.

The state of Florida was behind the majority of states when it finally passed a texting while driving law thee years ago, so a South Florida House Democrat would like to make it tougher, changing from a secondary to a primary offense.

For those who want to petition their state government, your best shot at speaking before a state lawmaker may take place in two weeks, when the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meets up in Tampa.

And the White House has named the Tampa Bay area and three other Florida regions as “tech-hire” communities. 


Tampa and 3 other Florida areas selected by the White House as “Tech Hire” Communities

The White House announced on Thursday that the Tampa Bay area has become one of 20 of the latest communities (and four in Florida) named to participate in its “TechHire” initiative that aims to equip Americans with the skills they need to land jobs in the tech industry. The announcement was made via the White House at 11 a.m., and an hour later, a press conference was held at City Hall in Tampa, kicked off not by Mayor Bob Buckhorn but instead by Mark Sharpe, the head of the Tampa Innovation Alliance, who said that while universities like USF are providing plenty of training to get young people the opportunity to compete for the growing number of tech jobs in the country, there are a number of others who have missed out on what is considered the “tech revolution.”

“What’s exciting is the that the Tampa Innovation Alliance and our district has been recognized by the White House as an innovation district worthy of their support, and the city of Tampa is emerging as a tech leader in this nation,” Sharpe said, emphasizing that everybody has the opportunity to compete for these jobs.

These so-called “innovation districts” have been popping up all over the U.S. in recent years. They’ve been described as  geographic areas where “anchor” institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators. Ideally they’re also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.

The Tampa Innovation Alliance kicked off nearly two years, fueled by a $2 million injection from the Hillsborough County Commission. It literally scored big time back in June, when it secured a $3.8 million grant from the federal government to develop training in the University Area of North Tampa, providing education specifically for technology-related jobs. That grant was the result of a partnership between CareerSource Tampa Bay, the University Area Community Development Corp., Hillsborough County, Tampa Bay Technology Forum and the Tampa Bay Innovation Alliance.

Through CareerSource Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County’s workforce development board, the Tampa Innovation Alliance is going to be working over the next three years to get the message out to approximately 1,000 local out-of-school youth and young adults to get involved. Employers across industries, such as BayCare Health Systems and Cognizant Technology Solutions, are partnering with the initiative in order to advance the economic health and technology industry of the community.  The first meeting will be held at USF Research Park on Dec. 15.

“We will identify over 1,000 individuals who qualify for the program, but as the program evolves and we talk to our business partners,” said Sharpe. “There’s an understanding between the White House, CareerSource and the Department of Labor that they modify existing programs or add to existing programs to even train more workers.”

“Make no mistake, we have changed as a community our economic DNA,” said Buckhorn, referring to how the tech revolution has spread from places like San Francisco, Boston and Washington D.C. to areas like Tampa. “We are not dependent on selling real estate and selling Florida based on cheap land, cheap labor and cheap taxes. We are a different economy.”

Buckhorn said that there are as many as 40 percent of these tech jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree, so there are opportunities with those with the ability to learn coding skills. “This grant gives us the opportunity to touch those kids in that university area, and touch some of those kids who may not have that opportunity, or may not be able to afford to go to a four-year college, but yet with a little assistance and a little training could be productive matters for our society.”

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said he recently returned from St. Louis, where he observed their innovation district and came away with two takeaways. One was that everyone in the community had to prosper, and that the local governments play a crucial role in “kickstarting” the effort to ultimately attract private money to invest in the community. “This is huge, because without trained workers, the private sector will never invest, because they can go find well trained people anywhere,” he added.

Other Florida communities named at “TechHire” areas by the White House are Alachua and Bradford Counties, Pensacola, and the Central Florida area, where the University of Central Florida, Valencia College and the Florida Institute of Technology will play a role in developing trainings to train and place 100 people within the next year and 400 people by 2002 into tech jobs.

Bob Buckhorn endorses Luis Viera in for Tampa City Council

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is endorsing Luis Viera in the race to represent District 7 on the City Council.

The mayor had remained silent through much of the campaign, but recent comments by Vierra’s opponent, Jim Davison, regarding the possibility of New Tampa seceding from the rest of the city has prompted the mayor to weigh in.

“The more I’ve paid attention to this race, the more it became clear that one candidate had the temperament to work with fellow council members and my office, and the other was more interested in provoking division within our city,” said Buckhorn. “I will not let stand unchallenged a callous suggestion of secession as being of any benefit to the City of Tampa.”

News of the Buckhorn endorsement first came  Wednesday night from political consultant Gregory Wilson, who mentioned it near the end of a debate held in Forest Hills between the two candidates.

At a debate Tuesday night, Davison said that while he is not promoting the idea of New Tampa seceding from the rest of the city, he also wouldn’t take the issue off the table when negotiating for more services for the district.

