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Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘this place is the best’ edition

Besides, maybe, New York City or Washington, D.C., there really is no better place from which to write about politics than Tampa Bay.

One reason is that there are so many competitive congressional and legislative seats in the region. And what’s spent to win those seats is oftentimes as much as the amount spent to win other state’s U.S. Senate seats. These seats are competitive because Hillsborough and Pinellas remain “purple” seats in an era when more and more counties throughout the country move to becoming single-party geographic enclaves.

According to a must-read article from FiveThirtyEight.com which was highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times John Romano, “of the 50 counties that had the most voters at the polls in November, Pinellas had the closest election results in America. It was 48.6 percent for Trump and 47.5 for Clinton. That’s a 1.1 percent swing. Hillsborough County was 51.5 for Clinton and 44.7 for Trump, a 6.8 percent swing.”

It’s razor-thin margins like this that have made and will make Tampa Bay the center of the universe during the 2018 election cycle.

It’s also why a Democrat like Bob Buesing is considering a rematch against Dana Young, even though Republicans traditionally turn out at a better clip than they do during presidential election cycles.

It’s why there’s no battleground more interesting to write about than Tampa Bay. Here’s where sh*t stands.

Hillsborough County teacher Jessica Harrington, a self-described progressive Democrat, is exploring a run in 2018 against Tampa Republican James “Jamie” Grant in House District 64.

In an announcement Tuesday on WFLA News Radio 970, Harrington said she is turning her attention toward Tallahassee. As a member of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, Harrington initially considered running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Harrington changed her mind after a trip to Tallahassee to drop off letters to lawmakers on education funding.

“I realized that no one really knows me … nationally,” Harrington told WFLA’s AM Tampa Bay. “But a lot of people know me locally.”

Harrington’s primary focus will be public schools, which he says are inadequately funded and overcrowded, something she blames on budget cuts in the early years of Gov. Scott. She is also “greatly offended” by the selection of Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education.

Something you rarely see in Pinellas politics is a genuinely competitive Republican primary for a state legislative seat. Even when there is a primary, it’s typically a David-and-Goliath situation, i.e. Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes, where the eventual winner was never in doubt.

However, the scrum shaping up in House District 66, where Rep. Larry Ahern is term-limited from running again, is already developing into an elbows-out contest.

Former state prosecutor Berny Jacques jumped into the race first and has already earned an the endorsement of the young Republicans organization he recently led. Not soon afterwards Pinellas GOP chairman Nick DiCeglie made it clear he intends to run for the seat.

Now this internecine battle threatens to split the local party.

On one side, backing Jacques, is former U.S. Rep. David Jolly. On the other is, well, pretty much the rest of the establishment.

Well, except for the host of young lawyers who agreed to be on the host committee for Jacques’ kickoff party this Thursday.

Of particular note are the names of Jim Holton and Paul Jallo on the host committee. Those are two of the heaviest hitters in local fundraising circles.

Patrick Manteiga notes that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White raised $55,750 from his re-election kickoff campaign event held last week at the Columbia Restaurant.

Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign will be managed by Jacob Smith, a South Florida native who began his political career as a volunteer for Barack Obama‘s first campaign in 2008. In 2012, he joined Obama’s re-election campaign in Southwest Florida.

Smith was the field director for Kriseman’s 2013 campaign.

Look for an announcement from the Kriseman camp soon.

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford and Treasure Island City Manager Reid Silverboard could be looking at pink slips after voters elected five new commissioners in their towns last week.

Crawford, whose city elected three new commissioners, said he believes he will be terminated, while Silverboard said he is ready to offer his resignation.

Candidates running against major redevelopment projects won big last week, leaving both men wondering if they will have a job in the near future.

“From what I’ve learned is they’re going to terminate my employment when they’re sworn in on April 11,” Crawford said. “I’m a little miffed. I gave a lot to the city.”

Silverboard said he was going to offer his resignation when commissioners take the oath Tuesday.

“I believe that the City Commission is ready for a change in the Administration of the City to lead the organization,” Silverboard said. “It will be in both of our best interest to reach a mutually agreeable severance agreement.”

Anthony Weiss, a backer of the “Stop Tall Buildings” group, said he thinks “it’s an appropriate time for to find other opportunities. I don’t think that if he voluntarily resigns that he’s entitled to a severance package.“

Despite her incumbency, interim Mayor Deborah Schechner didn’t fare too well in the St. Pete Beach municipal elections.

Just 35 percent of the 2,941 voters in St. Pete Beach’s municipal elections chose Scherer, while challenger Alan Johnson is the mayor-elect with 61 percent of the vote.

An additional 4 percent picked John-Michael Fleig.

