St. Pete City Council Archives - Page 7 of 31 - SaintPetersBlog

Ed Montanari to celebrate election night at Green Bench Brewery

St. Pete City Council member-elect Ed Montanari will finally celebrate his uncontested win on election night Tuesday.

Montanari and supporters will be at the Green Bench Brewery in city’s Edge District from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

“Words cannot express what an honor it is to be able to serve on our city council,” Montanari wrote in an email. “I am looking forward to being sworn in January 2, to serve all of the people in St. Petersburg, and to move boldly into our future with hope and promise to make our great city even better.”

Montanari was automatically elected to office June 22 when the city’s qualifying period ended without any opponent filing to run against him.

Montanari will replace outgoing Councilmember Bill Dudley, who is term-limited out of his District 3 seat. The swap in leadership is symbolic. Montanari narrowly lost to Dudley in 2007 for the same seat. The race was separated by just 300 votes.

Dudley endorsed Montanari as his replacement.

It was clear almost from the get-go that Montanari would be a formidable candidate. Early on in his campaign he raised nearly $50,000 before the end of qualifying. He later returned more than $33,000 to supporters through pro-rated refund checks – a promise he made when soliciting campaign contributions.

Montanari is a commercial airline pilot who has been active in the community for more than a decade. He served as vice chair of the Pier Task Force that chose the Lens design voters later squashed.

He was also a key leader of the city’s task force deciding the fate of Albert Whitted Airport in 2004.

While Montanari knows his party will be a celebration, six other candidates will have to wait and see.

Incumbents Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes both face challengers in their re-election bids. Philip Garrett is trying to oust Kornell by running on an early childhood education and lower taxes platform. He accuses Kornell of having not accomplished much during his six years in office.

Gerdes faces community activist Monica Abbott. Both incumbents are expected to cruise to easy re-election.

The most contentious City Council race is between firefighter union bargainer Will Newton and community activist Lisa Wheeler-Brown. That race is widely considered one of the nastiest in recent memory and is expected to be close.

Clearing the air on this season’s contentious St. Pete City Council coverage

It’s not every day I decide to swap my pronouns from the likes of “they” and “its” to the first person “I,” “Me,” and “My.” But today seems like a good day.

I’ve been catching a lot of flak from people who support Lisa Wheeler-Brown for St. Pete City Council District 7. For those of you who may not have been following along, I started what has turned out to be a pretty nasty series of allegations.

See, Wheeler-Brown spent $500 of campaign cash to fix a tooth. A lot of people think that’s a misuse of funds and may even be illegal.

Worse, she didn’t report the expense for more than six months. The revelation when the expense was finally added to reports steamrolled into a host of others campaign whoopsies including not reporting in-kind contributions and overall sloppy bookkeeping.

Wheeler-Brown supporters have called me out for having an agenda – one that includes smearing her in order to boost her opponent’s chance of winning.

That would be Will Newton and, before I really dig in here, let me just say these Wheeler-Brown supporters have some reason to think that’s the case. First, Peter Schorsch, the papa bear of SaintPetersblog, penned an article quite critical of Wheeler-Brown accusing her of being a rubber stamp for Mayor Rick Kriseman. That was after Schorsch donated $500 to her campaign. And he’s also been known to write critically of candidates he openly supports including political powerhouses like Jack Latvala and Charlie Crist

And for the record, the Newton campaign has purchased advertising on our website.

Now that those skeletons are out of the bag, let’s take a look at what is really happening here.

I’m a reporter. I report on facts. Period. It doesn’t matter if I love it or hate it. It’s my job to report it.

Wheeler-Brown supporters, you may not think it’s a big deal that your candidate used campaign donations to pay for personal dental work, but there are a lot of people in this city who may think otherwise.

You may think it’s OK that she made a series of “rookie mistakes” in her campaign finance reports, but some people might not want to vote for a candidate who can’t get her books straight.

And the bottom line is, whatever side of that you’re on, it’s OK.

My job is to present the facts. Your job is to determine which of those facts you think are relevant and use them to formulate your own opinion.

Here’s something I hesitate to admit, but think a lot of folks are going to find shocking.

I’ve reported on every single whisper of scandal coming out of this campaign. But guess what …

I still have not decided which of these two candidates I want to vote for. I’ve met with Wheeler-Brown. She’s a lovely woman with a touching story of both loss and triumph.

