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With its Lego project, the Tampa Bay Times crushes my hopes and dreams

Last week, the digital geniuses at the Tampa Bay Times debuted a multimedia presentation that used animated Lego figures and constructions to tell a complicated story about a planned toll road on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

“How the plan to fix Tampa Bay’s most important bridge fell apart, told in Legos” from Eli Zhang, Caitlin Johnston, Anthony Cormier, and Martin Frobisher is an absolute must-click for its combination of shoe-leather reporting and “Everything Is Awesome” visualization.

It’s a great read.

It’s visually stunning.

It’s also — to me and only me — heartbreaking.

Please allow me to explain, without taking anything away from the great work of the Times reporters, while also knowing that many in the Times newsroom will take some pleasure in my agony.

Back in May, I wrote in a Facebook post: “it hit me what my next project will be. The next enterprise of Extensive Enterprises, so to speak. People won’t get it at first. They’ll think it’s silly. Then it will get the right people’s attention. And then everyone will say, ‘How much does it cost to do that for us?'”

My excitement originated from a video from Bloomberg: “The White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Legos.

The introduction was — “Curious how the White House Correspondents’ Dinner works? We explain … with Legos.”

It’s that simple.

As soon as I finished, I had a Eureka moment. Why not bring the Lego video concept to Florida politics? Isn’t that what I’ve done before — take a national idea and make it Sunshine State-sized?

My plan was straightforward. I would first produce a video about some storyline involving Florida politics. From there, I would partner with public relations firms who needed a new way to tell their side of a food fight happening in the Florida Legislature.

“Marion Hammer wants 18 year-olds to bring guns to college campuses … told in Legos.”

“The Workers Comp food fight … told in Legos.”

“Why you can’t get Uber in Miami … told in Legos.”

Whatever. You get the point.

A team of folks (much funnier than I) would help write the scripts. I’d build the Lego sets. Kevin Cate would shoot the videos.

It’s ratings gold, Jerry.

Except for one thing — Lego sets are not very easy to build. At least not the interesting ones.

And, like the Times, finding the right Lego Minifigures is next to impossible.

Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute details the roadblock the Times team faced.

“We’ve found many Lego-people-packs online,” said (Adam) Playford, director of data and digital enterprise at the Times. “But they all have too many weirdos, like Lego Bananaman and Lego Grim Reaper. Regular Lego people are apparently no longer in vogue.”

Playford and Co. solved their Lego-people-problem by putting out an all-hands-on-deck request to the staff at the Times. I, of course, do not have that luxury.

So … and here’s where some of the agony begins to set in … I worked with a firm in London to create custom Lego Minifigures.

For the script of the first video, I would tell the story of Marco Rubio and the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.

I ordered Minifigures resembling Rubio, Donald Trump, Patrick Murphy, Alan Grayson, Carlos Beruff (in a trademark black shirt), Ron DeSantis (pictured here in a Navy outfit, of course), and David Jolly.

As for the sets; well, let’s just say what the Times built for its very nice story about a bridge is, um, child’s play.

I started by building the small city building sets:

Soon, I became more ambitious, building bigger sets:

I assembled cars, planes, and trucks (including a replica of one the U.S. Senator drives) so we could shoot the pivotal scene from outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera tells Rubio he should re-enter the race.

I even built The White House (which was very difficult because it’s from the “Architect” class of Lego sets, which is basically Lego’s way of saying “A lot of f*cking pieces are in this box.”

I’ve been building and collecting Lego sets for nearly seven months, thinking the entire time that no one else would bring an idea I first saw on Bloomberg to Florida politics.

And then my bitter rival, the Tampa Bay Times, unveils its pretty little story about a bridge.

When I read the first tweet about the story, I knew what it was about without clicking on the link. My heart sank to a depth deeper than those caissons that hold up the Howard Frankland.

Sure, as my wife and other friends have said, I could continue my Lego project — and I still might.

But that’s like making “Deep Impact” after you learn that “Armageddon” is in production.

