In Pittsburgh TV interview, Mitch Kates says Kevin Beckner’s victory in 2008 changed Tampa Bay area politics for the better

Although he’s been long gone from the Tampa Bay area political scene, Democratic strategist Mitch Kates still recalls his days of leading Democrats to upset victories in both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties with fond memories.

Now the political director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Kates appeared last week on Pittsburgh Community Television to discuss his peripatetic career, which has taken him from his native Northeast to the Tampa Bay Area, to working on campaigns in Eastern Europe (Georgia), Kosovo and the Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius.

But he still waxes nostalgic for his successes in 2006-2008, beginning with getting Charlie Justice past Republican Kim Berfield for a Pinellas/Hillsborough State senate seat in 2006. He followed that up with Mary Mulhern’s upset victory over Shawn Harrison for Tampa City Council in 2007, and then Kevin Beckner’s improbable upset of Brian Blair for Hillsborough County Commissioner in 2008.

In discussing how formidable the odds were against the openly gay Beckner in early 2007 when he began the countywide race, Kates says he was approached by other Democrats to dump his candidate, believing that he had no chance in a county with a reputation for not being intolerant when it came to issues with the LGBT community. “It’s one of my most precious campaigns,” Kates recounts on the show. He referenced Hillsborough County’s infamous ban on gay pride vote from 2005, and how the region has changed since those times, referring to the almost casual fact that the St. Petersburg City Council now has three gay and lesbian members on their eight member board. “All of this happened, because Kevin Beckner had the courage to stand up and be honest with people and the voters, and that will always be one of my favorite campaigns.”

Hillsborough County repealed the ban on gay pride back in 2013, and followed that up in 2014 with adding protections for the LGBT community in the county’s Human Rights Ordinance.

Kates also was a professional wrestler known as “Jason the Terrible,” and it’s a career achievement he’s still quite proud of. In this interview with PCTV’s Steve Irwin, Kates demonstrates a few wrestling tricks of the trade towards the end of the interview.

His discussion of his time in the Tampa Bay area begins around the 15:00 minute mark.



Janet Long, Karen Seel, Ken Welch draw no opposition in Pinellas Commission races

Incumbents Janet Long, Karen Seel and Ken Welch were re-elected Friday when no one showed up to run against them by the end of qualifying.

Incumbent Charlie Justice, a Democrat, will face first-time candidate Mike Mikurak, a Republican, in the Nov. 8 general election.

Seel, a Republican who has served on the commission since 1999 when then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to fill an unexpired term, never had the threat of opposition.

Sharon McManus had announced she would run against Welch, a Democrat, who has served on the commission since 2000, but her campaign never materialized.

And Republican Martin Hughes announced he would make his first run for public office against Long, a Democrat who is in her first term on the commission. But Hughes failed to qualify, according to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections website.

Janet Long, Mike Mikurak, Ken Welch pre-qualify for Pinellas Commission races

Democratic incumbents Janet Long and Ken Welch have pre-qualified for their re-election runs for the Pinellas County Commission. Also pre-qualified is first-time candidate Mike Mikurak. Candidates have until noon Friday to qualify for the upcoming election.

Long is facing first-time candidate Martin Hughes in the race for the at-large District 1 seat. Hughes has not yet qualified. Neither has incumbent Democrat Charlie Justice, who is facing Republican Mikurak in the run for the District 3 seat.

Welch, a Democrat, has drawn no opposition yet. Sharon McManus announced she would run against him for the District 7 seat. But McManus is listed as inactive on the Pinellas County Elections Commission website.

Also up for re-election is Republican Karen Seel. Seel, who holds the District 5 seat, has announced as a candidate but has not yet qualified.

Janet Long   ken-welch-photo  Mike Mikurak  Martin Hughes  Comm_Charlie_Justice  Karen Seel

Pinellas County stands with Orlando, schedules blood drives

Charlie JusticePinellas County officials sent condolences and love to the city of Orlando and all the families impacted by the worst mass murder in American history.

Florida, they said, is one community and an attack on one city is an attack on each of us.

