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Mike Suarez sounds like he’s running for higher office during speech to Hillsborough Democrats

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In what could be a preview of things to come, Tampa City Council Chairman Mike Suarez promoted his prescriptions for a progressive city during a speech to the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Council.

The mood were notably different than the last time Suarez addressed the DEC in the same venue. In early December, he and several of his City Council colleagues were denied the opportunity to vote in the local party’s reorganization meeting, which led to Suarez angrily taking to the floor to defend his bona fides as a Democrat.

All of that was forgiven Monday night, however, as Suarez owned the floor in his ten minute address.

Beginning by discussing how he had recently participated in a meeting with organized labor, he quickly segued into referring to his own proposal that the council passed in 2015 that calls for all new contracts with Community Redevelopment Agencies to require that twenty percent of jobs are fulfilled by apprentices.

“What has happened over the past year, and what has happened in last November’s election, is that we need to make sure to get as many folks as ready and able to work, because right now having small minimum jobs are not enough to carry us over. We need more high paying living wage jobs and until we have that, we’re not going to get out of the hole that we’re in,” he said.

Suarez then switched on a dime to talking about the Council’s upcoming vote on an ordinance that would ban mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The issue was workshopped last week and will come back for a vote on March 2.

“How many people here who are gay, and have converted to something else?” he asked the crowd. “If you are born gay, you’re gay. If you’re born straight, you are straight. If you are someone who wants to covert for whatever reason, that is your prerogative as a human being, and your human rights should not be denied, because someone is going to tell you that you have a psychological problem, when in fact, you were born the way that you were.”

The proposal is opposed by conservative activist Terry Kemple, who vows that the city will be subjected to a lawsuit if it passes. Others, including a Democrat in the audience Monday night who said it wasn’t a psychiatric issue, have questioned the need for such policies. Nevertheless, the all Democratic City Council appears determine to pass the proposal.

“We’re not going to stand for it in this city,” Suarez continued. “We are about uplifting people. We are not about degrading people. We are about making sure of promoting people who want to be the best person that they possibly can be for them, for the city. Everyone knows we are a progressive city, a city that looks forward and doesn’t look back.”

He then talked about immigration and sanctuary cities, saying that the city of Tampa wasn’t going to do anything that make immigrants feel unwelcome.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that would strip federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities. Bob Buckhorn has said repeatedly that while detaining undocumented immigrants is a function of Hillsborough County and not the city of Tampa, he will not direct members of the Tampa Police Department to help Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) to round up the undocumented. Suarez used the opportunity to bash Republicans, who he said were hypocritical in not standing up for local control.

“I know that what Republicans love to talk about is like to talk about unfunded mandates – don’t put a burden from the federal government onto the  cities and states,” he said. “Let me just tell you something, when they say ICE is going to have to use our police force or our sheriff deputies or our jails in order to capture people who they believe should be sent back to their country of origin, that is an unfunded mandate, and let me tell you, we won’t stand for that here in the city of Tampa,” eliciting another whopping round of applause.

“We want to make sure that our police force, those men and women who work hard for the city of Tampa, have the tools necessary to fight crime and catch criminals, and not to worry about whether or not someone has an expired tag or a license that’s been expired who may be from another country. To me, that is unconscionable.”

Suarez used that same adjective to describe the Florida Legislature’s reluctance to support a proposal backed by Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and plenty of others in the Tampa Bay area at least that would change state law to allow large cities to hold their own tax referendums. Current Florida only allows counties to have that authority. It’s an issue that has been discussed for several years now, as those cities have shown much larger support for public transit referendums than in the surrounding counties.

However, whether anybody locally is pushing Florida lawmakers to pass such a law isn’t clear just weeks before the regular legislative session commences. Nevertheless, it’s another talking point that Democrats have maintained over the past year on the campaign trail.

“We have a Republican legislature that loves to talk about freedom, they love to talk about what’s right for you and your home, but they refuse to let you have the freedom to vote for your own transit needs, and to me, that is wrong,” Suarez said.

Suarez is one of more than half a dozen serious names being discussed as a potential mayoral candidate in Tampa two years from now, when Buckhorn is term limited out of office.  He has never indicated that he isn’t interested in the position, and his short speech on Monday night seemed if anything a preview of the message he might carry when that campaign gets serious, which won’t really happen until after the 2018 midterm elections.

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

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