“Deep Impact” is probably the better film, but everyone remembers “Armageddon.”

If I do a ” … as told by Legos” video now, critics will say, “but didn’t the Times do that first?”

And screaming “but Bloomberg did it before either of us” does nothing to solve the problem.

Now I am stuck with a whole lot of Legos — which is OK, since my daughter, Ella Joyce, loves building with them.

In fact, Legos are one of the things we’ve been able to do together.

Just yesterday, Ella became sick on our way to a Christmas event replicating a train ride to the North Pole (it’s awesome, and I recommend it to every parent.) We were forced to turn around, missing one of our favorite holiday traditions.

To make up for it, I finished building this — bringing the North Pole to Ella:

If this episode has taught me anything, it’s that, as an entrepreneur, when a light bulb goes off, move quickly. That’s what worked for Sunburn, Florida Politics, INFLUENCE Magazine and everything else I’ve done.

I moved too slowly on this project and, subsequently, I lost out.

That won’t happen again.

Speaking of which, I have an idea for a …

Union activists want Wal-Marts in Tampa Bay region to pay price for offshoring security costs

Although retail giant Wal-Mart is known for low prices, it’s increasingly earning a reputation for offshoring security costs to local law enforcement agencies.

Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Times reported that law enforcement in four counties logged 16,800 calls to Wal-Marts in one year alone.

It’s much the same around the nation. An Arizona Republic investigation published this month revealed that between 2011-2016, three of the top five addresses to which Phoenix police officers responded were Wal-Mart stores.

In Beech Grove, Indiana, city officials in 2015 declared Wal-Mart a public nuisance, after a local news station reported that Beech Grove police had been called to the store more than 1,000 times in the last two years.

“We’re very concerned about this issue,” said Marc Rodriguez of the West Central Florida Labor Council. Rodriguez was gathered with activists with the Fight for $15! movement in front of the Wal-Mart store on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

“We know that Wal-Mart is a tremendously profitable corporation. They’re the largest retailer,” he said. “The largest private sector in the world, and with all of that we feel that a basic level of responsibility should come with that as well.”

Jenny Divish, an organizer for Making Change at Wal-Mart, said that they’re working on trying to get the Tampa City Council to pass an ordinance that would penalize and fine a property owner or tenant $2,500 for every call that exceeds more than 10 calls to the police per month.

“Until we get them to the city council until we pass this resolution like Beech Grove, Indiana and all these cities,” Divish said, “Wal-Mart’s not going to be held accountable and they’re still going to take these public dollars, until they’re held accountable at a higher level.”

Divish said in her discussion with council members, there is a desire for more hard data on calls to service before they come forward with any resolution.

Making Change at Wal-Mart is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

 “The reason why this issue exists its part of a pattern on the part of Wal-Mart in terms of irresponsible business practices and in terms of trying to cut corners,” Rodriguez said. “We know that in recent years Wal-Mart has eliminated a lot of positions. They’re eliminating cashiers and replacing them with machines. It gives people the message that Wal-Mart doesn’t care about what’s going on in their stores.

“This is part of a pattern, the same way in which Wal-Mart cuts corners and passes the cost of securing their stores onto the public in terms of relying on the police and straining the resources of communities, that’s the same way that they pass the cost of their low wages and lack of benefits on to the public as well.”

Making Change at Wal-Mart said this television ad (shown below) is running in Tampa and other cities Thursday:

 

Mitch Perry Report for 12.15.16 — Pier politics, part VIII

St. Pete City Council members are scheduled to receive a report on the progress of the St. Petersburg Pier at City Hall this morning.

Architects from ASD Architects, Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, representing the Pier and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture and Wannemacher Jensen Architects, representing the Pier Approach will present updated renderings of the new Pier. According to a news release, City staff will report on timing, budget and next steps.

Not covering St. Petersburg on a regular basis these days, I have to admit I wasn’t aware where we all were in the process. Otherwise occupied, I didn’t realize that there has been an additional $20 million added to the budget from Pinellas County. For years the top line had been $46 million, which it remains in terms of how much the city will allocate to it.

