Although he’s been long gone from the Tampa Bay area political scene, Democratic strategist Mitch Kates still recalls his days of leading Democrats to upset victories in both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties with fond memories.
Now the political director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Kates appeared last week on Pittsburgh Community Television to discuss his peripatetic career, which has taken him from his native Northeast to the Tampa Bay Area, to working on campaigns in Eastern Europe (Georgia), Kosovo and the Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius.
But he still waxes nostalgic for his successes in 2006-2008, beginning with getting Charlie Justice past Republican Kim Berfield for a Pinellas/Hillsborough State senate seat in 2006. He followed that up with Mary Mulhern’s upset victory over Shawn Harrison for Tampa City Council in 2007, and then Kevin Beckner’s improbable upset of Brian Blair for Hillsborough County Commissioner in 2008.
In discussing how formidable the odds were against the openly gay Beckner in early 2007 when he began the countywide race, Kates says he was approached by other Democrats to dump his candidate, believing that he had no chance in a county with a reputation for not being intolerant when it came to issues with the LGBT community. “It’s one of my most precious campaigns,” Kates recounts on the show. He referenced Hillsborough County’s infamous ban on gay pride vote from 2005, and how the region has changed since those times, referring to the almost casual fact that the St. Petersburg City Council now has three gay and lesbian members on their eight member board. “All of this happened, because Kevin Beckner had the courage to stand up and be honest with people and the voters, and that will always be one of my favorite campaigns.”
Hillsborough County repealed the ban on gay pride back in 2013, and followed that up in 2014 with adding protections for the LGBT community in the county’s Human Rights Ordinance.
Kates also was a professional wrestler known as “Jason the Terrible,” and it’s a career achievement he’s still quite proud of. In this interview with PCTV’s Steve Irwin, Kates demonstrates a few wrestling tricks of the trade towards the end of the interview.
His discussion of his time in the Tampa Bay area begins around the 15:00 minute mark.