When I think about her losing her son to gun violence and then bringing his killer to justice, it brings tears to my eyes. That’s a woman of resolve and strength. So maybe she can be given a pass on the “rookie mistakes.”

Or maybe that’s not someone I want voting on the city budget. I’m just really not sure yet.

You know what I am sure of? I sure am glad I have all the knowledge I have to make a truly informed decision.

And that’s not even the only thing to talk about here. My reporting looks lopsided. It’s become a scenario where SaintPetersblog is pro-Newton and the Tampa Bay Times is pro-Wheeler-Brown.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: That’s definitely what it looks like. But perhaps readers should consider a few things when evaluating why that is.

First, reporters do a lot of their own digging. I found the dental expense because I was fishing through campaign finance documents at City Hall. But after that, tips started rolling in from all sorts of anonymous voters or various other interested parties.

I get emails, Facebook messages, direct Twitter messages, telephone calls and text messages speculating on all sorts of things negative toward Wheeler-Brown, and I’ve only reported on a tiny fraction of those tips. Many were too petty to even bother with. Others were cheap shots. Some were just not provable and entirely speculative.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard next to nothing from Wheeler-Brown supporters. I continue my due diligence in analyzing campaign finance reports and checking through various public records and simply haven’t found the same amount of skeletons in the Newton campaign as I have in the Wheeler-Brown campaign.

The only thing going on in Team Newton is his past tax lien totaling more than $30,000. The campaign won’t provide any sort of proof of what went on to create such a giant tax bill and instead only offered a spoken clarification that it was the result of independent contractor work done as a union leader for the St. Pete firefighter’s union.

I point out that little nugget in just about every piece I write in regard to this campaign.

Just one more thing. To those who think this is some sort of witch-hunt aimed at squashing Wheeler-Brown’s campaign, think about how you’d have reacted to the same news if it had come out of Newton’s campaign.

Based on my experience covering these sort of things, I’d put good money on the fact that the supporters who cry the loudest about “negative coverage” are the same ones who would have taken Newton to the cleaners had he made the same mistakes.

Then try this one on for size. The Tampa Bay Times endorsed Wheeler-Brown and then ignored allegations of campaign finance violations for several days before begrudgingly writing about it. So yes, I absolutely called them out for it. Not because of a vendetta, but because it’s what we in the biz call, you know, news.

Now voters, take the information I have offered over the past several months and make an educated decision about who you will vote for and know that under no circumstances do I give a rat’s patoot who you choose.

This is what Democracy looks like.

Final City Council candidate forum gets heated

Three City Council races will be decided next week when voters hit the polls November 3. Candidates in two of those races squared off in the final debate leading up to the election in what turned out to be a boisterous forum hosted by the St. Pete NAACP.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown came out of the gate strong with an impassioned plea to voters to reject the negative attention her opponent, Will Newton, has stirred in the race for the District 7 seat covering two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“My opponent and some of his supporters have been saying some pretty terrible things about me and my murdered son,” Wheeler-Brown said before pausing to regain her composure. “They’re accusing me of profiting from my murdered son’s murder.

Wheeler-Brown was referring to questions surrounding a foundation Wheeler-Brown created following her son’s murder. Her campaign claims there wasn’t enough money raised to form a 501(c)3 non-profit and instead donated the $300 raised. A website lists the foundation with an estimated revenue of $81,000, but based that estimation on completely arbitrary data.

The issue raised questions about how much the foundation raised and how the money was used. Wheeler-Brown has been unable to prove the figure her campaign provided because paperwork was lost.

It’s just the latest in a long line of back and forth criticism between the two campaigns. When Wheeler-Brown lambasted Newton for making arbitrary accusations to gain political traction, the mostly full auditorium at the Enoch Davis Recreation Center in the heart of District 7 went wild with applause and cheers.

“I know you’re just as disgusted as I am,” Wheeler-Brown said.

Wheeler-Brown brought it up again during closing statements an hour and a half later. Newton told the crowd that he didn’t take any of the negative campaigning personal. Wheeler-Brown disagreed.

“When you talk about my son, I take it personally and take it to heart,” she said. “Whoever you vote for make sure you’re voting your conscious.”

Those two moments could be indicative of overall sentiments in a city where few voters are engaged enough in the campaigns to know too much about a series of scandals rocking the Wheeler-Brown campaign. That includes also a series of campaign finance reporting errors and an ill-advised use of campaign funds for personal dental work.