As reported in yesterday’s Times, now Mayor Rick Kriseman wants the county to cough up an additional $14 million that has been earmarked to build an intermodal transportation center for light rail and buses. That now pushes the budget up to $80 million.

“I don’t want us to have any regrets down the road,” the mayor tells Times columnist John Romano this morning. “I want to be able to give the community something really special.”

When I closely covered the saga of the Pier in 2012-2013, I learned that while removes the element of the downtown crowd was all in for “The Lens” and couldn’t be bothered to hear arguments for maintaining the now razed inverted pyramid Pier, many people in the community felt otherwise. Though Councilman Wengay Newton was depicted as just being eccentric in supporting the 1973 model, he was actually onto something with his resistance to making such a change.

So, yes, people, the Pier is a complicated thing.

Like the never-ending saga of the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s still hard to predict how this whole Pier thing is going to work out. Though there is a sentiment within the same circle of folks who liked the Lens to just quash the whole damned thing, that won’t work.

So maybe Kriseman is on to something. It’s hard to say when it comes to the Pier. City Council members in the past year have found their voice in confronting the administration regarding the sewage crisis — will they as a whole resist the urge to keep on spending on something “really special”?

In other news …

In a health care committee meeting in the Florida Senate yesterday, some health care providers say this whole managed Medicaid system isn’t working out so well for them.

While Tampa Bay area lawmakers try to pass a law that removes the suspension of driver’s licenses for a series of crimes unrelated to driving, they don’t do so for drug crime.

Hillsborough County Commission Pat Kemp heard from some Tampa-based constituents not happy with the low salaries that are so prevalent in the area.

The Tampa Bay History Center is about to go through an $11 million expansion.

And critics of the Tampa Bay Express project aren’t surprised to hear FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold call for a ‘reset,’ but they want the whole thing killed.

After dead veteran scandal, someone needs to say ‘you’re fired’ at Bay Pines VA

I was about to muse aloud why someone hasn’t been fired yet from the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System when this statement came in from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who represents the district where the facility is located.

“Unsurprisingly, not a single VA employee has been fired following this incident, despite a clear lack of concern and respect for the Veteran. The men and women who sacrificed on behalf of our nation deserve better.”

Yep. Unsurprising.

That is the sad truth in the aftermath of the shocking report late last week that instead of transporting a deceased veteran from the hospice wing at the facility to the morgue, he was left unattended for nine hours, first in the hallway and then in the shower room.

That was bad enough.

But then, as a 24-page report first revealed by the Tampa Bay Times details, there was an attempt to cover up that incident from February before anyone found out. I can only imagine how that went down.

“Uh, what’s this body doing here?”

“I don’t know. Think we should tell someone?”

“Are you kidding? People don’t need to know this. We’ll just tidy things up and pretend this never happened. Let’s get some lunch and figure out a plan.”

That plan, according to the report, included falsifying records. That should be a firing offense right there.

Following this to its logical conclusion, though, it appears that covering your backside, in this case, was a lot more important than doing things right and treating a deceased veteran with the respect he deserved and promised as a quid pro quo for the service he gave to his country.

And hasn’t that been a problem in the VA for a long, long time now?

As Bilirakis says, “The report details a total failure on the part of the Department of Veterans Affairs and an urgent need for greater accountability.”

That “total failure” included numerous breakdowns in procedures for dealing with deceased veterans. There can be no excuse.

Bay Pines is far from the only Veterans Affairs facility to come under fire, and it appears to be a systemwide problem. Issues with the giant agency will be a stain on the legacy of President Obama as he prepares to leave office next month.

For now, as far as we know, no one lost their job at Bay Pines over this, even though it happened about 10 months ago. There apparently was a lot of finger-pointing, according to the report, and attempts to deflect blame, but somebody screwed up big time and needs to pay the price.

A spokesman for Bay Pines told the Times that, “We feel that we have taken strong, appropriate and expeditious steps to strengthen and improve our existing systems and processes within the unit.”

