After months of hinting about it, Thomas Scott made it official late last week and became the third Democrat to enter the contest for the Hillsborough County Commission District 6 countywide seat being vacated by a term-limited Kevin Beckner next year.
“You’re talking about a candidate who has good strong name recognition throughout the county, not just in the city,” Scott said last Friday about himself, a day after officially filing to enter the race. “I’ve been out in front in transportation, public safety, economic development, the environment, all those things I’ve been out in front of, taking a leading role.”
If he were to be elected, it would be a return to the same county commission that he served for a decade, from 1996-2006. In 2007, Scott ran and won the District 5 Tampa City Council seat.
But his success at the polls has gone dry since that 2007 Council victory. He opted not to run for re-election in 2011, instead choosing to attempt to become the first black mayor in Tampa history. It didn’t go well, with Scott finishing last in the five-person field. He subsequently lost in a Democratic primary against Craig Latimer for supervisor of elections in August of 2012.
Now at 61, he’s hoping once again to get back into local politics. He’s proud of the fact that he’s been selected by his peers several times to chair the boards of both the BOCC and the City Council, and of his voting record during those 15 years in office.
With much talk about raising the minimum wage (though none at the board level), Scott was pushing for a a living wage measure in Hillsborough County back in 2004 that would have raised the wage for all county employees to $9.97 an hour. That’s certainly was a very progressive stance considering that minimum wage in Florida at the time was just $5.15 an hour. (It’s now $8.05.)
He also supported the county moving to put a referendum on the ballot regarding transit as far back as the 1990s. But speaking about the current proposal announced last month by he Policy Leadership Group, Scott is skeptical that the half-cent plan that focuses heavily on roads is the answer.
“I think they need more money,” Scott says about the proposal. “A half-cent (sales tax) won’t do.” He says as it stands now he can’t see light rail being at all in the county’s immediate plans, “unless people get together to try to pass something in Tampa.
“I don’t think that’s there enough money. You’re setting yourself up to a degree for a failure, from my standpoint,” he added. “Now you come back and your talking about more roads, and everybody’s still going to be stuck in traffic.”
There has been a noticeable uptick in violence in Tampa this year, something that concerns Scott greatly. He says he’s working with the TPD on a task force looking at the concerns of young African-American teens.
“My belief is this: you’ve got to address the issues of education, that’s why the school board is very important. If we’re going to address crime, we can’t just keep building more prisons, you gotta start while they’re young, to address the issue of education in the public school system,” he says. “Secondly, you have to address the issue of parental involvement, being involved with their children and their education, and thirdly, I think it also becomes an economic development issue. Look at those people that are poor, and deprived, and you’ve gotta be able to create job opportunities for them and give them some skills so they can work, and I think those are three issues for the lives of those in underpriviledged neighborhoods or those neighborhoods still at risk.”
Earlier this year Scott celebrated 35 years as senior pastor of the 34th Street Church of God in East Tampa. 996. A native of Sandersville, Ga., he received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of North Florida in 1979.
Although Scott does have strong name recognition, he is attempting to win countywide, something that few African Americans have been successful at in Hillsborough County history. He’s opposing Pat Kemp, who came close to ousting Al Higginbotham in last year’s District 7 County Commission seat, and lawyer Brian Willis, who has bolted out of the gate with an impressive round of fundraising (over $51,000) since announcing his candidacy this spring.