Yet, when Wheeler-Brown called out Newton’s campaign for going negative, the response to her was overwhelmingly positive. What’s more, during more than thirty minutes of audience questions, not one person brought up those issues, suggesting that may not be a priority for voters.

Aside from the occasional dig on each other, Wheeler-Brown and Newton spent a good bit of the debate laughing, snickering and at one point, even exchanging a high-five.

Not surprising considering the forum, questions revolved largely around issues pertaining to poverty and minorities. Wheeler-Brown and Newton demonstrated what voters have already seen – that aside from a couple of issues, they have similar ideas on how to move the city and their district forward.

Both told voters they want to focus on affordable housing and jobs. Both expressed interest in finding additional funding for the Carter G. Woodson African-American History museum.

That question, however, gave Newton a chance to get an attack in on his opponent. A campaign mailer went out earlier in the campaign comparing Newton to his brother, Wengay Newton, who currently occupies the seat the two candidates are fighting over.

The mailer showed both Newtons as bobble head dolls and listed all the reasons they say “no” to important city priorities. One of those involved saying no to the museum. Newton was quick to point out that he’s never had an opportunity to vote on the issue, but overwhelmingly supports helping the museum thrive and grow. Newton pointed out he’s even donated to the museum using his own funds.

The biggest difference between the two candidates is their stance on the Tampa Bay Rays and their request to look outside the city for new stadium locations. Wheeler-Brown supports letting the team look for the estimated $16 million it would have cost the team under Mayor Rick Kriseman’s initial Memorandum of Understanding rejected by City Council.

Newton has said that deal wasn’t good enough. The issue led to the Tampa Bay Times endorsing Wheeler-Brown and not him.

But for voters in Newton’s District the issue is far more complex than just baseball. Many of those residents were displaced from affordable housing projects that were leveled when Tropicana Field was built nearly three-decades ago. They’re hungry for redemption and want a piece of whatever revenue is generated from the site.

On one hand, Newton wants to see the site included in the Southside Community Redevelopment Area to nab a possible insurgency of funds for the district that could be used for infrastructure or for projects to do things like create jobs and provide youth employment programs – all things the District desperately needs.

But if he is elected to council and blocks a deal from moving forward, it could mean no development on that site for more than a decade if the Rays are forced to play out their lease that runs through 2027.

Wheeler-Brown supports letting the team look so the city can reap development dollars associated with the Tropicana Field site. The Tampa Bay Times estimates that can be as much as $500 million.

While their philosophies on what to do about the Rays may be different, both promised to be committed to ensuring additional funding sources for the Midtown neighborhood.

While the Wheeler-Brown/Newton match-up is the most heated City Council race this election, they still shared the stage with District 5 candidates Philip Garrett and incumbent Steve Kornell. Though Kornell is crushing Garrett in the polls, the performance during Monday night’s debate painted a different picture.

Garrett delivered passionate sermons on city issues often exceeding his allotted time and shouting over anyone who tried to stop him. Several times he received booming rounds of applause for delivering charismatic pleas for change in communities that have suffered through generational poverty for decades.

Though it was clear the audience resonated with Garrett’s frustration over lack of affordable housing and jobs and an inadequate network of public schools in South St. Pete, he still merely just repeated the same talking points over and over.

Those are a commitment to early childhood education for children between the ages of one and five, better city services and lower taxes.

And he opened and closed the evening with the same line he’s used in every debate.

“I’m a God fearing family man,” Garrett shouted in what may be a not-so-subtle reference to his opponents status as an openly gay council member.

Kornell, meanwhile, capitalized on Garrett’s rants by dispelling myths and highlighting his accomplishments during his six years on council.

Garrett consistently accused Kornell of not doing anything to further troubled areas in his district. He referenced a shopping plaza on 62 Avenue South that remains 80 percent vacant.

But Kornell fired back that the Skyway Marina District is booming under his watch. Jabil Circuit announced this year it was expanding operations to the Ceridian building and St. Petersburg College said they would work with the city to provide job training to anyone who needs it.

Kornell also had the primary hand in rehabilitating the long-troubled and crime-laden Mariner’s Point apartments. And he was behind a deal to purchase additional land to protect Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

Garrett accused Kornell of doing too little to improve education in the city. Kornell snapped back reminding that he is a school social worker and has advocated for a number of city initiatives to improve conditions. He listed his top priority as stamping out childhood homelessness. Garrett delivered an emotional speech about improving schools saying that his opponent was too concerned with less important issues. Kornell poked a giant hole in his argument.