That’s a good thing.

This is one time, though, where it would be smart to borrow a line from incoming President Donald Trump. Whoever is responsible needs to hear those magic words: You’re fired.

Baseball commissioner: Rays stadium is about location, location, location

Another year has almost passed and, so far as we know, nothing much has happened to lead anyone to believe the Tampa Bay Rays are anywhere close to securing a new stadium. But there were two developments this week that seemed to be forces pulling in the opposite direction. That’s never good.

On Monday, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, baseball Commissioner Ron Manfred told reporters that the No. 1 priority for a stadium is location, location, location.

“I think getting, not only a new facility, but a facility that is more appropriately located within the Tampa-St. Pete market would be good,” he said at a Q-and-A session at George Washington University.

In case we didn’t get the message, Manfred added this: “Ultimately, there has to be an end game. If in fact, there’s not a site or there’s not a financial arrangement that’s viable and we become convinced of that, our rules allow for the possibility of relocation. At that point of desperation, it’s possible a team would be allowed to relocate.”

The “end game” got an interesting twist a day later when state Rep. Brian Avila, a Hialeah Republican, filed HB-77. Boiled to its essence, the measure would outlaw pro sports teams from leasing government-owned land to build or renovate a stadium.

A couple of points about all this:

Manfred is correct on his point about the requirement that a new stadium be “appropriately located” in the Tampa Bay market. Right now, it doesn’t look like they’re close.

There has been a lot of chatter about building a new ballpark adjacent to Tropicana Field, but that would just double-down on the original disastrous decision that stuck the Rays in the extreme western part of the marketplace.

The only places that make sense for the long term are downtown Tampa, the Westshore area in Tampa, or a spot in Pinellas off the Howard Frankland Bridge. The Rays have to be in the center of the market. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

The question of money brings us to the second point: How to pay for this.

I’ll conservatively put the cost at $600 million (although I believe it will be higher than that). The Rays will be expected to pony up a large chunk of that cost — perhaps through ticket surcharges and other fees. To do that, they’ll need a large season-ticket base, which in baseball means corporate sales.

Already, businesses in Hillsborough are reluctant to buy Rays’ tickets in mass quantities because clients and employees won’t make weeknight trips through the area’s stifling traffic at rush hour to get to the Trop.

For the sake of argument, let’s say they work out the location requirement and ticket sales spike. That bar is pretty low, by the way. The Rays attracted a little less than 1.3 million fans last year, by far the lowest in baseball.

Based on 2016 attendance figures, Tampa Bay would need an additional 1 million fans per season to be in the middle of the pack (San Diego, at No. 15, drew 2.3 million). That’s a jump of about 14,000 extra fans per game.

Before they can focus on that, though, the question for politicians becomes how to subsidize the stadium cost without having taxpayers storm their offices with pitchforks and flaming torches. We’ve all heard things like dedicating some tourist tax and rental car money, but I’m not even sure that’s feasible. Those industries have potent lobbyists who will be shouting in the ears of people like Brian Avila to keep MLB’s mitts off their money.

This issue has been dragging on for years and the Rays seem stuck in quicksand as a franchise. The way to change that is to heed Manfred’s words about location and stop with the nonsense of shoveling more money into a failed spot.

Nothing else can happen until they move past that.

Then, all they need to do is find a way to pay for it.

Then actually build it.

Then figure a way to put a competitive team in that new building.

To be continued …

Joe Henderson: Not just papers; it’s #LoveMyWebsite day, too

On Sunday afternoon, a man carrying an AR-15 assault rifle walked into a popular pizza place in northwest Washington D.C. and began shooting.

No one was hurt, thank goodness and the gunman was arrested.

What he said after being taken away, though, should be a warning to us all. He said he came to “self-investigate” whether Hillary Clinton was using the restaurant as a front for a child sex trafficking ring. Just before the election last month, that story had made the rounds among crazy people who frequent conspiracy-theory websites and believe what they read.