Schechner was appointed interim mayor after the job became available June 30 when former Mayor Maria Lowe stepped down to accompany her husband to France after he was named deputy director of cemetery operations for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

This fundraising invitation from Ed Hooper has me worried

Late last month, former state Sen. John Legg announced that he would not attempt to return to the Legislature in 2018. Had he run, Legg’s best path to victory was thought to be through north Pinellas’ Senate District 16, where incumbent Jack Latvala is term-limited from running again.

The person who benefits the most from Legg not running is former state Rep. Ed Hooper who, even if Legg was in the race, is the early front-runner to replace Latvala.

Hooper was in Tallahassee last Monday for a fundraiser hosted by Latvala, the next two Senate Presidents — Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson — as well as almost all of Republicans who comprise Tampa Bay’s legislative delegation.

In other words, with Legg out and the establishment behind him, Hooper should cruise in 2018, or at least through the Republican primary.

But something, admittedly trivial, has me just a tad bit worried. It’s this dang invitation (pictured below) for a fundraiser on March 29.

To look at, the invitation is hideous. And whoever filled up the invite with those throwaway puns should have their keyboard taken away.

Seriously, this invitation looks like a dog’s breakfast.

Maybe it was designed by an earnest volunteer. And maybe a campaign intern was in charge of the writing.

But you know what this invite reminds me of?

Jim Frishe.

It’s a big serving of Jim Frishe Velveeta cheese.

Frishe, of course, is the former state Representative who wanted a seat in the Florida Senate but was defeated by Jeff Brandes in a 2012 primary. The tech-savvy Brandes campaign exposed the well-meaning Frishe as a career politician and out-of-date. The final result was not even close.

Ed Hooper’s situation is not the same as Jim Frishe’s. There isn’t a Senate leadership fight shaping the primary in Senate District 16 (at least not yet). Hooper’s not on the opposite side of the Brandes-Nick Hansen wing of the Pinellas GOP which, in 2016, beat Frishe a second time in the Pinellas Property Appraiser contest.

Hooper should not have to endure a primary.

But cheesy stuff like this coming out of the Hooper camp might give some self-financing, unknown conservative — basically a Jeff Brandes of Palm Harbor — the idea that Hooper is, like Frishe was shown to be, a career pol and out-of-date.

And remember, Hooper’s coming off a loss to Democrat Pat Gerard for a County Commission seat. Many observers say that was Hooper’s race to win, but his campaign failed to execute a winning plan.

Sending out invitations designed like the one below may indicate Hooper did not learn from that loss.

Hooper can and should do better than this.

David Jolly presents flag at Ray Neri’s memorial service

Former U.S. Rep. David Jolly on Wednesday presented an American flag to Laura Neri, the widow of community activist Ray Neri, who died Jan. 3.

The flag was one that U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis had had flown over the Capitol especially for Mrs. Neri.

“Ray Neri was a special person,” Jolly said. “Ray touched peoples’ lives.”

Jolly was only one of many of Pinellas’ political leaders who came to Neri’s memorial service. Others included Pinellas County commissioners  Pat Gerard, Karen Seel, Ken Welch, Dave Eggers and Charlie Justice. Former state Rep. Jim Frishe also attended. Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former county Commissioner Neil Brickfield spoke during the ceremony.

“There will never be another Ray Neri, but we can continue what he started,” Gualtieri said.

Although most had helped Neri with projects to benefit the unincorporated Lealman area, Jolly had helped him in another way.

Neri was diagnosed with a heart ailment that the Veterans Administration could not treat. Neri appealed to Jolly, who pushed the VA into giving him permission to go elsewhere for help. A Tampa surgeon was successful in saving Neri.

Neri died Jan. 3 at Northside Hospital where he was taken after falling at home.

Neri had served on boards of the Lealman Community Association, which he headed for several years; the Juvenile Welfare Board; the Sheriff’s Police Athletic League; Keep Pinellas Beautiful; the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club; and the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council.

Jeff Brandes wins SD 24 seat after write-in candidate drops out

Jeff Brandes has won the state Senate District 24 seat.

Although the 40-year-old Brandes had no Democratic opponent (or a Republican one in last month’s primary), he was facing write-in candidate Alexander Johnson in the Nov. 8 election.

However, Johnson has now dropped out of the race, effectively making Brandes the winner.

Brandes has been in the Florida Legislature since 2010, when he defeated Democrat Bill Heller in the House District 52 race in Pinellas County.

After a single term in the House, Brandes ran for Senate District 22 in 2012, where his greatest challenge was in the Republican primary against longtime Pinellas County lawmaker Jim Frishe, who Brandes defeated 58 to 43 percent.