“To do that your parents have to have a good job,” he said. “Those kids have to have a house to sleep in.”

Two other candidates are also facing off at the ballot box next week. District 1 City Council member and chair of the board, Charlie Gerdes, faces community activist Monica Abbott. Neither candidate was present for the debate though the hosting group claims both confirmed they would be there.

In addition to the City Council races, four amendments will also be on the ballot.

Will Newton flier out this week is all positive

The latest pro-Will Newton flier is out today. Targeted voters in St. Petersburg  received a mailer paid for by the Council for Stronger Neighborhoods advocating on behalf of Newton. He’s running for St. Petersburg City Council, District 7.

The mail shows a smiling picture of Newton next to the bullet points, “involved,” “knowledgeable,” and “prepared.”

“Will Newton … has a solid resume of public service,” the address side of the mail quotes from a Sept. 28 article in The Tampa Tribune endorsing Newton.

The paper had endorsed Newton’s opponent, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, during the Primary Election, but rescinded its backing after reports of potential campaign finance violations emerged.

The words “Will Newton, proven leadership” line the bottom.

The other side is headed with the statement, “Will Newton – a proven leader ready to keep fighting for St. Pete.”

Newton’s former opponent, Aaron Sharpe, is quoted endorsing Newton for the seat.

“Will has the … experience with City Hall and the budget, he has the skill set, the demeanor, and the ability to understand the complexities of the issues,” Sharpe’s quote reads under the statement that “Will knows the problems we face.”

The mailer also lauds Newton for knowing “how to get the job done.” The mailer references a SaintPetersblog article by this reporter highlighting Newton’s candidacy shortly after he entered the race.

“He has plenty of experience working with lawmakers to get things done,” the excerpt reads. It’s referring to Newton’s experience as a union negotiator in Tallahassee.

That skill has been called into question by the Wheeler-Brown campaign because there were three years as a negotiator for the city firefighter’s union where negotiations were not met.

But the mailer claims Newton has “the record to back it up.”

“His life’s work demonstrates his commitment to making our neighborhoods safer,” reads a quote from State Rep. Kathleen Peters who endorsed Newton.

The bottom of the mail asks voters to call him and “thank him for serving us so faithfully.”

The race between Newton and Wheeler-Brown has been heated. Wheeler-Brown came under fire for questionable campaign finance activity and careless reporting errors.

Meanwhile, her campaign contends Newton should be further scrutinized for a $32,000 tax lien that was paid off by Newton in 2012. The campaign has only given vague explanations about how Newton racked up such a large tax bill. They say it’s the result of 1099 work as an independent contractor for the city firefighter union.

The two face each other at the polls Nov. 3.

Second complaint associated with Lisa Wheeler-Brown’s campaign filed with the state elections commission

Another elections complaint has been filed associated with the Lisa Wheeler-Brown campaign. This time the complaint is not directly targeted at Wheeler-Brown and instead at a campaign consultant and his PAC, the Florida Voters Fund.

James Donelon, the same South Pasadena resident who filed a complaint against Wheeler-Brown alleging a slew of campaign finance violations, is requesting the Florida Elections Commission investigate Tom Alte of Blue Ticket Consulting and his relationship between both the campaign and the Florida Voters Fund.

At issue are two campaign mailers that were produced and paid for by the Florida Voters Fund. One in particular attacked Wheeler-Brown’s opponent for the District 7 City Council seat, Will Newton.

The mailer showed both Newton and his brother, incumbent Wengay Newton, as bobble head dolls and criticized them for saying “no” to important city projects. The mailer told voters to “say no” to them.

Donelon argues in his complaint that because the mailer issues a call to reject a candidate for office it does not qualify under Florida law as “electioneering communication.”

“The text on the mailer stating, ‘Say NO to the Negative Newton Brothers’ is the functional equivalent to stating that voters should “reject” them,” Donelon wrote. “It expressly advocates defeat of candidates and it’s (sic) advocacy against Wengay Newton is too far in advance of the election to qualify for electioneering.”

Wengay Newton is leaving City Council due to term limits, but is seeking a State House seat instead. That election isn’t until next year. Electioneering communication must be done within 30 days of a Primary Election or 60 days of a General Election.