Normally, such a thing would be limited to charter members of the Tinfoil Hat Society. But after the ironically named “fake news” became real news for its impact on the recent elections, I guess we can’t afford to assume people can tell the difference – although I do think a few well-publicized libel judgments against sites that deliberately lie on the scale we just saw might give these miscreants a moment of pause.

I mention this because the hashtag #LoveMyNewspaper was trending Monday on Twitter. That gives me a warm feeling. I worked for about 45 years in the newspaper industry, including nearly the last 42 at the Tampa Tribune before it was bought and closed in May by the Tampa Bay Times.

This is not to lament that day because my attitude is to look forward, not backward. Besides, we know the business side of the newspaper industry overall sucks. The website newspaperdeathwatch.com lists 15 large papers that have closed since 2007 and details cutbacks and layoffs at many others, including the venerable New York Times.

Let’s all just take a deep breath, though. The need for detailed and accurate information doesn’t go away – maybe now more than ever, as the story in Washington shows. That’s where legitimate media comes in.

No matter your political persuasion, you can’t disagree that America is entering uncharted waters. Reporters have always been basically under siege from readers and politicians who don’t like their work, but as the recent national election proves they are more necessary than their enemies would like to admit.

So, I would add to the love for newspapers with another hashtag: #LoveMyWebsite – at least the ones like this one where readers go looking for real information and find it.

Reporters for SaintPetersBlog, FloridaPolitics.com and the Times perform their craft with distinction. They find out things people need to know and they understand the difference between fact and fantasy. That’s what we’re all after.

The Times revolutionized the game eight years ago when it launched PolitiFact, but probably never guessed the Pulitzer Prize-winning site would have to be used, as it was Nov. 4, to debunk the sex-trafficking story with a “Pants on Fire” rating.

And if you a frequent visitor to this site, you understand what a valuable tool it is to help stay abreast of the goings-on in Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and around the state.

When someone is willing to play that kind of mind game to dupe the nation that we see on the splinter sites, you need to ask what else they are willing to do.

The only way to combat that is with inconvenient truths known as facts. That is where reporters come in. That’s where newspapers with resources and willingness to shine a light in dark places are most needed. That’s where websites willing to cover local races with the same vigor as a governor’s race are most needed.

So yes, love your newspaper.

And love your website.

We’re all in this together.

Tampa Bay Times’ mind-boggling figures in ‘rooftop solar fight’ don’t add up

Consider the eye-grabbing Tampa Bay Times’ front-page headline Wednesday: $43M spent to limit solar.

Beyond the silliness of assuming that every dollar utilities donated this cycle is part of a plot to fight rooftop solar — as if there is nothing else they care about — the story is screwed up six ways to Sunday.

If a politician were to use these numbers, PolitiFact would rate them somewhere in the range of Mostly False to Pants on Fire.

Let’s start from the top:

“Lost in the tumultuous presidential election and the down-ballot fears, something big has been happening quietly in Florida this year: Electric companies have dropped $42.7 million into political campaigns.”

Well, $42.7 million rounds up to $43 million so this makes sense … until you read the next line:

“Since January 2015, $20 million of the industry’s profits went to finance and promote Amendment 1, the ballot initiative that attempts to frustrate the expansion of consumer-owned rooftop solar in Florida, but another $15 million went to fuel the campaigns of a select group of powerful legislative leaders to prepare for a prolonged war against rooftop solar.”

Hmm …  $20 million to Amendment 1 plus $15 million on campaigns adds up to $35 million … not $42.7 million or $43 million.

Where’s the other $7.7 million to $8 million? Keep reading.

“According to Division of Elections reports, the biggest spender on the effort is Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility, which has poured $22.2 million into political campaigns this cycle — $14.2 million into state legislative campaigns, and $8 million to Consumers for Smart Solar, the utility-backed political committee promoting the amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.”

OK, so FPL donated $14.2 million toward “state legislative campaigns” and an additional $8 million to Consumers for Smart Solar for $22.2 million.