Viera labeled the notion the equivalent of “birtherism,” and doubled down at a forum on Wednesday, saying that, “the next thing you know, we’re going to hear Jim say, ‘Hey, listen. I’m going to build a wall and make South Tampa pay for it.” Davison strongly objected to that comment.

The two men were part of an original field of six candidates who ran this year to fulfill the remaining two-and-a-half years in the seat that had been occupied by Lisa Montelione until October, when she had to step down as she ran for a state legislative seat.

Davison received the most votes of anyone in the Nov. 8 election with 31 percent, while Viera came in second with 22 percent. A poll taken last week showed Davison maintaining a single-digit lead.

Whether Buckhorn’s endorsement will move votes remains in question, but Davison has been working an anti-establishment stance that the district gets little love from downtown, and the rejection seems to be playing into the theme of his campaign.

“Luis Viera’s campaign and supporters have stupped [sic] to sending out false information,” Davison said in a statement on Thursday. “This is how he works, creating a divide between the people and being divisive. Dr. Davison never said he was for secession from the city of Tampa. On the contrary he felt it was his duty to bring back the taxes to fix our issues in District 7.”

Davison also  tweeted out a statement saying that the mayor has never cared about New Tampa until the S-word surfaced in this campaign, writing, “Just the word secession gets Buckhorn’s attention for the first time in six years.”

“District 7 is an unusually diverse group of neighborhoods that have very different needs and unique challenges,” Buckhorn said in his statement.“The next City Council member there must be able to listen carefully, weigh differences, and work to serve the greater good. I believe Luis Viera is best prepared for that job.”

Jim Davison erupts at Luis Veira after Trump joke during second District 7 debate

The relative comity between Tampa City Council District 7 candidates Luis Viera and Jim Davison exploded about fifteen minutes into their second debate on Wednesday night, when Viera criticized a Davison proposal that would keep the idea of New Tampa seceding from the rest of the city  on the table when negotiating for more services to come to the district.

“That is a proposal that is adversarial, that is nonproductive and it is a nonstarter,” Viera said while speaking at the Babe Zaharias Golf course clubhouse in the Forest Hills section of North Tampa. “The next thing you know, we’re going to hear Jim say, ‘Hey, listen. I’m going to build a wall and make South Tampa pay for it.’ “

The line generated laughs from members of the audience, but Davison didn’t find it funny.

“Luis, that was uncalled for,” he responded. “You were trying to compare me to Donald Trump. And what the commissioner said beforehand that this was a nice, congenial campaign. You just destroyed that. I am not Donald Trump, and you are not Hillary Clinton. Alright? The bottom line is, if you want to get down to it, we can debate our character, right here, right now.”

The two candidates are running in the District 7 run-off election taking place next Tuesday, succeeding Lisa Montelione, who left her seat for an unsuccessful run for the Florida House.

The fiery exchange revolving around New Tampa seceding from the rest of the city was discussed at the candidates debate on Tuesday night at the New Tampa Regional Library. That’s where Davison said that while he wouldn’t push for the concept, he wouldn’t remove it either as a means of gaining leverage in calling for more services to come to New Tampa, an issue that both candidates agree doesn’t get the attention it deserves from City Hall.

Earlier on Wednesday, Davison said that it was only when New Tampa leaders like Joe Caetano began talking about secession in 2000 that the area received crucial transportation improvements. “We were not getting out fair share,” he said.”So as soon as we started talking about secession, and started forming and organizing ourselves to the New Tampa Transportation Task Force and the New Tampa Community Council, all of a sudden we started getting road improvements, money for recreation, money for pools, money for fields, all of those things. You never want to give away any leverage that you have in negotiations. And I’m not alienating anybody.”

But according to Gregory Wilson, Viera’s political consultant, Davison’s comments had alienated Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “You said you didn’t want to alienate the mayor, but you did, because yesterday, when the mayor wasn’t involved with this race at all, to this afternoon, he is now endorsing and supporting your opponent,” he said (Viera later said that a statement from Buckhorn announcing his endorsement would be released on Thursday). It should be noted that Viera and Buckhorn are Democrats, Davison is a Republican.

The debate was moderated by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who now leads the Tampa Innovation Alliance, an economic organization charged with lifting the economy in the USF area, which is part of the district.

Viera has called for a Community Redevelopment Agency for the University area, which he called a unique tool (there are seven such CRA’s throughout Tampa, where tax revenues stay within the district to pay for projects there).

As a strong advocate for mass transit in the community, Sharpe also kept the focus on transportation, which dominated parts of the forum. Although both opposed the Go Hillsborough proposed sales tax that never came before the voters last month after being voted down by the Board of County Commissioners, they differ on their opposition. Viera said there wasn’t enough transit in the plan, but Davison is much more energetic in his opposition, saying that County Administrator Mike Merrill, Buckhorn and other advocates were “lowballing” how much it would ultimately cost the taxpayers.