According to Florida State Statute 106.011 section (8)a, electioneering communication includes mailers, but they can specifically mention a candidate but must do so “without expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate.”

Where the complaint is up for interpretation lies in the second part of that sentence. The communication can be “susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”

Certainly the message to voters in that mailer was clear – don’t vote for Will Newton. But it didn’t specifically say that. It said to “tell” him ‘no.’

And that’s where complaints like these get tricky. Donelon’s complaint is well-researched and accurately states Florida laws. But it’s up to the Elections Commission to determine whether or not his interpretation is valid.

Donelon also argues the mailers should be considered an in-kind contribution. But that would violate state law on maximum contributions. The Florida Voters Fund had already donated the maximum amount under Florida law, $1,000, in both the Primary and General Elections.

And Donelon takes particular care in pointing out that Alte is affiliated with both the Florida Voters Fund and the Wheeler-Brown campaign.

The complaint references a Facebook post in which Alte refers to Wheeler-Brown as “our candidate.” Alte’s fiancé, Meagan Salisbury, is the campaign manager overseeing the campaign.

However, Alte calls the allegations baseless. According to him, the mailers produced and paid for by his PAC were vetted by an attorney, Johnny Bardine, before being authorized. Bardine gave the green light after determining there were no potential violations.

Instead Alte calls the allegations a waste of taxpayer funds in an attempt to yet again smear Wheeler-Brown’s campaign.

While the complaint was filed by an individual unaffiliated with the Newton campaign, Alte said he thinks the campaign pushed the issue and found someone willing to put their name on anything. Donelon filed complaints against City Council member Darden Rice when she ran for office two years ago. Those allegations were dismissed.

The reference to Alte’s Facebook post linking to a Tampa Bay Times article about Newton’s former tax lien is possible evidence of some sort of collaboration. Alte said he is not Facebook friends with Donelon and his profile is private. That means it’s unlikely Donelon would have seen that post and was instead, likely tipped off by the Newton campaign or someone closely affiliated with it.

Newton’s campaign responded to that allegation.

Why do they believe every complaint against their campaign is our doing or, for that matter, still another reason to complain about us rather than mind their own campaign better? This is not our doing, nor do we have any further comment. We have enough to do without responding to all their complaints,” said Newton’s campaign manager Steve Lapinski.

But Alte maintains there is plenty of reason to believe they were pulling the strings behind the scenes.

“Will Newton’s campaign, his advisors, and supporters have been bragging about how they would file this complaint for weeks. It’s complete political theater and a waste of taxpayer money,” Alte said. “But Will Newton has never had a problem abusing the system when it benefits him, so we’re not surprised.”

The outcome of this complaint and the one previously filed against Wheeler-Brown won’t be determined until after the election. If any allegations are found to be true, those accused would likely face fines.

Will Newton continues to widen fundraising gap in race against Lisa Wheeler-Brown

St. Pete City Council candidate Will Newton has outraised his opponent by nearly $10,000. That’s after outraising her by nearly $1,200 during the latest reporting period between October 5 and 18.

So far, Newton has raked in more than $62,000 since announcing his candidacy in June. Lisa Wheeler-Brown has raised $55,634 even though she entered the race six months before him.

The difference lies in the lopsided prevalence in high-dollar contributions. Newton has continuously raked in money from outside groups. During the latest report period that included maximum $1,000 contributions from the Metro Broward Firefighters PAC and the Broward Professional Firefighters CCE.

And that was a slow reporting period. Newton brought in six maximum contributions between mid-August and mid-September and four in late September. Pre-primary contributions told a similar story.

Meanwhile, Wheeler-Brown has earned some high-dollar contributions as well. This reporting period she brought in $1,000 from the SEUI Florida Political Committee. Her biggest donor has been City Council member Karl Nurse. He personally donated $1,000 during both the primary and general election campaigns and matched both of those contributions through his business, BayTech Label, for a total of $4,000 contributions.

But where Wheeler-Brown is falling short in terms of large contributions, she is surging in smaller, community-based contributions, with the majority of her contributions coming from small donations from residents.

This reporting period Wheeler-Brown raised $250 from a student, Alan Olson. Pier Park supporter Stephen Urgo donated $50 while St. Pete business owner Dan Fiorini wrote a check for $300. Former Department of Education board member and political powerhouse Kathleen Shanahan donated $250.

That doesn’t mean Newton isn’t also bringing in local contributions. The latest reporting period showed several contributions of $100 or less from locals.

