Jeffrey Zampitella, a commercial airline pilot and Tampa neighborhood activist, will soon be filing paperwork to run as a Democrat in the Hillsborough County Commission District 1 seat.
That’s the seat currently being held by Republican Sandy Murman.
“About a month and a half ago, it was kind of put in my ear by some of my Democratic friends,” Zampitella said on Wednesday when asked how long he had been considering his initial foray into electoral politics. He said that as more people began encouraging him, he realized that some of the most important issues he cares about are decided at the county level. So once he received the go ahead from his wife, he opted in.
One of those local county issues that animates his spirit is transportation.
Like hundreds of others in Tampa, the 47-year-old Zampitella says his anger over the Florida Department of Transportation’s proposed Tampa Bay Express has become a major passion of his over the past nine months. He calls the expressway project that would tear down more than 100 businesses and homes in the Tampa Heights area “an incredible waste of $6-$9 billion.” (the first portion is scheduled to cost $3 billion).
When asked about Murman, Zampitella refrained from saying anything specific, but he does say he considers her vote to include the TBX into the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transit Improvement Plan last summer a major demerit (that entire board, save Guido Maniscalco, approved the project).
When asked about Go Hillsborough, the proposed half-cent sales transportation tax that commissioners will vote on next week, Zampitella says he’s ambivalent about it.
Like many Tampa progressives, he wishes the plan called for more transit in Tampa’s urban core, but says if it does make it on the ballot next week, he’ll probably support in in November.
“I really think we’re way behind in transportation in this county,” he says. “I mean, I travel all around the world, all over the country and we’re so far behind. If I asked you to name a famous city known for their highways, we can’t come up with any of those, but if you talk about 21st century transportation, that legacy, cities like Portland, Minneapolis and always come up.”
Zampitella says there needs to be more responsible development in Hillsborough. “Building WaWa’s are great, I love WaWa’s, but we need companies that are going to bring quality jobs, like Sykes and big industry like what SPP is trying to push,” a reference Stategic Property Partners, the t joint real estate development venture between Cascade Investment and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik).
Murman, who flirted with running against Dana Young in the newly created state Senate District 18 seat before opting to remain content to run for re-election, has raised over $179,000 to date. Couple that with the fact that she was first elected to office 20 years ago, and it’s a formidable challenge for the political novice.
Zampitella says he gets all of that, but has been pleasantly surprised by the level of enthusiasm he’s received from people he says are willing to do fundraisers on his behalf.
In addition to flying around the country and the world for Delta, Zampitella services as the president of the Skypoint Condominium Association in downtown Tampa. He insists he can fulfill the duties of a commissioner while continuing his regular paying gig.
Zampitella says that he’s reviewed the schedule and the commitments that the current board has to undergo, and says that he believes it won’t be an issue.
“Instead of three Europes, I’d fly two Beijings’, cause they’re very sufficient,” he jokes.
He’s the first Democrat to enter the District one seat. Randy Lee Wilson is challenging Murman in the Republican primary. He raised $150 last month.