Tampa attorney Luis Viera, the latest entrant into the special election to replace District 7 Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Monteleone this year, says he can totally relate to Monteleone’s recent reluctance to join the rest of her colleagues in approving Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s request for approval to spend $35.5 million to remake Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park in West Tampa.
“This is too expensive,” said Montelione, who said her north and New Tampa district covers more land than any other, but has few city parks to show for it. To some in the District 7 region, it was another example of the community well north of downtown not getting their just desserts.
Viera has heard those complaints as well.
“This is not a characterization of our leadership that’s been representing that district whatsoever, but I just think that most of the people in that district feel that way,” he said Tuesday. “They feel that they’re part of the county, but many of the people I’ve talked to are surprised to learn that their part of the official city of Tampa, and they fell that way because they feel they’re not getting their fair share. They feel that they’re not getting their attention.”
Viera has lived in the New Tampa/Hunters Green area for over a decade. He now joins Gene Siudut and Cyril Spiro and Orlando Gudes in filing to run in the as yet to be determined special election to succeed Monteleone, who is now running for the state House District 63 seat currently held by Republican Shawn Harrison.
Although this is his first run for office, Viera has been involved in community issues for years.
He’s co-founder of a foundation for children with autism that has raised over $40,000, and was elected Chair of the City of Tampa Civil Service Board in 2011 by the City Council, and reappointed in 2014
“One of my real endeavors in life is to give back,” Viera says. “I’m an old fashioned guy who believes we’re lucky to be here in the U.S., and I think as part of that is where we have to give back, and local government is the area where people look to most when it comes to being identified with everyday needs.”
Those everyday needs include fixing problems that deleteriously affect Tampa residents, such as dealing with stormwater issues.
Last fall, the Council rejected a proposed $251 million plan for drainage improvements. The tax would have tacked on an additional $98 per year by the end of a six-year phasing in period.
“I thought it was unfortunate that it didn’t pass,” he says, noting that the storms were so bad out in South Tampa that he had to miss a couple of days of work because of the flooding.
“I think the idea that it doesn’t affect the entire city is one I would respectfully disagree with,” Viera says regarding the criticism that opponents voiced during the debate. He does note that city officials “have to be sensitive of the needs and the welfare of people living on fixed incomes.”
Regarding transportation, he’s hesitant to weigh in on the latest proposal that the Board of Hillsborough County Commissioners is poised to vote on next week — a half-cent sales tax for only 15 years, half of the original duration that was rejected by the commissioners in late April. He does say that what he appreciated about the original Go Hillsborough plan was that it allowed for investments in rail, transit, as well as roads and bike paths. “I think we can’t ignore the realities of where we’re out now on transpiration, so I favor an all-of-the-above approach.”
But he says that Tampa can’t afford to give up on a mass transit solution, which is why Mayor Buckhorn and others say anything less than a 30-year funding source does exactly that. “We have all of the elements of a 21st Century city — we have a wonderful population, wonderful industries, and they’re all waiting to be brought together, into the 21st Century by a 21st Century system of transportation,” he says.
Viera does have a background in Democratic Party politics, having been involved in some campaigns over there past decade, as well as working with the Hillsborough County DEC when his pal Mike Suarez ran the committee in 2007. He emphasizes, however, that issues like transportation aren’t at its heart very partisan, mentioning former GOP County Commissioner Mark Sharpe as being one of the most forward thinking visionaries when it comes to the issue.
“So I would hope that a lot of these issues we can come together common as Republicans and Democrats and independents to support common sense reforms that will benefit not only District 7, but the whole city as a whole,” he says.
The date of the special election to replace Montelione won’t be announced until after she officially declares she is stepping down from the council.