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Mike Suarez selected as chairman of Tampa City Council

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It wasn’t pretty. In fact, at the end it got downright ugly, but after a half-hour of voting and and intense discussion, the Tampa City Council elected Mike Suarez on Thursday to be its chairman.

It took 14 different ballots to get there.

The first 12 times around, it remained deadlocked between three candidates: Suarez, Harry Cohen and presiding chairman Frank Reddick.

Councilman Charlie Miranda nominated Suarez, and the two voted for Suarez every time.

Councilwoman Yolie Capin nominated Reddick, and with Guido Maniscalco, the three voted for Reddick at every occasion.

Councilwoman Lisa Montelione nominated Cohen. The two voted for Cohen on every ballot.

The winner needed to get a majority of four votes to become chair, which no candidate received. The vote went the same way eleven straight times, prompting an audience member to call on them to get it on.

“You got a problem? I’m sorry,” replied Miranda.

With no end in sight, Miranda then said he hoped that one of the three candidates would “recuse” themselves from the election, and referred to the fact that before last year’s vote, Reddick and others had brought forth the idea of a rotating chair for a year, since Miranda had served the past four years.

That angered Reddick, who said the idea that he should drop out was a disservice to this city. And he added that the council had rejected the idea a year ago. Cohen said it was his recollection that there had never been a vote on the issue, and it was obviated after the council elected Reddick in 2015.

The logjam finally ended after city council attorney Martin Shelby and city attorney Julia Mandell suggested that the council vote on the other officer elections before getting to the chair position.

It’s when they voted for the Council pro-tem, a position equivalent to vice chair, that it all ended. The majority of votes went to Harry Cohen, who was nominated by Miranda. Cohen accepted the position, essentially removing himself from contention, and setting up a two-person contest between Suarez and Reddick.

Before that vote, Reddick said that he saw a member of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA president Vincent Gericitano) give the cut-throat sign when his name was mentioned, as an indication to board members to oppose him.

“I’m ashamed that he would do this….that’s shameful that you would in your profession do something like that. And don’t deny it, because it did happen.”

A few members of the audience spoke out about the incident during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

“You all sat here and you watched someone do a throat-cut and not one of you had the courage to speak out against it,” said Michelle B. Patty, who called the change of a chair as a “coup.”

“Did anybody see that?” asked Kelly Benjamin.

It’s no secret that the PBA did not want Reddick to be elected chair for another year. The now former council chair was the leader on the board in advocating for a police citizens review board, a board the PBA opposed. Reddick has now come out in favor of a proposed charter amendment that would make that citizens review board have subpoena power, something else that the PBA (and Mayor Bob Buckhorn) strongly opposes.

The vote was a bit more charged than usual in the respect that there is an outside chance that Mayor Buckhorn could step down within the next year. As an unflagging champion of Hillary Clinton‘s presidential bid, there has been speculation that Buckhorn could possibly be selected to serve in her administration. If that were to be the case, there would be a new election for mayor. Presumably being the council chairman could be a boost for Suarez, who along with Cohen has frequently been mentioned as contemplating a run for mayor in 2019.

The bigger speculation is that Buckhorn could run for a statewide office in 2018. If he were to run and win a statewide office, the council chair at that time would automatically finish out that term as mayor. That would raise the stakes for next year’s council chair election.

In the other vote of the morning, Yolie Capin was voted as chair of the Community Redevelopment Agency.

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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