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Tampa Bay Times tweaks paywall temporarily

No, the Tampa Bay Times hasn’t dropped its paywall.

A couple of FloridaPolitics.com readers on Wednesday mused whether the St. Petersburg-based newspaper, Florida’s largest by circulation, had done so, judging by a “seeming plethora of free content.”

But a Times spokeswoman says the paywall has been temporarily loosened but not lifted.

As a refresher, a paywall “prevents Internet users from accessing webpage content (most notably news content and scholarly publications) without a paid subscription,” according to Mashable, the tech news and digital culture website.

The Times and other newspapers use what’s known as a “soft” paywall. They allow “more flexibility in what users can view without subscribing, such as … a limited number of articles per month.”

The Times instituted its paywall in 2013, leaving viewing of PolitiFact and Things to Do content, as well as ad sections, totally free.

Times Publishing spokeswoman Sherri Day said Wednesday the paper’s “pay meter and digital subscription program for tampabay.com is still active.”

“We have temporarily increased the threshold of pages allowed to non-subscribers in order to provide ample transition time for all of our new total access subscribers joining us from the Tampa Tribune to register and set up their logins and passwords,” she said in an email.

In May, the Times bought the 123-year-old Tribune, its longtime cross-Bay competitor, and closed it.

“We expect to have that customer outreach effort and transition completed some time this fall,” Day added. “At that point, we will restore the meter to its previous level of 15 page views (per month) for non-subscribers.” She didn’t say where it is currently set.

Andrew Warren campaign now bringing up Mark Ober quote from 2004 regarding underage rape case

Andrew Warren, the Democrat who is challenging GOP incumbent Mark Ober in the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s race, is now claiming that Ober’s recent statement at a Tampa Tiger Bay Club about an ongoing sexual assault case isn’t the first time that he has made provocative comments on this topic.

In a statement issued out on Monday morning, Warren referred to a 2003 incident in which three Plant High school athletes and a former student had sex with a 14-year-old Plant High girl. Ultimately, the four boys pled no contest to felony battery, a charge that came with no sexual connotation. According to a report by the Tampa Bay Times in 2004, Ober said that the reason he didn’t purse stronger charges was that the victim had a “fragile psyche” and would have been victimized a second time if she had to go through a trial. The story also reported that Ober had said that “the four accused did not go unpunished, noting that one of the accused, a star baseball player who graduated in May, lost a college scholarship.”

That story also included an excerpt from a letter the victim wrote to the judge in the case, in which she wrote, “They RAPED me. I did not have sex with them.”

The incident was an issue in Ober’s first run at re-election for office in 2004, with his challenger that year, Robin Fuson, implying that suspects who hire high-profile attorneys get preferential treatment from Ober’s office, according to that Times report.

Ober responded late Monday afternoon, saying in a statement that “the case was handled appropriately, and to the satisfaction of the victim’s family.”

He went on to say that the terms of the plea were reached after “extensive consultation” with the victim’s family, adding that if the case had gone to trial, the victim would have had to testify, “and that clearly would not have been in her best interests.” And he alluded to a Times story that quoted the attorney for the young girl’s family, Steve Crawford, as having said that the “family did not want to destroy the boys’ future.”

The Warren campaign is promulgating the notion that Ober’s “comments show a concerning pattern regarding rape, victims, and punishment,” which was the actual  subtitle of the statement they issued early Monday. The “pattern” is a reference to what’s been in the news over the last week: Ober’s comments at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club  on September 2nd about a sexual assault case involving in avenge girl, a case that Warren has accused Ober of initially failing to pursue until he was prodded to by a local media report.

Ober has pushed back strongly from that allegation, saying that while his office initially declined to pursue charges against Maryland resident Alexander Pelzer, they ultimately did so of their own volition, disputing Warren’s contention that it was only after WTSP reporter Mike Deeson’s story was aired that charges were ultimately filed.