If that sounds high, it’s because it is.

The Division of Elections shows the sum of all of FPL’s donations to candidates and political committees excluding Smart Solar this cycle is $6.1 million.

Combine this with about $8 million to Smart Solar, and you get roughly $14.2 million. Not $22.2 million. 

Could this account for the $8 million discrepancy between the headline and second paragraph?

Here’s the story’s next line as it appeared in the Times’ print edition (with bolds added for emphasis):

“Duke Energy, the St. Petersburg-based company and the state’s second-largest utility, spent $13.3 million on legislative campaigns including $6.7 million promoting Amendment 1. “

And here’s the same passage as it appears at TampaBay.com (again, bolded added for emphasis)

“Duke Energy, the St. Petersburg-based company and the state’s second-largest utility, spent $13.3 million on legislative campaigns and another $6.7 million promoting Amendment 1.”

In print, it’s $13.3 million total. Online, it’s $20 million. Which one is right? Checking the Division of Elections database, it turns out neither is correct. 

Duke gave $6.7 million to Smart Solar and about $1.3 million to other political committees and candidates for a total of a little under of $8.1 million. The magnitude of this error is in the $5.2 million to $11.9 million range.

Tampa Electric Co., the third largest utility, has pumped $4.7 million into the political system, including $3.8 million for the amendment, and Gulf Power has invested $2.5 million, including $2.2 million to the political committee backing the amendment.

On the positive side, the Gulf Power numbers appear to be correct! Unfortunately, TECO’s numbers are wrong multiple ways.

First, TECO did not give $3.8 million to Smart Solar; it gave $3.2 million. Second, the story suggests $0.9 million went to other political committees and candidates or, if we account for the first error, $1.5 million. Wrong either way.

The Division of Elections shows about $1.7 million. Add this to $3.2 million in Smart Solar dollars, and the total is $4.9 million, not $4.7 million as reported in the story.

If you’re keeping track, the total of the actual figures for all the utilities combined is $29.7 million, including Smart Solar contributions. 

The Herald/Times inflates this total by more than 40 percent, and the Pulitzer-promoting Tampa Bay Times put a $13 million error on its front page.

How the Herald/Times can jointly botch something this badly is mind-boggling.

tbt-solar-front-page-11-02

New poll shows Charlie Crist with three point lead over David Jolly, but will unforced errors do him in?

First, the good news for Charlie Crist.

A new St. Pete Polls survey shows that the Democrat is maintaining his lead in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District over Republican David Jolly.

The bad news is that this lead is a narrow three points, giving him little margin for error during the final two weeks of the campaign.

But unforced errors seem to be something the Crist campaign can’t avoid lately.

Crist leads Jolly 48 to 45 percent with CD 13 voters. Two weeks ago, Crist was at 48 percent and Jolly was at 43 percent, so not much has changed. Voters in the district prefer Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president, 48 to 46 percent. In other words, the top of the ballot and down-ballot are in sync.

At this point, Crist has to be hoping to run out the clock. Two tempests in teapots are brewing in this high-profile race.

The first was Crist’s decision to skip a candidate forum on Saturday noted by the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP. Crist is drawing fire from longtime critic Leslie Wimes, who notes that instead of attending this event (like Jolly did) Crist was putting up signs through the district.

“If he can’t bother to show up for us, why on earth would we show up for him?” Wimes asks.

Not watering the flowers at the NAACP seems like an unforced error that could have been avoided by Crist dropping in at the event, shaking hands with everyone in the room, and then asking who wanted to join him putting out signs.

The second — and probably more damaging — issue for Crist is the ad sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee juxtaposing Jolly with Donald Trump.

The ad drew criticism from the Tampa Bay Times editorial board over the weekend, saying it should be pulled because Jolly has never met Trump and has said he won’t vote for him for president.

After this editorial— and two weeks after the ad first aired — Crist called the DCCC and asked it to pull the spot.

“I wish I’d done it sooner,” Crist told the Tampa Bay Times’ Charlie Frago. “I was moved.”

