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Tom Aviano becomes the first Republican to enter Hillsborough County District 6 race

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

While Jim Norman’s potential return to local politics has local observers buzzing, he won’t be the first Republican to enter the Hillsborough County District 6 race. That distinction goes to Tom Aviano.

Tom who, you might be asking?

Aviano is a 51-year-old Brooklyn born, Lithia resident who has never run for office before. He’s quite aware that his name recognition is near zero at this early juncture in the 2016 race. But he says that running for office is something that he’s been considering for years, and is excited about getting involved in the process.

“I’ve been involved in different types of organizations, mostly nonprofits for years, and I’ve contemplated this forever, and it just seemed like the right time to do it now,” he says. “So I was excited when the opportunity came up with District 6. It’s a countywide seat, so I thought I’d throw my hat in there and see what happens.”

Although he was born in New York, Aviano moved to the Tampa Bay area when he was just a youngster in 1970. He says he grew up in the Brandon area mostly, though he graduated from St. Petersburg High School in the early 1980s.

Aviano acknowledges that he’s been more focused on issues in Eastern Hillsborough than the county overall, and mentions two instances that converted a number of regular citizens into activists fighting for their community.

One of those battles was a zoning decision by the board that paved the way for a Walmart Supercenter on Bloomingdale Avenue, just west of Lithia-Pinecrest Road. The 150,000-square-foot center roiled the community in the summer of 2003, when developers at the time refused to even acknowledge that the area would become home to a big-box store run by the nation’s largest retailer.

Aviano says that case exemplifies the lack of connection that he says he and many of his neighbors feel when it comes down to the Board of County Commissioners actually addressing the community’s wants and needs. “It’s an incredible amount of space that they’ve taken up over there,” he says.

A more recent victory for the Lithia community came this spring, Aviano recounts, when a proposed “body farm” was ultimately moved from a 230-acre Hillsborough County sheriff’ training facility. That’s where USF wanted to to build an open-air facility where bodies could naturally decay so law enforcement agencies and researchers can better understand how Florida’s unique climate affects decomposition.

Although he says he wasn’t directly involved in that protest, he says, “I love pulling a board together and working with different people in trying to effect changes, but I don’t think there’s a streamlined process in order to get that communicated.”

Aviano works for CitiGroup as the manager of its Mandatory Corporate Action unit. He says his business acumen would serve the BOCC well.

And as far as fundraising?

“I’m just going to leverage some of the nonprofits and the boards I’ve been existing with before, and get more involved in some of the parties and some of the different networking groups that are out there and just give it my best,” he says about what is in store for him.

By his own admission, Aviano is not totally up on some of the local issues. When asked his thoughts on what is generally considered the most pressing need in Hillsborough County — transportation — the candidate admits he doesn’t have much of an opinion on whether a proposed sales tax should be a half-cent or full cent. In fact, he admits he hasn’t been following much of the conversation at all.

And when asked about the chance that he could be running against Norman, Aviano also confessed that he was in the dark about the former county commissioner, who has been laying the groundwork for months that he is about to get back into county government.

A lifelong Republican, he says he’s been following the GOP presidential primary coverage closely, and is not a Donald Trump fan. “It’ s just harmful to the Republcian Party to have someone like that, someone who appears to love himself a little bit more than America.”

Aviano says it’s still early in the contest, but leans toward Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio if he had to choose a candidate at this stage.

The GOP primary for County Commission takes place on August 30, 2016.

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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