Warren has seized on Ober’s remarks at the Tiger Bay Club on Sept. 2 about the then-16-year-old girl, who Ober said went voluntarily to fly to see Pelzer.  “I have a picture of what I call a sex slave, and by no means, do not read between the lines,” Ober said at Tiger Bay. “This young girl … this man has committed a crime, so don’t read between the lines, here. She was with him voluntarily. She flew to see him.”

The mother of the unidentified youth, who has not publicly stated her name, issued a statement last week claiming that Ober’s comments were tantamount to blaming her daughter, adding that its comments like those that make such victims reluctant to go public.

Ober has denied that he has ever attempted to blame the victim in this case. And later in the day, he also blasted Warren for “using” the female victim from the 2004 case.

“The results show my office properly handled this case,” he said in a statement. “I call on my opponent to stop bringing more harm to victims and their families by politicizing their cases, their tragedy and their suffering, in order to further his own agenda.”

Florida Chamber stands by assertion there are high numbers of “unlikely” primary voters

The Florida Chamber of Commerce stands by its assertion that a high number of unlikely voters have already cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary.

The Tampa Bay Times reported last week that the political team at the Florida Chamber of Commerce had noticed a trend in the number of people rarely voting in primary elections. The Tampa Bay Times reported that about half the mail ballots were from Floridians who either voted in one or zero of the past four primaries.

The paper reported that as of last Thursday, more than a quarter of the 855,000 mail ballots came from Floridians who hadn’t voted in the last four primaries. According to the paper, 20 percent came from people who voted in one of the last four primaries.

The report had Dan Smith, an elections expert at the University of Florida, scratching his head. In a post on his blog, Smith said the figures seemed odd, “if not implausible.”

Smith wrote that of the 1.1 million vote by mail ballots sent to supervisors of elections as of Saturday, 13,2000 were from voters who registered since Jan. 1. Another 20,500 ballots, he wrote, came from voters who registered in 2015.

“These new voters had no chance of casting ballots in the 2014 August primary election, and thus, there’s no reason why they should be included in the Chamber’s analysis, much less be assumed to be ‘unlikely voters,’ wrote Smith.

Not so fast, says the Chamber of Commerce. In a memo to Chamber President Mark Wilson, Marian Johnson, the senior vice president of political strategy, that “among voters registered prior to July 2008 who returned ballots as of Saturday, 285,362 0 and 1 score voters had returned their ballots out of 784,165 total votes returned.”

“The 0 and 1 score voters account for approximately 36 percent of this group,” she wrote in the memo, posted on the Miami Herald website. “For those working to influence elections, 36 percent is a significant size.”

As contentious primary campaign comes to a conclusion, Kevin Beckner has no regrets

On the eve of what has been the most raucous primary race in Hillsborough County, Kevin Beckner says he wouldn’t do anything differently in his campaign to defeat Pat Frank for Clerk of the Circuit Court.

“No regrets whatsoever,” Beckner said while attending the NAACP sponsored “Souls to the Polls” event at the College Hill Public Library in East Tampa on Sunday afternoon. “Some people have characterized it as a negative campaign, but I have based it on a campaign of facts, so it’s unfortunate that some of the media outlets like the Times have characterized it like they have, and they haven’t covered the facts of the campaign,” he said, going as far as claiming that the Tampa Bay Times has displayed bias in their reporting of the campaign.

Beckner has hammered Frank on a number of fronts since entering the race in the spring of 2015, upsetting some local Democrats who say they have been turned off by the negative campaign. However it’s also true that some of those Democrats opposed Beckner having the temerity to take on Frank in the first place, a woman long considered an icon in Hillsborough Democratic politics. After he announced his candidacy last year, several Democrats went off the record with this reporter to express their anger at Beckner, who made history in of his own in 2008 by becoming the first openly gay elected official in the county – just three years after the county government passed an ordinance banning gay pride events.