Crist saying he’s been moved by an editorial reads like intellectual embezzlement. He should have called for the ad to be taken down two weeks or not at all. This unforced error will only serve to breathe life into Jolly’s campaign, which is running on fumes.

Crist played football in college. It’s time for him to dust off the playbook and run the ball until clock hits zero.

5 things I think I think about today’s Tampa Bay Times

Back before there was a FloridaPolitics.com and it was just me blogging at SaintPetersBlog.com, I would write a semi-regular screed about the Tampa Bay Times’ political coverage. This was so long ago, the Times still had St. Petersburg in its masthead.

I gave up the “5 things I think I think…” column after a while because it got repetitive. (And because so many of my favorite writers — Howard Troxler, Eric Deggans, Michael Kruse —  left the newspaper). However, with 15 days left before the election, it’s as good a time as any to check in on what the Times has to offer.

Unfortunately, it’s not much. At least as far as the print product is concerned. There’s some good and interesting stuff about national and state politics, but when it comes to the local scene, the pickings are slim.

There are only two Sundays left before Election Day and there isn’t a story in the newspaper about the high-profile congressional race in the region (Republican David Jolly vs. Democrat Charlie Crist) or the high-profile state Senate race in the region (Republican Dana Young vs. Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner). Nothing on any of the state House races, although most of them are snoozers. Nothing on the county commission race between Republican Mike Mikurak and Democrat Charlie Justice.

Like I said, not much.

No wonder Adam Smith has to write about how “the dreaded campaign yard sign appears to be less in demand this season.”

Really, that’s the best the political editor of the state’s largest newspaper has to offer two weeks out from an election? Other than quotes from good guys Brian Burgess and Nick Hansen, this story is even sillier than you might think. It’s as if because Smith doesn’t see any yard signs in his tony Old Northeast neighborhood, there are no yard signs anywhere!

Smith blames The Case of the Missing Yard Signs on “most voters disliking the major presidential nominees too much to want to boast about their choice.” But since when were presidential campaigns even known for having a strong yard sign program? It’s the local campaigns, with their tighter budgets, which rely more on yard signs. And in Smith’s St. Petersburg neighborhood there aren’t as many competitive down-ballot races as there have been in recent election cycles.

Where Smith lives, there aren’t bruising races for state Senate, state House, county commission, or school board as there were in 2012 and 2014. So maybe Smith’s headline should have been “Adored by candidates, the dreaded campaign yard sign appears to be less in demand IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD.”

Ah, the good ol’ days of making fun of Adam Smith‘s work. It’s 2013 all over again. No wonder yellow-bellied Adam won’t participate in a post-election panel with me at the Tampa Tiger Bay club.

Actually, Smith has a must-read piece fronting the newspaper about Hillary Clinton’s connections to the Sunshine State and his “Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics” (consultant Rick Wilson is the winner; Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes is the loser) is spot on.

Other thoughts about today’s newspaper:

Months after both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were dispatched from the presidential election by Donald Trump, their names still sit atop the Times’ website when you click on the 2016 CAMPAIGN under the POLITICS link.

jebio

I agree with half of what John Romano tries to say about how “Rick Scott might have held the key to an outsider’s successful bid to the White House” because the columnist echoes some of what I’ve recently written about Scott; namely that Scott is under-appreciated as a political force. But where Romano and I diverge is with his thesis that Trump should have relied on the same message-driven playbook that worked for Scott in 2010. To suggest this ignores The Donald aspect of Donald Trump, which is what has propelled him to where he is today.

With Trump, there’s no way to separate the messenger from the message. This can be accomplished with Scott because he was a blank slate before he arrived on the political scene. Trump was already a brand.

Still, Romano’s column is worth the read.

 The Times’ final mission for the 2016 election cycle is to take down the utility industry-backed Amendment 1. The newspaper, of course, will write about Clinton vs. Trump and Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign, but it can’t influence those races. It can be a factor in whether Amendment 1 passes, so look for it to flood the zone — as it does today with not one, not two, but three Amendment 1 related punches, including this editorial.