In 2014, Brandes’ faced University of South Florida-St. Petersburg professor Judithanne McLachlan, who the Democrats had great hopes for a serious challenge in the Hillsborough/Pinellas seat. But Brandes won easily, 58 percent to 42 percent.

All 40 Senate districts are up for re-election this fall because of redistricting, but those districts assigned odd numbers get four-year terms, while even-numbered districts get two-year terms that would require senators to run again in 2018 to get a full four-year term. In this case, Brandes will once again be running for this seat in two more years.

Jim Frishe, Mike Twitty battle for Pinellas Property Appraiser

If you go by fundraising, then Mike Twitty is a shoo-in to win Tuesday’s Republican primary for the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office.

But Twitty, a political newcomer, is facing an opponent experienced in Pinellas politics. Jim Frishe has twice served in the state House of Representatives from 1984 to 1990 and again from 2006 to 2012.

For both of them, the issue comes down to experience. But each has a different kind of experience.

The property appraiser is a constitutional office that sets the values of real estate. That value is used when figuring how much property taxes people pay.

Twitty says his 26 years as a professional real estate appraiser and 23 years as principal and vice president of the commercial and residentialappraisal firm Entreken Assocs. qualify him for the job. Pinellas Clerk of Court Ken Burke agrees, he said, as that’s who suggested he run. Burke, he said, believed he had the right skill set for the job.

Frishe is a licensed real estate broker and that 30 years in business gives him the background to run the office. Frishe said he was approached by senior appraisers in the Property Appraiser’s Office who asked him to run when the incumbent Pam Dubov decided to retire.

Frishe said he consulted Dubov who suggested he needed some academic qualifications for the job. So Frishe went back to school to prepare himself by taking courses in mass appraisals.

“Just because I’m not an appraiser doesn’t mean I don’t know the value of things,” Frishe told an audience this summer at a candidates’ forum in north Pinellas.

Frishe isn’t doing as well as Twitty at fundraising. He’s raised $63,062.98, less than half Twitty’s $151,681. The figures are the latest available from the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office.

And Twitty has spent almost three times as much as Frishe – $148, 354.46 and $55,899.23, respectively – in the race. Included in that is $61,200 Twitty spent with Mentzer Media Services of Towson, MD, for media placement.

The winner of Tuesday’s race will go on to face write-in candidate Joseph John Catalano in the Nov. 8 general election. The polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Seminole mayor endorses in judicial, property appraiser races

Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters issued endorsements in three races over the weekend.

Leslie Waters
Leslie Waters

Waters endorsed Dora Komninos and Myriam Irizarry who are running for seats on the bench. She also endorsed former state Rep. Jim Frishe for Pinellas County property appraiser.

“I endorse Dora Komninos for County Court judge of Group 8,” Waters said. “Her intensive experience prosecuting domestic violence cases would serve the citizens well with Dora on the bench.”

Komninos is an assistant state attorney who is facing Tampa lawyer Curtis “CK” Korsko. He also serves as a hearing officer for civil traffic offenses.

Waters praised Irizarry as being a trailblazer.

“Judge Myriam Irizarry has always been a trailblazer throughout her life beginning with a humble beginning in Puerto Rico, through college and law school, to adjunct college professor, to general council of the Pinellas County clerk’s office, to becoming the first Hispanic woman to serve as a judge in Pinellas County,” Waters said.

She added, “I hold Judge Irizarry in high regard, and will be voting for her so she may continue to blaze a trail for us all.”

Irizarry is running for re-election to County Court judge Group 9. She is facing a challenge from state Rep. Dwight Dudley.

Jim Frishe
Jim Frishe

In the race for Pinellas County property appraiser, Waters said she’ll be voting for Frishe.

“Jim Frishe is a long-time and loyal Republican dating back to his appointment by President Ronald Reagan as White House delegate to a NATO conference,” Waters said.

“Jim’s extensive experience as a state legislator, a businessman, community volunteer, and real estate broker will be very beneficial to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office. I will be voting for Jim Frishe for property appraiser.”

Frishe is running against first-time candidate Mike Twitty, a real estate appraiser. The office is currently held by Pam Dubov who is retiring and entering the ministry.

The races for judicial and property appraiser’s offices are non-partisan. Anyone can vote for the candidates in the Aug. 30 election.

Bob Gualtieri, Mike Twitty far ahead in fundraising for Pinellas posts

With less than a month to go before the Aug. 30 primary, Mike Twitty continues to swamp Jim Frishe in the fundraising race.

Twitty, who’s running his first campaign, has raised about 2 ½ times more than political veteran Frishe, a former state representative. The two Republicans are vying to be the next Pinellas County property appraiser. Incumbent Pam Dubov is not running for reelection.