Beckner has issued statements questioning Frank’s work ethic,  for failing to hire women and minorities in top positions in the office, and for not supporting Barack Obama in his historic run for president in 2008.

Those allegations have made him the aggressor in the race. Beckner says it’s all about Frank’s record, and insists there’s nothing personal. But some observers have criticized him for the attacks, none more vociferously than Tampa Bay Times columnist Daniel Ruth in a piece that ran this weekend.

“It’s unfortunate,” Beckner said of the Ruth column. “It seems like they’re been using the talking points of the (Frank) campaign, so I would raise questions about bias that they might have. They’ve refused to cover the facts that I’ve provided them about her record, and so everything that we’ve ever talked about in the campaign has never been a personal attack, but it’s been statements based on facts.”

“Even the most recent issue with the PTC, I find it very interesting that they’ve even refused to print any column or any article about the problems with the PTC. So once again, it illustrates the problems inside the office, but they just refuse to cover it.”

Beckner was referring to a recent piece done by WTSP-Channel 10 reporter Mike Deeson that accused Frank’s office of not paying vendors on time, sending invoices to the wrong department and deducting funds from the wrong account. Frank has pushed back strongly to the charges, both in Deeson’s piece and in a separate article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal. The Times has yet to report on the allegations.

Times Managing Editor Jennifer Orsi declined to comment on Sunday.

Frank disputes Beckner’s account that he’s just been running a fact based campaign. “That’s absolutely untrue,” she said while also doing last minute campaigning at the Souls to the Polls event. “What he’s done is taken things out of context. He took problems that I had in the office that I corrected years ago, and acted like it happened yesterday. And that’s misleading the public.”

The polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday statewide for the primary election. The winner of the Frank/Beckner duel takes on Republican Eric Seidel in November.

 

Hillsborough Group 24 judicial candidates get into tete-a-tete over firefighter endorsement

Last week in Tampa before a Tiger Bay meeting began, Gary Dolgin and Melissa Polo, two of the four candidates running for Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge in Group 24, had an animated discussion regarding a Polo flier that says she was endorsed by the Hillsborough County firefighters.

In fact, Dolgin was endorsed by that group, while Polo has been endorsed by the Tampa Firefighters. Polo told Dolgin that was a printing mistake,and that she would make sure to indicate that on her website.  The two then ended their discussion seemingly on that amicable note, and that was that.

But supporters of Dolgin became upset earlier this week when they saw Polo’s father distribute a flier at an early polling location that said simply that Polo was endorsed by “firefighters,” not indicating the actual group. The flier had blacked out the words “Hillsborough County,” and just indicating “firefighters.” Dolgin also said the website hadn’t been corrected.

“She came up to me last Friday and apologized and promised me that these cards would not be used, and that she would publicly say on her website that the Hillsborough County Firefighters would endorse me,” Dolgin said Thursday night. “When someone comes up and apologizes and make a promise to you, you expect them to keep it. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, but judicial races are held to a higher standard, and when you say your not going to use the cards, you don’t use the cards. “

“I’m disappointed obviously,” Dolgin says. “At best it’s sloppy and careless and unprofessional, and at worse it’s an intentional unethical violation.”

Polo said on Friday that she is endorsed by the City of Tampa firefighters, and again admitted it was a printing mistake that listed Hillsborough instead of Tampa firefighters on a mailer and handout.

“When I saw Mr. Dolgin at Tiger Bay, I apologized for the mistake and indicated that my website would mention the error. The last time I viewed my website, it in fact clearly brings immediate attention to the mistake in the mailpiece and clarifies the fact that I was not endorsed by the county firefighters, only the city firefighters.  My third mailer correctly states that I was endorsed by the city firefighters and further clarifies that the previous mailer mistakenly read county firefighters in error.”

Dolgin has been endorsed (or should we say recommended by the Tampa Bay Times), Polo by La Gaceta, and both of them (along with Lanell Williams-Yulee) have been co-endorsed by the Florida Sentinel-Bulletin.