Such good questions prompted by Charlie Frago’s reporting of how the City of St. Petersburg “experienced the equivalent of an air-raid siren warning about its impending sewage crisis.” Unfortunately, no one at City Hall is talking.

“I have no recollection of that event,” says Bill Foster, the mayor at the time. … Council members who served at that time also had never heard of it.

Former public works administrator Mike Connors, who was there when the Albert Whitted plant was closed in 2015, has retired. Water resources director Steve Leavitt and engineering director Tom Gibson were placed on unpaid leave while the city investigates what happened to the 2014 report, which was brought to light by a whistleblower.

Gibson and Connors declined to comment. Leavitt could not be reached for comment.

Even if any of these people did comment, it would not answer this question: who tipped off Frago to the 10.5 million-gallon discharge in 2013?

Pay attention to Susan Taylor Martin’s reporting about the 400 block of Central Avenue and whether it should be redeveloped into a residential property or into commercial space. Ten years from now, the 400 block could be the most important piece of non-waterfront property in the city, but only if the right decisions about its future are made now.

This was fun, critiquing the Times’ political coverage. Maybe it’s time to relaunch this series …

Mitch Perry Report for 10.21.16 — Rick Scott in 2020?

Forget about Marco Rubio in 2020, what about Rick Scott?

Troy Kinsey from Bay News 9 reports that “some GOP operatives are floating him as a potential presidential contender in 2020, should Trump lose in November.”

Kinsey then quotes all of one lone such operative in his story. But it does make for a good headline.

Now, what about Marco Rubio? The Florida lawmaker made news this week when he declared in his debate against Patrick Murphy, “I’m going to serve in the Senate for the next six years, God willing.”

Even if Rubio does break that pledge, will the GOP primary voters in 2020 become warmer to his candidacy than they were this year? Well, a Bloomberg poll of 404 Republicans nationally taken last week doesn’t even put Rubio in the top five contenders for 2020.

Mike Pence, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and John Kasich finished in the top five, with five percent listed as “other,” including, presumably, some Rubio fans.

Meanwhile in South Florida yesterday, the President of the United States continues to enjoy his freewheelin’ campaign style in the waning months of his tenure, slamming Rubio mercilessly for his continued support of Trump.

“How can he call him a con artist and dangerous, and object to all the controversial things he’s said, but then say, ‘I’m still going to vote for him?’,” Obama said at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.

“C’mon, man,” he said.

“That is the sign of someone who will say anything, do anything, pretend to be anybody just to get elected. If you’re willing to be anybody just to be somebody, man, you don’t have the leadership that Florida needs in the United States Senate.”

Closer to home, a quick correction to Patrick Manteiga’s column in today’s La Gaceta. Patrick reports Lisa Montelione has “failed to receive any endorsement of her peers on Tampa City Council” in her House District 63 race versus Republican Shawn Harrison.

Au contraire. Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen did announce their endorsement earlier this week.

The Cubs thrashed the Dodgers last night, and are looking pretty up 3-2 going back to Chi-town tomorrow night. I may be the only man in the Tampa Bay area rooting for the Dodgers, which is really weird. I mean, I’m a Giants fan, for heaven’s sake.

And the Bucs travel to San Francisco, Santa Clara this weekend to play Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. Will any Bucs take a knee in solidarity with the now nationally famous activist?

In other news …

Victor Crist is calling for an emergency meeting next week of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to deal with the negative fallout of recent press reports.

Speaking of which, newly released emails show PTC executive director Kyle Cockream communicated freely with officials of taxicab and limousine companies his agency is supposed to be regulating.

After getting his column on the more unseemly side of the Clintons spiked, Chris Ingram quit the Tampa Bay Times.

Republican Eric Seidel continues his campaign against Democratic incumbent Pat Frank for the clerk of the court.

Sarasota U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan hopes to get federal assistance in cleaning up Sarasota and Manatee County’s red tide problem.

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