Newton spent more than his opponent most recently. He forked out more than $10,000, mostly on mailers. And in full disclosure, he also spent $900 on advertising with Extensive Enterprises, the parent company of this blog.

Wheeler-Brown spent just over half that, also on mailers. She spent $6,000.

The difference in spending is indicative of the two candidates’ cash-on-hand numbers. Newton still has more than $12,000 in the bank while Wheeler-Brown has just a little over $3,000.

The two face each other at the polls November 3. However, it’s expected that more than half of voters who will cast a ballot in this election have already done so by mail.

The most recent poll surveying voters about their support between Newton and Wheeler-Brown showed the race too-close to call with Wheeler-Brown leading within the margin of error.

Mitch Perry Report for 10.23.15 — Friday follies

Will Iowa voters be getting trashed again by Donald Trump today? (Or by one of his interns?)

We saw the unprecedented action of a Trump apology yesterday, after he re-tweeted a tweet from one of his interns who wrote, “ is now leading in the  in … Too much  in the  creates issues in the brain? @realDonaldTrump 

That came after the first poll since mid-July where Trump wasn’t leading — in this case, a Quinnipiac survey that has Ben Carson up relatively big — 8 points — over The Donald. A second poll out this morning from Bloomberg shows Carson up by nine points over Trump.

Trump, who famously never apologizes (a sentiment that has his sycophantic he-men like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity drooling over him), did apologize yesterday, since even he knows it’s counterintuitive to insult the people whose votes you want and need.

In local news, in what is becoming a tired story, the St. Pete City Council supported Councilman Jim Kennedy’s proposal that would allow the Rays to roam to Hillsborough County to talk to officials about a new stadium  — if, and only if, they agree to pay the city $33 million. That’s $11 million more than an earlier proposal by Council Chair Charlie Gerdes that would have forced the club to cough up $22 million to be get out of their lease by 2020.

Hope springs eternal that the Rays — desperate to begin doing something proactively — may use the opportunity to negotiate, but if an extra $11 million wasn’t any big deal, don’t you think they would have spent that first on their team, since they continue to maintain one of the lowest payrolls in MLB?

Congrats to Gerdes for at least not staying passive and waiting until January for the new council to be sworn in before getting to this point. Sadly, the only sure thing here seems to be a prediction that the Rays will continue to remain last in the league in home attendance in 2016.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Justine Griffin reports this morning that for a moment yesterday, it appeared that Tampa International had finally begun offering nonstop flights to San Francisco, virtually the last major American city that you can’t go there from here without stopping someplace in the middle of the country at TIA (or TPA). Allegedly this would begin on December 18, but sadly it was just a rumor. Since that’s the day I have scheduled a return to the Bay Area for my annual Xmas vacation trip home, that would have been ideal. But no deal. And believe me, if and when that happens, the marketing folks ain’t exactly subtle — when this happens, they’ll make sure everyone in the nation knows about it.

Speaking of San Francisco, the 49ers got absolutely embarrassed last night in their corporate digs down in Santa Clara by arch rival Seattle. Damn, sports can be humbling. Condolences to Chicago Cub fans. It’s one thing to lose, another to be humiliated.

In other news.

Speaking (as we were earlier) about Trump, he’ll speak last on the first of a two-day cattle call of GOP presidential candidates in Orlando next month, as the RPOF’s Sunshine Summit schedule was unveiled yesterday.

Americans for Prosperity are now coming to the side of Republican senators in their battle with Rick Scott over giving more funding to Enterprise Florida.

Darden Rice is backing Charlie Crist in the CD 13 race.

Do you know much about Brandon state Sen. Tom Lee’s bill that would reform how alimony works in Florida? A group called UniteWomen.Org FL think the proposed legislation is awful.

Campaign mailers play nice, but real City Council race is anything but

At least two positive mailers have hit voters mailboxes this week. One, paid for by the Orlando-based group, Council for Stronger Neighborhoods, highlights City Council candidate Will Newton as a “career hero” having spent 23 years as a firefighter and EMT.

Another SunCoast Police Benevolent Association PAC mailer urged voters to cast a ballot for Newton. It also features City Council members Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes, who face re-election this cycle.

Pictured on that mailer is City Council vice chair Amy Foster, who has endorsed all three candidates. She’s quoted supporting Kornell and Gerdes because they work well as a team and closes with asking voters to ensure Newton is the newest member of the team.

