Last Wednesday, Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez held a fundraiser for his campaign at popular Tallahassee watering hole, Clyde’s and Costello’s. The host committee included six Republican state representatives from Miami-Dade: Frank Artiles, Michael Bileca, Jose Felix Diaz, Manny Diaz Jr., Jose Oliva and Carlos Trujillo, as well as Rep. Richard Corcoran, who is in line become speaker in 2016. No doubt Suarez made off with a five-figure haul for his campaign.
Like Suarez, St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster is running in 2013. Certainly, Foster would welcome five-figures worth of donations to his campaign. But who exactly, if anyone, would host a fundraiser for Foster in Tallahassee? Maybe Senator Jeff Brandes, but that’s doubtful. Nor do I see Senator Jack Latvala or any of the other members of the Tampa Bay delegation lending their name to a fundraiser in Tallahassee for Foster.
And if it’s difficult to imagine who would host the fundraiser, it’s nearly impossible to conceive of anyone showing up to a fundraiser for Foster, save Bill Peebles, the lobbyist with whom the city contracts for representation in Tallahassee. Other than Peebles, I’m hard pressed to think of many political insiders who would stroke a check to Foster’s campaign.
Foster’s complete lack of standing in Tallahassee is in stark contrast to the mayors of Florida’s other major cities, most of whom have strong connections to the capital.
Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, for example, is well-liked on both sides of aisle and can probably call on a dozen or so legislators for a favor. Buckhorn is also one of the state’s most prominent Democrats and so his leadership and opinion are sought after by those in his party, regardless of whether there is a personal connection.
Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer’s connection to Tallahassee is as strong as it can get for someone running a city hall. The former State Senator obviously understands how the Legislature works. That’s one of the reasons why so much money from Tallahassee to Central Florida. Dyer knows how the game is played and, even as a Democrat in a Republican state, plays it well.
Buckhorn and Dyer are the two most prominent examples of big city mayors knowing how to play the Tallahassee game, but there are many others. Consider Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown. He’s also well-connected in Tallahassee and leverages his relationships for his city.
In fact, the names of Brown, Buckhor, Dyer, Suarez, etc. come up often in conversation in Tallahassee. During my recent visits to Tallahassee, I don’t think the name Bill Foster was mentioned once. Tallahassee folks talk much, much more about former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker than they do Foster. Heck, there are high-schoolers attending Boys State who are talked about more in Tallahassee than Bill Foster.
That’s a shame because the mayor of the fourth largest city in the state should have more influence in the capital.