“If you’re going to vote on a half-cent sales tax, you have to know the truth,” Davison said. “That’s all I’m asking, that the City Council be honest with the people in this district.”

Davison says he does support light rail, but says that instead of a proposed transit hub in Westshore that would go Tampa International Airport, there would be a greater economic impact for a so-called “starter line” to have it run from downtown Tampa to USF.

On an aesthetic level, it wasn’t the smoothest debate to watch. The candidates weren’t given a time limit on their responses, and frequently Davison would go on for several minutes citing financial figures that at times seemed to make the audience grown numb.

The two were asked about the idea of allowing major cities like Tampa to have the power to tax their citizens on transportation issues. Florida law allows counties to do so, but not cities, a distinction that Viera described as “arbitrary.” Although plenty of Democrats ran for state legislature this year saying they would make that they would advocate for the change, there is no indication at all that the GOP-led Legislature will pass such a measure.

“I think the voters should have a choice in a democracy,” Viera said. Davison said he wasn’t opposed per se, but he said he simultaneously wanted “expenditure limitations stuck into your budget,” which he said is currently the case in Wisconsin.

Davison’s overriding thesis of his campaign is that the people of District 7 are “tired of being forgotten.”

“They don’t believe the people downtown on Jackson Street cares,” he said, referring to where City Hall is located in downtown Tampa. “A lot of the issues out in New Tampa could be remedied if they got back that they think is their fair share,” and referred to the fact that there is only one recreation center from the city in a district containing 65,000 people.

“People here in Forest Hills, I think they’re tired about having streets that aren’t lit, about having property crimes committed,” he said. “Some of their streets are flooding, and the only solution they got was a fee that isn’t going to directly solve the problems to begin with?”

“North Tampa is not getting its share of respect from the city of Tampa,” Viera agreed. He related an anecdote about speaking to a woman who lived on Busch Boulevard, who upon hearing that he lived in Hunter’s Green, said, “You shouldn’t have to live behind a gated community to have access to a park.”

Montelione, who has endorsed her fellow Democrat Viera in the race, commented during the Q&A portion of the debate with the audience that while transportation had dominated the discussion, the fact was that two-thirds of the city’s budget goes towards the police and fire departments, which “doesn’t leave a whole lot of money for a lot of other things.” Speaking directly to Davison, she also mentioned how more than 700 city jobs were cut during the Iorio administration to deal with the recession.

“I’m not sure how much more you can cut from city government without sacrificing city services,” she said pointedly.

Wednesday’s debate was the second and last one-on-one debate between Viera and Davison before voters go to the polls on Tuesday. Early voting starts today in the district.



Luis Viera friendship with Mike Suarez becomes an issue at New Tampa debate

In the world of Tampa politics, where some folks spend considerable time about contemplating about what might happen years from now, there has been some interest in the District 7 run-off election in the context of how it might affect the chances of Mike Suarez getting an edge in the 2019 mayoral election.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said that he will decide within the next few months whether he will pursue a statewide candidacy in 2018. Most analysts believe the posts he’s looking at are Governor or Chief Financial Officer. In either case, if he were to run for either of those seats, he would need to step down in advance, which would put the City Council Chairman at the time in the mayor’s seat on an interim basis, which could catapult him or her into becoming the leading candidate in 2019.

Or so it goes.

Why that matters now is that Suarez is good friends with fellow Democrat Luis Veira, who is fighting to win the District 7 seat next week against Republican Jim Davison in the (nonpartisan) race. The theory goes that a Viera victory would mean he’d vote for Suarez next spring when the Council again votes on its leader, which anti-Suarez folks don’t want to happen (forget the fact that the Council vote for Chair in 2018 might be the real council vote that would actually matter, since Buckhorn could very likely still be in power at that time).

If you get all of that, then you’ll understand what Joe Caetano was up to on Tuesday night at the New Tampa Regional Library. During the first one-on-one debate between the two candidates since they qualified earlier this month to compete against each other in the December 6 runoff, Caetano, the former District 7 Councilman from 2007-2011 (who has already endorsed Davison) confronted Viera about a mailer he has distributed that features Suarez’s mug.

“This whole election is about who is going to be the next Mayor,” Caetano barked out.

“When I came to Mike to talk about this issue, we never spoke about the Chair of City Council,” Veira responded, dismissing such speculation as “narcissism and elitism within the city on these issues.”

Viera continued that he couldn’t believe that Caetano could think there was some deal between the two. “To even begin to say that is an issue, is just far outside of the realm of a reality,” he protested.

“The thing is, Suarez wants to be the mayor,” Caetano shouted back. “When the mayor goes to Tallahassee to run for governor-” but the rest of his sentence was drowned out by the moderators, who told him that he had already asked his question.

Davison, who would become the only Republican on the Council if elected, predicted that Veira would support Suarez for chair next year, and said he probably wouldn’t. “That may not be the politically expedient thing to be right now, but that’s the way I feel, ” Davison said, adding that the city council and the whole city of Tampa needs to be “shaken up.”

There are a whole host of names being floated already as potential mayoral candidates in 2019 – including several other Council members, such as Yolie Capin, Frank Reddick, Harry Cohen and Charlie Miranda.

Whomever is elected next week, it might be hard for next vote on City Council for chair to supersede last year’s election, with it took no fewer than 14 ballots before Suarez was elected chairman.

In debate, Jim Davison doesn’t dismiss idea of New Tampa secession from Tampa

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.

At Tampa summit, officials boast that Florida is ahead of nation when it comes to self-driving cars

At the fourth annual Florida Automated Vehicle Summit in Tampa, government officials boasted about how far ahead of the game the state is compared to the rest of the nation in being prepared for the brave new world of autonomous vehicles. And they pledged not to  get in the way of the industry doing whatever they need to succeed with this quickly emerging technology.

“Help us help you and where you’re trying to go,” said Tom Byron, the assistant secretary for Intermodal Systems Development with the Florida Dept. of Transportation. “That’s what I’m asking. That’s it.”

There are currently 33 different companies involved in the development of advanced driver assistance systems and self-driving vehicles, including Tesla, Apple, Ford, Microsoft and Honda.

Byron boasted that unlike other states, the Florida Dept. of Transportation has a “healthy budget,” and added that Florida most importantly has the political leadership that is also unlike any other place in the nation in terms of supporting this new mode of transportation. “You’ve got proprietary data, trade secrets, we don’t want any of that stuff, ” Byron said reassuringly. “What we want to do is get input on what we can do.”

Leading this movement in Florida has been Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes, who told the audience that he was inspired to sponsor an autonomous vehicle bill in his very first year in the Legislature in 2011, after listening to a “Ted Talk” while driving up to Tallahassee from the Tampa Bay area.

The technology has changed, and so has the thrust of Brandes’ legislation in this area. Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature unanimously backed HB 7027, Brandes bill that made Florida the first state in the nation to legalize fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel. “That’s a game changer,” Brandes said, claiming that the law makes every 30-year plan created by various state and local agencies “wrong.”

“Not a little bit wrong, but a lot wrong,” he added. “This technology is just like 100 years ago when we moved from the horse and the buggy to the Model T.”

Brandes said that not are vehicles now becoming autonomous, but simultaneously they’re becoming more electric, saying that the industry has evolved to the point where it has gone from a car with 2,000 moving parts now to one that will soon just 20 moving parts. He said that upcoming electric vehicles now in production will be able to drive 200 miles on a single charge, and cost less than $25,000 by 2020 or 2022.

The St. Petersburg Republican said that he meets with hundreds of groups regarding specific issues or causes, and he says he asks all of them what their vision is, and who’s their champion. He said he is the champion of the autonomous vehicle movement in Florida. “My vision is that we continue to tread new ground, and we continue to work to make bold decisions,” he declared.

The conference started up on Tuesday with a short address by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said that the “intellectual capital” want choices when it comes to transportation, choices that don’t include building more roads. “It’s options,” he said, listing autonomous vehicles, Uber,  Lyft, HOV lanes and/or rail lines as essential choices.

“We need options, and we need to be thinking about what the future will be looking like, and what transportation is going to look like, not just next year, but 20 years from now,” the mayor said, adding that “the success of our cities is contingent on your willingness to think outside of that traditional box.”

And Buckhorn had a message for President-elect Donald Trump regarding his pronouncements that he supports a major infrastructure project.

“We’re the third largest state in the country, and we need to start acting like it,” Buckhorn said. “We need to start investing like it. I hope that the President-elect lives up to his campaign promises and starts to invest in infrastructure,” adding that, “we need to believe in a future that doesn’t look like today.”

However, some initial proponents of such a major plan have turned cold on it. That’s because Trump is calling for the government to avoid direct spending and borrowing by instead subsidizing private developers with massive tax credits for building roads, bridges and other projects. The developers would own the infrastructure and collect resulting cash flows from tolls or fees. The liberal Economic Policy Institute argues the plan is unlikely to lead to much new investment because it’s driven more by ideology — that private enterprise always trumps direct public investments in infrastructure — than by rational policy.

Giving the keynote address was urban planner and forecaster Dr. Anthony Townsend from the company, Bits and Atoms. FloridaPolitics will have a story about his speech later this week.

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