Twitty raised $370 in the six-days between July 23 and 29, the most recent reporting period. That brings his campaign total to about $141,341. Frishe, a former state representative, raised only $75 during that same period. His overall fundraising total is about $57,413.

Twitty’s lead in fundraising also gives him an advantage when it comes to campaign spending. He and Frishe have each spent a large chunk of their monies. Twitty has spent about $130,384 to Frishe’s $31,328.

Twitty and Frishe will face off in the Aug. 30 primary. The winner will go on to face write-in candidate write-in candidate Joseph John Catalano in the Nov. 8 general election.

Bob GualtieriIn the other contested race among Pinellas’ constitutional officers, Republican incumbent Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has raised almost 18 times as much as James McLynas. McLynas has no party affiliation. Write-in candidate Greg Pound has raised no money.

Gualtieri raised that money before July 8. He has raised no money since then. McLynas showed no fundraising for the period from July 23 to July 29.

There is no primary in the Pinellas sheriff’s race. The three will face each other in the Nov. 8 general election.

In first campaign video, Mike Twitty says Jim Frishe has history of raising taxes

Mike Twitty, who’s running for Pinellas County property appraiser released a new video ad today.

The ad, available on YouTube, touts Twitty’s 26 years of experience as a property appraiser in Pinellas County. Twitty says in the ad that his experience makes him aware that you have to get appraisals and property taxes right.

Twitty, as he has since the beginning of the campaign, portrays Republican primary opponent Jim Frishe as a “career politician.” Twitty charges that Frishe, a former state representative, has a “long record of raising taxes.”

Thus far in the race, Twitty has outdistanced Frishe in fundraising. At the end of last month, the most recent figures available, Twitty had raised $139,170. Frishe had raised $55,762.98.

The two are scheduled to appear tonight at a forum jointly sponsored by the Council of North County Neighborhoods and the Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce. The evening starts with a meet and greet at 6 p.m. at the Palm Harbor Library, 2330 Nebraska Ave.

The property appraiser’s seat is currently held by Pam Dubov, who is not running for reelection. The winner of the Aug. 30 primary will face write-in candidate Joseph John Catalano in the Nov. 8 general election.

North Pinellas county candidate forum set for Monday

The Council of North County Neighborhoods is holding a candidates forum Monday night.

The forum, which is co-sponsored by the Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, will feature candidates who will appear on north Pinellas ballots in the Aug. 30 election. That election is for party primaries and nonpartisan races.

Pinellas County School Board member Peggy O’Shea said all but one candidate would be at Monday’s event. The CNCN, she said, is still waiting to hear from Robert J. Beal, a last-minute candidate in the race for the District 1 at-large seat on the School Board.

Those who have accepted are Jim Frishe and Mike Twitty, who are running in the Republican primary for Pinellas County property appraiser.

In the nonpartisan races, Dora Komninos and Curtis “CK” Korsko, candidates for County Judge, Group 8 have said they will be at the forum as have Dwight Dudley and Myriam Irizarry, candidates for County Judge, Group 9.

Bill Dudley, Joanne Lentino and Matt Stewart, who are running for the District 1 at-large seat on the School Board, have said they plan to attend. So have Ken Peluso and Eileen Long, who are running for the single-member District 4 seat on the School Board. The District 1 seat is voted on countywide. Only residents of north Pinellas will see the District 4 race on the ballot.

Property Appraiser Pam Dubov will also be there to explain Amendment 4, which would give certain tax exemptions for solar energy improvements.

The event will start at 6 p.m. with a mix and mingle at the Palm Harbor Library, 2330 Nebraska Ave. The forum will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Mike Twitty is winning the fundraising race for Pinellas Property Appraiser

Political newcomer Mike Twitty has raised almost two and a half times more money than Jim Frishe in the race for Pinellas Property Appraiser.

Twitty’s latest report shows he raised $1,650 in June, bringing his total to $133,185. Frishe, a former state Representative, brought in $225 last month for a total $54,962.98. The third person in the race, write-in candidate Joseph John Catalano has raised no money.

Twitty could draw further ahead this month. He has a fundraiser scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Courtside Grille, 110 Fountain Parkway N, St. Pete.

Sponsors include the current Property Appraiser Pam Dubov and a roster of who’s who in local Republican politics, including state Sen. Jeff Brandes, former Pinellas County Commissioners Susan Latvala and Neil Brickfield, Clerk of Court Ken Burke, outgoing tax collector Diane Nelson, and Mayors Woody Brown of Largo, Travis Palladeno of Madeira Beach, and Bill Queen of North Redington Beach.

The primary election is Aug. 30.

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