Ken Forward, Vice President Hillsborough County Fire Fighters Local 2294, said Polo was apologetic in informing him about the error in her campaign literature. “She basically did everything that we asked her to do,” he said regarding Polo’s correcting the mistake in her and updating her website.

“We think both of them are great candidates,” Forward said, adding that “Gary Dolgin has our support.”

Isabel Cissy Boza Sevelin and Lanell Williams-Yulee are also running next Tuesday in the Group 24 contest. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the top two will enter into a runoff on November 8.

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Sebastian Dortch joins Times Publishing Company’s board of directors

The Board of Directors of Times Publishing Company has named Sebastian Dortch as its newest member. Dortch, a 20-year Times employee, leads the company’s Human Resources Department and was instrumental in its recent acquisition of the Tampa Tribune.

“Sebastian brings rich experience, keen insights and extraordinary character to the Times board,” said Paul Tash, the Times chairman and chief executive. “First as a journalist and then as an executive, he has made our company better. As a fellow director, he will help broaden our perspective and elevate our discussions.”

Dortch, 53, said the appointment is exciting and sobering.

“The Times is by far the best organization that I’ve ever been a part of,” Dortch said. “To be asked to lead it at its highest levels, build on its rich legacy and preserve it so that it is here for many years to come is a high honor.”

Dortch started his career as a journalist and joined the Tampa Bay Times in 1996, where he coordinated local political coverage. He held several editing positions, including assistant metro editor, national editor and city editor. He became the company’s diversity officer in 2002 and joined the Human Resources Department two years later as its director. Before coming to the Times, Dortch worked at the Los Angeles Times, the Knoxville News-Sentinel and the Dayton Daily News. He is a graduate of Tennessee State University and completed the Advanced Executive Program at Northwestern University.

Dortch is a teaching elder at his church and enjoys reading, jiu-jitsu and chess. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife Sibyl. They have seven children, and a new grandson.

Ben Diamond blasts Eric Lynn for not returning campaign contributions for his previous run for office

The gloves are starting to come off in the Pinellas County House District 68 race.

Ben Diamond is attacking his opponent in the Democratic primary, Eric Lynn, for failing to refund more than $50,000 in contributions he collected for his run for Congress in Florida’s 13th District, which he aborted earlier this year.

Lynn left the congressional race when his chances continued to look gloomy against the much-better-known Charlie Crist. Lynn then shifted the more than $700,000 he had raised to run for Congress over to a political committee created for his run for the state Legislature. Lynn said at the time that he had worked with officials in Tallahassee to make sure that everything he had done was legal.

But citing a state statute, Diamond says Lynn should have made an attempt to notify his donors, once he opted out of his race for Congress. “He said he would, but he never did,” Diamond says. “That’s not transparent. That’s the ‘Washington Way.'”

Lynn did not immediately contact those who contributed to his congressional campaign about a refund. After Alex Sink complained he hadn’t responded to her request for refund, Lynn told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board that he “can count on one hand the number of people who asked for their contributions back, and we sent them back.”

That’s in contrast to Gwen Graham, who sent a letter out to all of the contributors to her congressional re-election campaign after announcing she would not run again for election in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. That led to 55 separate donors requesting a refund, for a total of $55,000.

(Update: A spokesman for Eric Lynn,  Dustin Lawrence, says that Lynn did contact all of his campaign contributors, and said only five people requested refunds. He also said Lynn had returned all general election checks as requested).

Diamond also repeated the charge his campaign made Tuesday that Lynn’s campaign has been making “negative polling calls smearing my years of work for Pinellas County.”

David Beattie, Lynn’s pollster, told FloridaPolitics Tuesday that both positive and negative information was provided in the polling he conducted last week. That poll showed Lynn up over Diamond by 12 percentage points, 39 percent to 27 percent. Beattie said Lynn’s lead increased after that additional information was given, though it was not reflected in the polling.

“That’s disappointing because it is not the kind of campaign Eric and I agreed to run,” Diamond says about what is sometimes called “push polling.” “In light of the fact that Eric appears to be using federal money from out-of-state donors to run for the state house, I guess that is just more of the ‘Washington Way.'”

“Launching a negative campaign is not the sign of a campaign that thinks it’s leading as Diamond’s campaign claimed with no proof and no credibility yesterday,” said Dustin Lawrence, Lynn’s campaign spokesman. “We had hoped that we could keep this campaign positive for Democrats, but unfortunately, Ben Diamond has not been able to resist the urge to run the kind of campaign he learned about in his time in Tallahassee. Eric is going to continue to focus on issues like the economy, education and women’s health, regardless of whether his opponent wants to use his Tallahassee tactics to sling mud at him and families here in St. Pete. When Eric worked for President Obama’s campaign and in his administration, he saw first-hand how politicians will do anything, including lie in personal attacks, in order to cling onto power. That’s not what voters in Pinellas deserve and it’s unfortunate and incredibly disappointing that that is the kind of campaign that Ben Diamond has decided to run.”

Joe Henderson: Supporters of MaryEllen Elia now get chance for revenge at ballot box

Things really got nasty around the Hillsborough County School Board in early 2015. That’s when four of the seven members voted to fire Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

They didn’t like her brusque and dismissive style. They felt Elia believed the board worked for her, not vice versa. The move was, to understate matters, highly controversial.

Oh, who am I kidding? I can think of few things the board has ever done that created the stir that did. Those who voted in favor of termination were vilified by many business and political leaders.

They were called the Mean Girls (all four were women) and worse.

They were accused of pettiness and jealousy.

Even The Washington Post weighed in, calling the decision “senseless and catastrophic.”

And in a torrent of online comments and letters to the editor, Elia’s supporters promised vengeance at the ballot box (more on that in a minute).

Now is their chance.

Two of the members involved in Elia’s ouster are up for re-election Aug. 30, so that time of reckoning has come. You know what? It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if both were handily re-elected. That’s how badly I believe opponents misread what the Elia decision was all about.

Susan Valdes, who was chairwoman the night Elia was sacked, probably has the toughest fight. The Tampa Bay Times endorsed her opponent, Bill Person, noting his ability to “provide equal education opportunities across the entire district.”

That shouldn’t be dismissed. Voters often go to the polls with newspaper endorsements in hand for races where they might not be well-versed.

Valdes has a lot of friends, though, and has drawn praise for her efforts to improve opportunities for minorities. She has raised more than $35,000 in her re-election bid, more than three times the amount raised by Person.

Cindy Stuart is the other board member on the ballot now who voted against Elia. I honestly don’t see her spot in any danger. Stuart is just the kind of person who should be serving on the board — bright, inquisitive and fair-minded. She also has the Times’ endorsement.

Re-electing Valdes and Stuart would basically be the community’s final rebuke to those who argued that firing Elia would destroy Hillsborough schools.

Board member April Griffin, the most public and vocal Elia irritant, was overwhelmingly elected in November 2015 against a strong opponent. That’s the same election that brought in newcomer Sally Harris, who had promised to join the Elia opposition.

New superintendent Jeff Eakins has gone about methodically repairing much of the damage while dealing with a deep budget deficit driven largely by the school district’s commitment to a partnership program with Bill Gates long before he took over.

And Elia has more than landed on her feet. She took a job as State Commissioner of Education in New York.

We will soon know if those opposing her firing here can pull off the retribution they promised. Or, just maybe, there were just more people out there who thought it was a good idea.

Mitch Perry Report for 7.14.16 – Patrick Murphy on defense, again

Political maxim #459 is “if you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

Let’s go to Patrick Murphy and his campaign for senate, shall we?

The Murphy camp is furiously shooting down a report by Alex Leary in the Tampa Bay Times published last night that said that his congressional office sought to delay news about relief for businesses affected by the toxic algae crisis so he could announce it at a news conference today.

Leary reported that an exchange of emails between Murphy’s office and the Small Business Administration “gives the impression Murphy wanted to take credit for the relief.”

Murphy’s office is denying the report, with a spokesman saying, “Of course our office did not request for this program to be delayed. Anyone who reads the original email can see that we did not. The official emails that Republicans are distributing to press intentionally leave out the Small Business Administration’s email to our office on Monday morning, which suggests no impending announcement.”

Murphy’s senate opponents pounced on the Leary report anyway, as you might imagine.

“Putting his own political fortunes in front of the needs of legitimate small business owners is stunningly shameless,” said Alan Grayson Senate campaign spokesman Michael Ceraso. “It’s also an abuse of his official power that needs to be immediately investigated.”

“Patrick Murphy should take full responsibility for this attempt to delay funds, resign his office immediately, and be fully investigated by the U.S. House Committee on Ethics for any other abuses of power,” said GOP Senate candidate Carlos Beruff. “These are the kind of Washington games that Floridians are sick of, and why the voters will clean house in Washington.”

This is another bad story in a series of bad weeks for Murphy and his chances of capturing the U.S. Senate this year.

Although his campaign team has forcefully refuted the allegations made by CBS 4 Miami reporter Jim DeFede that he exaggerated his resume and business experience in a two-part series last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running ads every day on cable news in Florida repeating those allegations, using material directly out of those reports.

And then there’s Marco Rubio. The Florida Republican’s decision to come back and run for re-election is proving to be a nightmare for the entire Democratic Party, as the hopes of taking the seat away from the Republicans seems to be slipping away everyday. A new Quinnipiac Poll released this morning shows Rubio leading both Murphy and Grayson by double digits.

Can the Jupiter Representative right his ship? It ain’t looking great at this point.

In other news..

Charlie Crist got an earful from some of his potential constituents, but he wanted in on Wednesday, asking 20 local small business men and women to tell their their issues and complaints that he says he hopes to address if elected to Congress this fall.

Polk County Republican Congressman Dennis Ross is calling for AG Loretta Lynch’s head, saying she needs to go for after watching her decline to explain the DOJ’s legal basis for not indicting Hillary Clinton for her email mess at the State Dept.

Darryl Rouson and Ed Narain had the most concrete plans in Tuesday night’s NAACP-sponsored Senate District 19 debate.

John Bolton’s super PAC (and his mustache) is contributing funds to Marco Rubio and Ron DeSantis’ reelection campaigns.

 

Appreciation Day for Tampa Tribune staffers to be held this Sunday at Skipper’s Smokehouse

It’s been more than two months now since the Tampa Bay area became a one newspaper town, after the Tampa Bay Times purchased the Tampa Tribune and dissolved it on May 3.

A handful of Trib reporters were retained by the Times, and while a few others (Keith Morelli, Joe Henderson and Tom Jackson) have become contributors to SPB, many other staffers are still looking for work.

This coming Sunday, July 10, WMNF radio and Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa are putting on a tribute to the Tribune, which began operations in 1895. The event is called, “The Final Edition…Tribbers’ Appreciation Day.”

Three local bands – the Acme Jazz Garage, the Johnny G. Lyon Band and the Vodkanauts, will provide the entertainment. Acme Jazz Garage features Phllip Booth, who once wrote about music for the paper. The other two bands were identified as favorites of former Trib staffers, according to WMNF Program Director Randy Wynne.

Former film critic Bob Ross and TV critic Walt Belcher will serve as master of ceremonies.

The event starts at 5 p.m. Admission is $10, with former Tribune staffers getting in for free.  Wynne says that all the proceeds from the event, including from a raffle to be held, will go to the former Trib stafffers.

For more information, you can go the event’s Facebook page.

(This reporter hosts a weekly talk-show on WMNF).

 

 

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