Meanwhile, the tone in Newton’s campaign and that of his opponent is anything but rosy.

Each campaign is fighting bitterly to deflect allegations of fiscal incompetence.

On the Newton side, supporters for his opponent, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, are holding his feet to the fire over a more than $30,000 tax lien paid off in 2012.

The campaign dismisses any negative allegations, explaining that there was a dispute with the IRS over income earned as a 1099 employee while working for the city’s firefighter union. When the dispute was settled, Newton paid what was owed.

Seems to be pretty open and shut, but Newton’s critics are still questioning whether he’s being honest. The campaign has released very few details on the issue.

Meanwhile, Wheeler-Brown is battling her own list of woes.

Early in her campaign, Wheeler-Brown answered to a checkered past in which she incurred charges for retail theft and passing a worthless check. Wheeler-Brown was open about the transgressions and explained they were mistakes made when she was much younger and that she learned from them.

Later, Wheeler-Brown came under fire for using campaign funds to pay for personal dental work. That launched a flurry of other findings of campaign finance mishaps. The dental expense went unreported for six months. Instead, the expense was listed as office space.

When it was later corrected SaintPetersblog found out Wheeler-Brown had also failed to report in-kind contributions and that contribution may have been illegal because it came from a nonprofit organization.

The blunders led to an official complaint to the Florida Division of Elections claiming Wheeler-Brown broke several election laws.

And then the latest blow came just this week when it was reported Wheeler-Brown created a foundation in her son’s name following his 2008 murder.

An investigation into that foundation found no tax documents filed with the IRS or the required paperwork filed with the Florida Department of Agriculture.

The campaign claims there is not a paper trail because Wheeler-Brown failed to raise enough money to obtain 501(c)3 status. What money she did raise, the campaign says, was used to help incarcerated people.

However, the campaign will not say exactly how much money was raised or where it came from. When an online database of businesses and nonprofits listed an estimated revenue stream of $81,000, they claimed only that nowhere near that amount had come in. In an email, explained the figure is an estimate based on industry averages.

The latest issue has prompted one City Council member, Amy Foster, to say enough is enough.

“Could it have been a rookie mistake? Quite possibly,” Foster said. “But taken in context with other concerns, it does give me pause. I’m not sure if it’s judgment or attention to detail, but both are required for this position.”

And yet another potential red-flag for the campaign — the foundation now being scrutinized was actually awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Wheeler-Brown created the Cabretti Wheeler-Fortner Foundation, where she spent countless hours educating youth and the community about the lasting effects of violence, campaigning and promoting nonviolence, engaging neighborhoods to improve police and community relations and coordinating vigils to pray for the healing of victims’ survivors and their families,” reads a press release from 2013.

Wheeler-Brown’s campaign claims there was only a small amount of money raised and it was donated for a one-time effort. Yet the DOJ writes about “countless hours.” It begs the question, could Wheeler-Brown have misled the DOJ about her foundation’s purpose?

After all, a Facebook page set up for the foundation lists its mission statement as ensuring that no mother has to lose a child. What does that have to do with helping people in jail?

Or could it just be that the DOJ misspoke and was actually referring to Wheeler-Brown’s own activism? She is widely credited for breaking down the community’s no snitching code of silence following her son’s murder, an accomplishment that cannot be overstated.

Whatever the case may be, both campaigns are withholding information that could clear up misunderstandings. What voters are left wondering is whether the absence of that information means the campaigns are hiding something.

But the positive mailers are a nice detraction from what has become a campaign chock-full of controversy.

St. Pete City Council agrees to Rays deal more than double the previous MOU

St. Pete City Council approved a new version of a deal to let the Tampa Bay Rays look for possible stadium sites outside of St. Petersburg. Two deals were on the table during a special meeting Thursday — one from chair Charlie Gerdes, the other from Jim Kennedy.

The Kennedy plan was approved by a 5-3 vote. Gerdes, Darden Rice and Amy Foster voted against it.

Under Kennedy’s plan, the Rays would have to pay St. Pete $4 million a year for every year they play baseball in Hillsborough County until  the team’s use agreement with the city expires in 2027. If they moved outside of St. Pete but stayed in Pinellas, that figure would be $2 million a year. Staying in St. Pete wouldn’t cost a dime.

