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Hillsborough County Commission candidate Jeff Zampitella hoping for a debate that may never happen

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

If you pay attention to Hillsborough County politics, you’re quite aware there is a race to succeed Kevin Beckner in the countywide District 6 County Commission seat between Democrat Pat Kemp and Republican Tim Schock, who snuffed out Jim Norman’s hopes for a political comeback two weeks ago. But did you know there is another county commission race on the ballot in November between GOP incumbent Sandy Murman and Democratic newcomer Jeff Zampitella?

The race for the District 1 seat has generated virtually no media attention to date, which is why Zampitella, a commercial airline pilot and Tampa neighborhood activist, looks forward to engaging in a discussion of the issues with Murman at an upcoming Tampa Tiger Bay forum.

But as of now, no such forum is scheduled to take place. And that bothers Zampitella, who said he recently sent an email to Vic DiMaio, the vice president of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club, inquiring about hosting such an event. He said DiMaio wrote him back saying, “What if Sandy doesn’t show up for the debate?”

“I told him, you invite both of us,” Zampitella said on Sunday afternoon. “If we show up, we show up. If we don’t, we don’t. That’s on her. I’m going to show up.”

The Tiger Bay Club did host a debate with the Hillsborough County Commission District 6 candidates earlier this year. Zampitella says DiMaio told him that a District 1 debate was possible after the primary election.

“It’s just frustrating,” Zampitella says.

As a first-time candidate who is being massively out-raised in financial contributions (Murman has raised more than $256,500 to his $18,605), Zampitella is realizing how challenging it is to get his message out. “I think people need to be introduced to me,” he says. “Whether or not they support me ultimately, but if I don’t have a chance to put my issues out there and answer questions, then nobody is going to have a chance to make that decision.”

That’s on Zampitella, not on the Tampa Tiger Bay Club. But it does address the importance of the organization in generating media attention on local races.

When contacted on Monday, DiMaio first responded by initially saying that one hangup to scheduling such a forum was in fact, whether or not Murman would appear (outreach to her hasn’t happened yet). But scheduling is also a very real issue. Though the club has been hosting such forums every two weeks of late, they’re generally scheduled to host an event just once a month, and with just eight weeks to go before Election Day, he says the club simply can’t accommodate every local race in Hillsborough County.

“I’d love to do it, but I just have to figure out when we could squeeze it in,” said DiMaio.

One could argue too much pressure is being placed on the Tampa Tiger Bay Club to be the only organization to host such a forum. As DiMaio mentioned, during last year’s Tampa City Council election campaign — and especially during the 2011 mayoral campaign season in Tampa — there were dozens of political forums hosted by neighborhood associations and other groups. In the recently concluded Senate District 19 primary race, groups like the NAACP and education organizations also held a variety of debates and forums.

But those are the exceptions to most campaigns in the 2016 general election cycle in the Tampa Bay area.

DiMaio says he’d also like to host forums on Amendment One (the solar power amendment) and Amendment Two (the medical marijuana initiative), but says the schedule may not permit that. “I’d do a debate a week if I had the choice,” he says.

The next Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting is scheduled for this Friday. The candidates for House Districts 59, 60 and 63 have been invited, but as of Monday morning, none of the three Republicans in those contests have confirmed their participation. Tiger Bay officials say HD 59 GOP incumbent Ross Spano has stated he has a previous commitment. No word on whether Jackie Toledo and/or Shawn Harrison will appear. All three Democrats in that race have confirmed.

 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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