“Pinellas joins with our friends throughout Florida in standing with the people of Orlando,” said Charlie Justice, chairman of the Pinellas County Commission. “We stand resolute on principles of equality, freedom, justice and love. We will not retreat. We will keep moving forward. Today, we can all join together in a blood donation in honor of those who cannot.”

In response to depleted blood supply in the Orlando area, Pinellas County is partnering with OneBlood to host two blood drives, the first from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the county courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater. The second is 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Pinellas County Utilities building, 14 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater.

The general public is encouraged to join county employees in this effort.

Charlie Justice continues to trail in fundraising

Charlie Justice picked up another $6,515 last month in his quest to retain the District 3 seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

That brings Justice’s total to $54,482, a little more than half as much as challenger Mike Mikurak‘s $100,480. The disparity may not be as great as it would seem at first glance. Mikurak’s total fundraising spans the time period from September through the end of May. Justice, on the other hand, filed to run in late October and did not start taking donations until November.

Justice, a Democrat, is in his first term on the Pinellas County Commission. He’s currently serving as the chairman of the group. Justice served in the state Senate from 2006 to 2010 and before that in the Florida House from 2000 to 2006.

He also serves on the Health and Human Services Leadership Board, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program policy board, the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas board and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority board.

He is married and has two children.

Mikurak is a retired businessman. He  serves on the Juvenile Welfare Board, the CareerSource Pinellas executive committee/board, the USF Council of Professionals and the Pinellas County Republican executive committee. He is a past board chair of the Science Center of Pinellas County and St. Anthony’s Hospital.

The District 3 seat is elected countywide, but candidates must live in the district. The district includes St. Petersburg, Gulfport, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and a portion of Pinellas Park. The election is Nov. 8.

In other commission races, incumbent Ken Welch added another $950 to his campaign coffers last month, bringing his total to $33,485. Welch, a Democrat, currently has no opponents.

In the race for the District 1 at-large seat, neither incumbent Democrat Janet Long nor her Republican opponent Martin Hughes had filed a financial report for May. They have until the end of today to do so.

Mike Mikurak clears $100,000 in fundraising

Republican Mike Mikurak has passed the $100,000 mark in fundraising for his race against incumbent Charlie Justice for the District 3 at-large seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

In his most recent financial report, Mikurak says he raised $12,975 in the month of May, bringing his overall total since September to $100,480.

It’s unclear how far ahead of Justice he may be. Justice has until Friday to file his May report. However, as of the end of April, Justice, a Democrat, had raised $48,067.

Mikurak, a retired business executive, is making his first run for political office. Justice is in his first term on the County Commission, having been elected in 2012. He is currently chair of the commission. He is a former state legislator, having served in the Florida Senate from 2006 to 2010 and the state House from 2000 to 2006.

The District 3 seat is elected countywide, but candidates must live in the district. The district includes St. Petersburg, Gulfport, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and a portion of Pinellas Park. The election is Nov. 8.

In other commission races, Republican incumbent Karen Seel reports she has raised $32,868.92 as of May 31. Seel has no opponent.

Democrat Ken Welch, who is also unopposed; incumbent Democrat Janet Long; nor Long’s opponent, political newcomer Martin Hughes have filed their May financial reports. They have until Friday to do so.

Pinellas Commission adopts plan for Lealman CRA, changes name

Pinellas commissioners unanimously adopted a plan Tuesday that will serve as the framework for improvements in the area.

The approval was the final step before the county makes a major push to improve that unincorporated area. Lealman, one of the county’s poorest communities, is generally located between St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park and between I-275 and Park Street. It is divided in half by Kenneth City.

The Lealman Community Redevelopment Area, the first in unincorporated Pinellas, is centered on lands to the east of Kenneth City.

At the same time, county commissioners changed one of the names of the area from the Lealman Community Redevelopment Agency to the Pinellas County Community Redevelopment Agency.

The area itself will continue to be known as the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area.

The change was made because state law allows only one agency, which can oversee multiple redevelopment areas. In this case, the county oversees the Lealman area and, if it creates more redevelopment areas, would also oversee those. The new name would avoid future confusion.

“I think this is a pretty exciting time,” Pinellas Commissioner Dave Eggers said. “I think this is a really powerful tool to help a community that needs help.”

Commissioner Charlie Justice agreed, saying, “Today is a monumental day for the people of Lealman.”

The plan commissioners approved is a 44-page document that sets out goals for redeveloping Lealman. Among those goals are to solve existing flooding problems and make other improvements, such as installing sidewalks and street lights.

Commissioners expect about $100,000 in tax money to help fund those improvements. The money would be available in January.

The funding would come from increased tax revenue derived from property value increases in the Lealman community redevelopment area. That increased tax revenue is earmarked for the Lealman CRA.

The next step, county staff members said, is to set some short-term goals. One project that has already begun is outreach to members of the business community in Lealman. Recreation improvements are scheduled for the Joe’s Creek Greenway Park.

Rain delay: Pinellas County Commission postpones meeting until Tuesday afternoon

Charlie Justice, chair of the Pinellas County Commission, says this morning’s meeting has been postponed until 1:30 p.m. He tweeted the announcement a few minutes ago: “#Pinellas County Commission meeting postponed. Start time now 1:30 p.m.”

County commissioners want Rays to know: ‘We want you to stay in Pinellas’

The news that Tampa Bay Rays officials have discussed nine potential sites for a new ballfield with Tampa and Hillsborough officials was not welcome information among Pinellas commissioners.

It’s time, they said, to make sure the Rays know the county wants them to stay whether it’s in St. Petersburg or elsewhere in Pinellas.

It’s time to talk about other sites in Pinellas, Commissioner Ken Welch said Thursday.

“Those conversations need to be happening now,” he said.

They appointed Welch to represent them on Baseball Forever, a campaign designed to convince the Rays that their current location at Tropicana Field is the best location in Tampa Bay for Major League Baseball. That would involve re-visioning and redeveloping the property. And commissioners agreed County Administrator Mark Woodard and commission chair Charlie Justice should reach out to the Rays.

They discussed inviting Rays officials to make a presentation to them about the team’s wishes. Commissioner Dave Eggers liked that idea: “I think the symbolism is important here to show how much the Rays mean to Pinellas County.”

Charlie Justice says he’s still endorsing Ben Diamond, but Eric Lynn has his support


After we reported this morning that Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice had switched from endorsing Ben Diamond in the  House District 68 candidate Ben Diamond to being neutral in the race with fellow Democrat Eric Lynn, we received a call from Tom Alte, Diamond’s campaign manager, saying that Justice was still endorsing Diamond.

We went back and reviewed the statement sent to us by Justice on Thursday. In fact, Justice does that, “while Ben asked for and received my endorsement, both have my friendship and support.”

So, to get it straight – Justice endorses Diamond, and is giving his friendship and support to Lynn – and Diamond.

A number of Democrats who previously had announced their support for Diamond when he was the lone Democrat in the race, such as Charlie Crist, Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath, announced that they had back away from that stance once the race had become a competitive primary.

The Eric Lynn campaign had also sent SPB a statement recently that Justice had also changed his position to being neutral. Apparently they – and we – were incorrect.

. This was his Justice’s statement, sent via Facebook:

We were all surprised when Representative Dwight Dudley recently announced his intention not to seek re-election to the Florida House. I was not surprised and very pleased when our friend Ben Diamond announced his candidacy. I immediately responded yes to his endorsement request. We were then later surprised when our friend Eric Lynn announced that he was suspending his congressional campaign and that he too would seek the now open legislative seat. I have always encouraged Eric to seek the right elected office. It’s an embarrassment of riches to have two fine young men running for the same seat and I look forward to having the winner serve us well in Tallahassee. So while Ben asked for and received my endorsement, both have my friendship and support. Now if you live in District 68, you get to do something I don’t – you get to actually vote for one of these gentlemen. You have 166 days to get to know them and make the best decision for our community. Get to it.

Diamond and Lynn are running in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican JB Bensmihen.

Justice is facing his own reelection campaign this year. The District 3 County Commissioner is running for a second four-year term against Republican Mike Mikurak this fall.