Kennedy’s plan also includes a one-time redevelopment fee aimed at helping the city re-imagine the Tropicana Field site. If the team moved to Hillsborough that would be $5 million. If they stayed in Pinellas, but not in St. Pete, it would be $2.5 million.

If the Rays left Tropicana Field in 2020 — a lofty ambition if ever there was one — the Rays would pay the city about $33 million to wiggle out of their iron-clad lease. That’s more than double the approximately $16 million price tag on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s failed Memorandum of Understanding and $11 million more than Gerdes’ plan would have demanded.

The vote means City Council has now sent a deal he can take to the Rays with confidence that it will be approved by council if the Rays agree to it.

But there could be a problem with that. The Rays don’t have to agree to anything and they’ve indicated before that they would not agree to any agreement that was more than the original proposal.

“Typically as time passes deals don’t get better,” Kriseman said of Kennedy’s plan.

He did promise to bring the deal to the Rays “in good faith.”

Gerdes, who scheduled the meeting to deliver his plan before Kennedy drew up his own, worried Kennedy’s ballooned price tag could do more harm than good.

“Your $4 million payment will get a reaction that’s not helpful to a continuing dialogue,” Gerdes said. “It might get us a response that says, look we’ll just start looking for 2028.”

Wengay Newton, one of the four no-votes on Kriseman’s MOU, brought a new topic into conversation. He wants development revenue at Tropicana Field to be included in the Southside TIF district. That would infuse millions of dollars into the deeply impoverished Midtown neighborhood.

It’s not the first time the idea has been brought up. That plan is a key point in Newton’s brother’s idea for a deal with the Rays. Will Newton is running to replace his brother.

However, the idea went nowhere. First, the city’s legal department pointed out that wouldn’t be an appropriate stipulation in the MOU because it has nothing to do with the Rays. The county determines boundaries for Tax Incremental Financing districts.

Then Karl Nurse also pointed out, the revenue from development on the site would be needed to fund a new stadium if the Rays decided to stay put.

During comments, Kriseman said he’s still confident the Rays will choose to keep St. Pete as its home. He listed several reasons, including access from all parts of the region and a unique funding source as a result of the county bed tax money available to help fund a new stadium.

The nearly decade-old stalemate on the issues was pushed into hyper-drive this month when Pinellas county commissioners basically threatened to take those dollars off the table and instead use them to help fund a Toytown development that would create a state-of-the-art facility for the Atlanta Braves to use for Spring Training.

Rick Kriseman’s BP settlement plan tabled until something’s done about sewage problems

St. Pete City Council will not be immediately voting on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s plan to spend $6.5 million awarded the city through a settlement with BP on a variety of projects. During a Public Services and Infrastructure Committee meeting Thursday morning, council voted to put off allocating the funds.

At issue is the raw sewage dump in August that continues to haunt Kriseman. In response to an overburdened system during what the city describes as a 100-year rain event, the city’s wastewater division dumped 16 million gallons of raw sewage and another 15 million of partially treated sewage.

Residents went mad with anger and City Council began putting pressure on the administration to ensure something like that never happened again.

Now, Council is requesting a study looking into what it would take to beef up the system to avoid future problems.

And they’re holding Kriseman’s plan for BP settlement funds hostage in the meantime.

“Today, a City Council committee led by member Jim Kennedy took the first step toward expending the $6.5 million in BP settlement funds by applying it to maintenance on St. Petersburg’s sewer system. This is despite the fact that tens of millions of dollars are already budgeted to maintain and repair our sewer system,” Kriseman said. “I will continue to advocate for proactive policies, ideas, and solutions that position St. Petersburg for the future, and I encourage community members who are supportive of items like resiliency, sustainability, energy efficiency, alternative transportation, research, and the arts to contact our City Council.”

Kriseman’s plan would use just $1 million for sewage-related repairs or replacements. Kennedy asked that all the money be used on wastewater improvements and Karl Nurse suggested half the BP money.

The rest of Kriseman’s plan included $1 million each for an arts endowment expected to generate $40,000 a year for arts programs and for a bike share program. Those two plans are now up in the air.

Two smaller expenditures may survive the standoff. Kriseman wants to spend $350,000 on a ferry that would connect St. Pete to Tampa and $250,000 on a research vessel at the USF College of Marine Science. Both items are tied to coordinated funding efforts and are timely. They will be brought up during the legislative session in January.

Council approved a motion asking the mayor for more details on those items.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons