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Jeff Vinik says it’s no sure thing that MOSI will move downtown

September speaker Jeff Vinik with Commissioner Keven Beckner following Beckner's introduction of Vinik. President Adam L. Bantner, II in the background.

September speaker Jeff Vinik with Commissioner Keven Beckner following Beckner’s introduction of Vinik. President Adam L. Bantner, II in the background.

After their dramatic unveiling of their billion-dollar project to redevelop 40 acres of real estate in the Channelside District last December, Jeffrey Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners group has been relatively quiet in terms of news about what will actually be housed there.

In recent months there has been discussion about the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) moving from its current North Tampa location across the street from USF to “Vinikville.” Though Hillsborough County officials have expressed excitement about the possibility, not everyone is in love with the concept, considering how much real estate the facility currently occupies off of Fowler Avenue vs. moving it into the downtown area.

At a Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting at Ferguson Law Center on Friday, Vinik backed away from the notion that it’s a done deal.

“I am not going to move MOSI downtown,” he said. “We are going to have discussions with the board of directors of MOSI. We’re about to do a feasibility study. (If) they think it makes sense, maybe it will, maybe it won’t (happen). “

He said if the facility were to move to the Channelside area, “we sure better have that transportation working well to bring the people from North Tampa, North Hillsborough County to downtown.” He said that he believes that a downtown location could double or triple its current attendance numbers, but if it doesn’t look like that might happen, “then we’ve got to think twice about it.”

Transportation came up frequently during Vinik’s hour-long address before the Club, which saw one of its biggest crowds gather for its monthly meeting in years, not only with new guests but members from the press, where representatives from at least six different media organizations were in attendance.

Vinik showed that he was seriously invested in the Tampa Bay Lightning shortly after purchasing the local NHL franchise in 2010. The former Boston-based mutual fund manager poured $35 million into renovating the now Amalie Arena with a new theatre organ, 11,000-square-foot party deck and a new digital video board above center ice.

He then demonstrated his investment in the community at large by creating (with his wife) a program that donates $50,000 to a nonprofit group at every single home game, which after four seasons now amounts to over $9 million. The team itself has prospered as well under the leadership of coach Jon Cooper and General Manager Steve Yzerman, making it to within two games of winning the Stanley Cup this spring.

But it was a bold announcement last December when he unveiled his $1 billion plan to redevelop the Channelside District surrounding the Amalie Arena that made him one of the biggest players in all of Tampa Bay.

“I believe we have transportation challenges in this area,” he said to applause when asked about the controversial Tampa Bay Express (TBX) toll lanes project. “I’m talking to a lot of companies, and number one on their mind is how do we move our employees around this area.”

Vinik is on record as hoping to land a Fortune 500 company to become one of the signature companies to locate inside his development. But on Friday he said that while that remains a top goal, his company also wants to bring in companies that will bring high-paying jobs to the area, and if that means a company’s regional headquarters as opposed to a corporate headquarters, he’s fine with that.

On three separate occasions the Lightning owner was asked his opinion about the TBX, a Florida Department of Transportation- backed project that would add toll lanes on I-275 inside of Tampa. The proposal has engendered great opposition from members of the Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights community, which fear it will decimate those areas that have taken years to develop.

Activist Leila Abdelaziz criticized him for his initial responses, saying they didn’t address the concerns of low-income residents and people of color who are concerned that the project and his development plans may force them to live outside the city.

Vinik responded by saying that he was doing his part by creating a development that could lead to economic benefits to all regions of the city, and also asked her if she thought it made any sense for him to be more of a political player,

“My wife and I are very philanthropic,” he said. “We try to do our best. But if we were to wade into this discussion too deeply, we’d have people who would love us, people who would hate us, but it would take the focus off of what we’re trying to do, which is to lift the tide for everybody in this region,” resulting in cheers from the audience.

A few moments later, Vinik responded succinctly when another audience member who previously lived in Dallas discussed how it took the involvement of the local business community putting some of their own skin (and money) into the game that helped pass a transportation tax plan.

Would he consider it?

“Maybe,” Vinik responded deadplan, to another round of cheers.

Public scrutiny sparks conversation about racial tensions in Tampa

From Creative Loafing 

by

Panelists discuss how racial tensions are rising in Tampa and nationwide. Pictured (from left to right): William Z. Knowles, Dr. Joan Holmes, Dr. Samuel Wright and Stanley Grey. - ZEBRINA EDGERTON-MALOY
(Caption: Panelists discuss how racial tensions are rising in Tampa and nationwide. Pictured (from left to right): William Z. Knowles, Dr. Joan Holmes, Dr. Samuel Wright and Stanley Grey.)

A panel of experts addressed around 100 members of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club on Friday afternoon to open up a dialogue about understanding and improving racial tensions in Tampa Bay.

The panelists spent much of the time talking about institutional racism’s prevalence in Tampa and sharing personal experiences of stereotyping and discrimination.

“There are a lot of systemic issues going on, from the universities to the government. It’s pervasive in Tampa,” said Dr. Samuel Wright, who, now retired, was associate dean of student relations at University of South Florida. “There is a ceiling of oppression on a number of people around here who have been oppressed in every situation.”

The panelists included Dr. Wright; William Z. Knowles from Derrick Brooks Charities Youth Programs; Dr. Joan Holmes, special assistant to the president for diversity and special programs at Hillsborough Community College; and, Stanley Grey, founder of S. Grey & Associates, a human resources consulting firm committed to educating Tampa’s under-served youth.

“While certainly black people are more affected by racial stereotyping than white people, it’s a problem for all of us in the sense that if you are being wronged and treated improperly, we should all be concerned as a society,” said Chris Ingram, president of Tampa Tiger Bay.

This discussion comes around a time when the City of Tampa has been under scrutiny for how black people are treated within its city limits.

An investigation conducted by the Tampa Bay Times found that Tampa police are disproportionally targeting poor, black residents who ride bicycles. Even though black people make up about a quarter of the city’s population, black cyclists receive 79 percent of the bike tickets that have been issued by Tampa police in the past dozen years.

A recent Harvard study also found that Tampa is one of the nation’s poorest in terms of upward mobility, making it incredibly difficult for poor children to escape poverty and rise to a higher social or economic position. Hillsborough County was ranked 98th out of the nation’s 100 largest counties for upward mobility.

“The kind of problems that we’re facing in the microcosm of Tampa Bay and nationally are falling on local communities with limited resources to start addressing these issues,” said Laila Abdelaziz, legislative and government affairs director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “It is really time for systemic policy conversations that address the socioeconomic problems that create injustice in our communities.”

Dr. Samuel Wright emphasized that race relations is not just an African-American issue; it's a people issue. - ZEBRINA EDGERTON-MALOY

  • Photos by Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy   (Caption: Dr. Samuel Wright emphasized that race relations is not just an African-American issue; it’s a people issue.)

The panelists offered multiple solutions for improving racial tensions in Tampa. These solutions ranged from investing more in black people by creating strong mentoring programs to implementing Ban the Box, which removes the check box from hiring applications that asks if applicants have a criminal history.

“Give these people the opportunity to take care of themselves and you’ll see some changes,” Dr. Wright said. “When you give people opportunities and jobs, you’ll see a lot of transformations in this community.”

Businesses also have to pay wages that will actually cover the costs of living in Tampa, Stanley Grey said.

Dr. Joan Holmes also emphasized the importance of white advocacy in improving racial tensions in Tampa and nationwide.

“White advocacy is very powerful. It would be so refreshing to hear a white person say, ‘This is not the way our country is.’ But we don’t see enough of that,” Dr. Holmes said.

Race relations are becoming more widely spoken about throughout the nation, as incidents of police brutality increase and acts of racism are committed.

Among the most recent occurrences was when 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black parishioners in a Charleston, S.C. church last month. His manifesto sparked heated debates when photographs were disseminated on media of Roof waving a Confederate flag while wearing a jacket with an Apartheid-era South African flag—both symbols of white supremacist ideals.

After the incident, South Carolina officials were scrutinized and pressured to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse.

The flag was finally removed from Capitol grounds last week.

These nationwide events also sparked a heated debate in Tampa due to the Confederate flag that can be seen while driving on the I-75 in Tampa.

“You are sending a message to black people and other people of color that Tampa is racist headquarters where people of color are being oppressed,” Dr. Wright said.

A Confederate flag was removed from the Fred B. Karl County Center on Wednesday.

“We need systemic reform and changes. The community is tired of Band-Aid approaches,” said Joyce Hamilton Henry, director of advocacy at American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “It’s wonderful that we’re meeting to talk about it, but we’re looking for real action. Action means real policy changes and real reform because we’re tired of all talk.”

Racial relations

July 22, 2015, The Tampa Bay Times

By William March

Black community leaders discussing race relations at last week’s Tampa Tiger Bay Club event took some shots at Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the controversial bicycle enforcement policy in black neighborhoods.

Samuel Wright, an education activist and former University of South Florida administrator, said Buckhorn has suffered among blacks in Tampa by comparison to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Wright said Kriseman “immediately moved to diversify his staff” after being elected — an apparent reference to Deputy Mayor Tamika Tomalin — while Buckhorn hasn’t named a high-level, inner-circle black aide.

Buckhorn called that “absurd,” saying he has the most racially diverse city administration ever, naming police Chief Eric Ward, fire Chief Thomas Forward, CFO Sonya Little and half a dozen black administrators and department heads.

“They may not be at every press conference, but they are in powerful positions running real departments,” he said.

William March can be reached at wemarch@gmail.com.

Chris Ingram brings the Tiger Bay Club back to relevance.

By Mitch Perry, June 2015 St. Peters Blog

At its best, Tiger Bay Club forums held throughout the state can provide a valuable public service as a place where the public can interact with lawmakers, political candidates, activists and journalists who are asked to participate each month.

Depending on the topic or the featured speaker, however, these same events can often devolve into dull, scripted events. That’s where the audience of Tiger Bay members get to to play their part in what we have of a democracy, raising questions that the public wants to know — questions that can put the newsmaker on the spot.

One such example was back in the summer of 2011, when then GOP Senate candidateMike Haridopolos was grilled at a Tampa Tiger Bay event held at the club’s usual spot at Maestros’ restaurant inside the Straz Performing Arts Center. The former state Senate president was besieged by a number of hostile entreaties, and appeared shaken by the end of the event. A short time later, he announced he would not be running to oppose Bill Nelson in his bid for re-election in 2012.

Fairly or not, some people feel that’s when the Tampa Tiger Bay Club got the reputation for being not so hospitable to Republicans, leading some local members of the GOP to beg off when asked to take part in such forums. The club hosted Democratic attorney general candidate George Sheldon in 2014, but was shut out in wooing the state’s current AG, Tampa’s own Pam Bondi, to participate. (Rumor has it that after a rough appearance in 2010 at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club she has refused any and all such offers to appear again.)

Trying to grow its membership, the board last year asked if local political analyst and former Republican Party staffer Chris Ingram would like to take over the board, which he agreed to, though he said he wasn’t all that psyched at the time.

Ingram said that over the years he had attended some meetings, but wasn’t very impressed by the organization.

The thought that he could help persuade more Republicans to join in was a reason former Tampa Tiger Bay Club member Joe Citro said he voted for Chris.

“The perception is true,” Citro, a registered Republican who was unsuccessful in a  bid for City Council says. “Tiger Bay is leaning more towards the left,”  he says, but he believes Ingram is trying to play it down the middle.

Susan Smith, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, takes exception to that notion. She says that in fact she and several other Democrats were asked to join the Tampa Tiger Bay cCub back in 2010 because at that time the club was thought to be too heavily Republican.

“I’m not saying it’s the reality, but the perception is the reality that it was a left-leaning Democratic organization,” Ingram acknowledged last week. “I don’t particularly think that’s true, but the perception certainly is there.”

Ingram has been a major presence on the Tampa Bay political landscape for the last decade after moving down to the Bay area from Washington, D.C. He currently writes a column for the Tampa Tribune, appears as a political analyst for Bay News 9, and occasionally fills in as a guest talk show host on stations like 970 WFLA and 820 WWBA (and he hints that he may be doing something more regularly on radio in the future).

Since he took over late last year, he’s been building up membership, actively recruiting Republicans like state attorney Mark Ober, tax collector Doug Belden and County Commission Chair Sandy Murman to become members. But he’s worked to get Democrats like former state Rep. Betty Reed and County Commissioner Kevin Becknerto join as well, making for a more interesting dynamic at the local meetings.

Smith says Ingram is doing a “great job.”

“Our monthly attendance has nearly doubled from what it was a year ago,” she says. “Chris has improved our website, and with the help of our new executive director Gail Solivan, is improving our abilities to communicate with members and expand our profile in the community.”

Ingram has also brought in sponsorships, Smith says, that have allowed the club to subsidize the attendance of students from the University of Tampa, USF and HCC at their monthly luncheons.

And the site of the local meetings has now changed, from Maestros to the Ferguson Law Center. Ingram says that was no easy feat, moving from a site used by the club over the last decade.

“I felt like part of this revitalization effort of the club in terms of new members and better speakers that I’ve been encouraged to do, also included a change of venue to give a stronger message saying hey, something different, something new is going on at Tiger Bay,” he says. “And I have to tell you, you wouldn’t have believed the amount of controversy on the board that the notion of we’re going to leave Maestro’s created. It was unbelievable. But ultimately, we prevailed in that effort…’

Ingram has been in the news lately not just for his rehab efforts with Tiger Bay. A recent Facebook kerfuffle with old-time sparring partner Sam Rashid led to the Eastern Hillsborough County GOP power broker losing a U.S. senatorial appointment to the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission. It happened after Ingram called out Rashid on Facebook for calling  three unnamed Hillsborough County Circuit Judges “dumbasses.”

Ingram says that he and Rashid share an “amicable relationship,” and talk from time to time, but can often have spirited discussions either via Facebook or through email exchanges.

It was on a recent Friday night that he says he saw on Rashid’s Facebook page a screen shot of a letter signed by Florida U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson about his appointment, followed by Rashid’s posting.

“I posted back to him and said, ‘Sam, what’s going on?’ I mean, calling some judges just some dumbasses, how appropriate is that? And how objective can you be when you come in with that kind of an attitude, and publicly stated as such, and we went back and forth for half an hour or so and the next morning I got up and looked at it and he had written a letter to Marco Rubio’s legal counsel saying that he was withdrawing or resigning, I’m not sure how he characterized it, removing himself from that position because of his bias.”

Ingram has always been a favorite with local media, undoubtedly in part because of his idiosyncratic manner. Though a lifelong Republican, nobody has been more critical at times of Republicans like Rubio, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.

Citro says that’s why he and others thought he’d a be a great fit to lead the Tampa Tiger Bay Club.

“Chris is a very unique man. He’s a strong leader, and I like his style. He can ruffle feathers and once someone ruffles feathers you tend to shake cobwebs off and people start asking questions and I like that about Chris.”

STAGE LEGISLATORS DEFEND THEIR OWN HEALTH CARE COVERAGE AT TIGER BAY FORUM IN TAMPA

Mitch Perry, May 22, 2015 FloridaPolitics.com

Tampa Bay area state legislators Tom Lee and Daryl Rouson took center court at todays’ Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting, where again the Legislature’s divide on health care drove the debate.

Lee, a Senate Republican, represents Brandon in Tallahassee, while Rouson’s House District is comprises good chunk of South Pinellas County, but bizarrely also includes portions of Ruskin in Hillsborough County, and parts of Manatee and Sarasota Counties.

The pair (dubbed “Ebony and Ivory” by Lee) return with the rest of their legislative colleagues to Tallahassee next month to come up with a plan to balance the state’s budget by the end of the month, or see the state-run out of funds and go into a government shutdown, something that would be much more embarrassing than the negative fallout they’ve already received for aborting the session abruptly last month.

Representing Democrats throughout the state, Rouson argued passionately why he was fighting to help provide Medicaid expansion to more than 800,000 Floridians, the source of so much dissension in the state Capitol this spring. “My district wants it. 800,000 people in the state want it. The Chambers want it. The hospitals want it. And I don’t think all of them are wearing Gucci loafers.”

But while the Legislature has been talking (in circles) about providing more health care coverage for other people, the tables were turned when Tiger Bay member Al McCray asked the two men about a “rumor” that lawmakers only pay $9 a month for their own coverage.

“It’s not $9 a month,” Rouson quickly correcting McCray. “But it is a rate sought by the majority of the taxpayers in the state of Florida. I concede that.” He also was quick to mention that the $29,000 annual salary that lawmakers (who are considered part-time legislators) make is hardly great money to raise a family.

In fact, House members and Governor Rick Scott had been paying just $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 a month for family coverage, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, up until a few years ago. That abruptly changed however in 2013, after negative publicity surfaced about the low premiums lawmakers were paying. Now all legislators pay $50 a month in premiums for individual coverage and $180 a month for family coverage.

Later on during the forum, Tiger Bay member Mimi Osiason returned to the issue, asking specifically how much did lawmakers pay for their insurance, and could the public get access to those same rates?

“We are trying to fight to make sure that everyone has access to some level of health insurance in our state,” said a clearly defensive Lee. “Health insurance is just a piece of a pay package, like a retirement benefit.” He went on to repeat a lawmaker’s salary is just $29,000. But he also acknowledged that the $180 he pays a month for his families’ coverage is “clearly below cost.” Adding in the fact that the state subsidizes each legislator’s coverage by $15,000 a year, and that means that lawmakers are receiving $17,000 of coverage a year. “It’s clearly a perk of serving in the Florida Legislature,” he confessed.

Last week Hillsborough County House Republican Shawn Harrison wrote a letter to the Tampa Tribune about his thoughts on the Medicaid expansion debate. He worried that if the state were to go ahead with such a plan, it could potentially wipe out the benefits that those who get care from the Hillsborough County indigent health care program provides. Senator Lee said today that Harrison need not have such fears.

“We tax ourselves half a cent and that goes into fund that is spread across to provide charity care in our community. I think it’s the attention of those who are interested in seeing additional coverage being provided that it be provided as an additional layer of protection in that system. Not to supplant it.”

Daryl Rouson is one of the most prominent anti-drug advocates amongst any Democrat you’ll ever meet. That’s in large part to his very public battle with drug addiction. When asked about medical marijuana today, he said that while he does support finding a way to regulate and restrict access to the herb, he also was harshly critical of its potential for bad things to happen.

He mentioned how former University of Florida football coach Will Muschamp called a few years ago to inform him that one of his sons had just failed a urine test for a fourth team, and thus he was being booted from the Gators squad. “I sadly had to pull him out of school and put him into residential treatment for marijuana treatment. And having been through a few treatment centers for marijuana addiction, I understand the destructive nature and what can happen with the proliferation or the legalization of marijuana. And I’m worried about that.”

When asked if Republicans could pay a price at the polls for their infighting during this year’s legislative session, Senator Lee said it was too early to make any such predictions. However, he did use the question as a platform to get some feelings off his chest regarding some of his colleagues, though he refrained from naming names. “We have some members of the Legislature that would be great on talk radio, they’d make great shock jocks, but I’m not sure that they belong in public service,” he said, adding that there was a “decorum and a respect that the public is rightfully demanding of us as elected officials and the willingness to get in and roll up our sleeves…”

Lee also criticized term limits, saying it adds to increased partisanship. “Everyone today knows that they’re not staying very long, and they view every political issue through the prism of their next primary, whether they’re a Democrat or a Republican, and that tends to pull people to both ends of the political spectrum on issues like this, and make it much more difficult for people to work from the center out to build a bridge to find solutions.”

Lee, Rouson and the rest of the Legislature return to Tallahassee for the special session beginning a week from Monday.

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Going bipartisan

By William March, May 20, 2015 Tampa Bay Times

Tiger Bay Clubs, bipartisan political discussion groups that pride themselves on lobbing tough questions at public officials, are a significant source of political news in Florida.

But the Tampa club has long been smaller and less influential than its St. Pete counterpart, the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

One reason, at least in the view of some Republicans, is that the Tampa Club is too Democratic. Attendees usually are mostly Dems.

Rising legislative star Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, says she hasn’t been interested in speaking at what she considered “a Democratic club.”

“I know a lot of people that have been asked to speak from a more conservative viewpoint have been treated rudely by the attendees,” she said.

The club’s new president, Chris Ingram, a Republican with mavericky views, says he wants to change the image. He’s recruiting new members, particularly Republicans. GOP State Attorney Mark Ober and Tax Collector Doug Belden just joined.

Young called that “excellent news.”

The Tampa club meets on third Fridays at the Ferguson Law Center downtown.

GOP consultant at Tampa Tiger Bay admits that negative advertising helps suppress the vote

Although most people decry negative advertising in political campaigns, strategists say they work, which is why no matter how odious it is to the average voter, it’s not going away anytime soon.

Whether that’s accurate or not, one veteran Florida Republican political strategist admitted at Friday’s Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting that such advertising can suppress the vote, and be beneficial in helping a candidate win.

“If you can find an issue that would not suppress, but turn people against voting, then we do,” admitted Sarasota-based political consultant Jamie Miller. “That’s part of what we do, and I hate to be that blunt about it, but that’s part of what we have to do.”

Florida Democrats have accused the Republican Party in recent years of trying to suppress the vote by enacting election laws that make it harder to vote, such as the 2011 law that shortened the number of early voting days and hours and tightened other election rules, including voter registration. After an uproar statewide, the GOP-led Legislature added back more early voting hours in 2013.

Pinellas-based Democratic strategist Gregory Wilson agreed that negative advertising suppresses voter turnout. “Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s just stupidity,” he said, adding that voters should pay close attention to positive messaging, and “ask yourself how truthful that is.”

For all his hard-boiled cynicism, Miller bemoaned the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which has helped unleash unprecedented amounts of outside spending over the past three federal election cycles. “If you’re not a political consultant for a Super PAC, or a political party, or a major corporation, you really don’t have much of a job,” saying that there’s just not that much money in running the smaller campaigns that have been his bread and butter throughout his career. In fact, he’s now working in government relations for the second consecutive state legislative session, something that he admits is not something he prefers to do.

The two strategists were joined by former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and recently elected City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, whose come-from-behind victory over Jackie Toledo in the District 6 City Council election last month was marred with negative advertising, much of it surrounding mysterious third-party mailers attacking Maniscalco that ultimately were later found to have come from a political action committee with connections to a GOP political committee.

Dick Greco boasts of never having to ask people for financial contributions for his various runs as mayor. Talking about anonymous third-party mailers, however, turns his stomach.

“One of the problems isn’t so much the lying or not lying and the stuff that goes in the mail, it’s (that) you can’t tell who it’s coming from. And that’s wrong and that shouldn’t be allowed, period,” he remarked as the audience of around 40 or so people cheered at the Ferguson Law Center in Tampa.

Greco said that during his 2011 run for mayor, two friends (who he didn’t identify) said they wanted to give him $100,000 during the last week of the campaign to form a mysterious political action committee. He said he declined the opportunity.

“Why would you buy into that. And it’s legal?…somebody needs to do something about — where does the money come from and who is forming the PACs? That’s wrong.”

It wasn’t all so heavy duty.

After Greco said he consulted the Bible at times when contemplating what to do with his campaign contributions, another venerable Tampa icon, Joe Redner, asked his former nemesis if he also consulted the Good Book when he instituted the infamous six-foot rule between nude dancers and patrons at establishment’s like Redner’s Mons Venus back in 1999?

“The six-foot rule wasn’t passed for Redner’s place,” Greco told the audience. “Because I’d been in there many times before I got into politics,” he said, as the crowd exploded in laughter. “Actually, he had one of the best places in town for that kind of thing.” He said there were too many of those clubs opening at the time in Tampa, “and the only way you could keep it from happening was to pass the six-foot rule, which doesn’t make a heckuva lot of sense except for that purpose.”

The biggest news that the 81-year-old former Tampa mayor has made recently has been his well-publicized move from his home at Bayshore Regency to a 2,150-square-foot condo near Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg.

Greco responded that he and his wife Linda have been making the trek to St. Pete and Pinellas County beaches for years, and sounding a bit wistful, said that unlike his Tampa neighbors who own “three or four houses. One at the beach, one in the mountains.”

He says the reaction from Tampanians has been a bit rich.

“All of a sudden it’s like I moved to Siberia or something to some people,” joking that a friend called and asked if it was long-distance. He added a couple of times that the commute was all of 25 minutes. “It took me longer to go some places in North Tampa.”

“Tampa will always be the hub and the heart of the Tampa Bay area,” he said to those freaked out about his quest for higher quality of life.

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Too many ‘sheep’ in Tallahassee?

The Tampa Tribune
Published: February 25, 2015

Although two former influential legislators acknowledged in comments at the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa last week that many members of the Florida Legislature still must follow along like “sheep,” there are early signs that may be changing.

Observations by former Florida congressman and state representative Jim Davis and former state representative and senator Mike Fasano will be passé to old political hands, but how things really work in Tallahassee may evoke shock and awe in ordinary folk.

“There are some problems up in Tallahassee … and it’s time some changes were being made,” commented Fasano, who is Pasco County tax collector.

Using the Medicaid expansion debate as an example, Davis declared: “The leadership in the Legislature will not let these state representatives vote their conscience. They can’t even ask permission. Forget about asking forgiveness. This is an incredibly autocratic process. Ironically, in one of the most democratic countries in the world, our legislative bodies tend to be the least democratic.”

Historically, major decisions about the state budget and what bills will pass and fail are made well in advance of the opening of the session by a few legislative leaders.

“In the Senate, it is a little different because you are a little more independent,” said Fasano, who served in the Legislature for 20 years. “But in the House, it’s a problem. It’s sheep in the House. It’s sheep. There is an understanding that, ‘You will follow me as speaker and do what I tell you to do if you want that appropriations for your hometown or a decent office space; you will do what I am doing as well.’ ”

There are some rays of hope, Fasano added: “There are new Republican freshmen members who don’t want to go in the direction we’ve seen in the past few years. They are not just going to play follow the leader because they want to get parking spots, they want to get office spots or get their bills passed. It’s good to see young representatives taking the position that ‘We’re not going to go down that road anymore.’ ”

About the need for individuality and personal commitment, Davis was adamant: “When you get somebody with a backbone, somebody running, when you find someone who will stand up and say what they believe, in this wretched political climate authenticity still matters, you want to embrace them and get them up there.”

“Why do some of the Republican House members even bother to go to Tallahassee?” Fasano asked. “I have seen firsthand less and less and less influence that a legislator has in the Florida House. It is really sad. In some cases, all they do is go up there and press the green button if that’s what leadership wants, or the red button if that’s what leadership wants. What they do is they go around and say, ‘Representative So-and-So, what do you want in the budget? OK, so sit there and keep your mouth shut, and vote the way we want you to.’ ”

Some other observations and opinions the two offered under rigorous questioning by Tiger Bay Club members:

♦  Candidates themselves are having less and less influence in their own campaigns. Fasano observed: “The Republican Party will pick them and tell them, ‘Go sit over there. We will run your campaign.’ ”

♦  Davis on that subject: “The Koch brothers rented space at the corner of Platt and South Boulevard, and David Jolly … could have gone to the beach or the mountains for two weeks because they were running it, his campaign, like a driverless car. … Here’s the problem: Pick your favorite villain. George Soros or the Koch brothers, and they say, ‘I don’t like that person. I’m gettin’ rid of them.’ At least they’re being honest in public about it, and $10 million can do a lot of damage on a candidate.”

♦  Davis again: “Let’s talk about the money for a minute. It is dreadful. If you are a Democrat running for office right now and you start asking people for money who can be punished in Tallahassee, they get phone calls from Republican leadership saying if you give money to these people, we are going to punish you. If that is not illegal, it should be. Very difficult to prove, by the way. That is what is happening. It is intolerable. It is unforgivable. If the Democrats did it too, shame on them, too.”

Andrew Bowen, a former Tampa Tribune reporter, is founder of Clearview Communications & Public Relations Inc., based in Tampa.

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Older Articles

At Tampa Tiger Bay, Mike Fasano says GOP leadership’s rein too tight on state House (February 20, 2015)

Morgan: Pot Initiative Will Pass (February 21, 2014)

Tampa residents, business owners question officials in aftermath of RNC (September 7, 2012)

 

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Contact: Gail Solivan, Executive Director, (813) 507-9236 Gail@TigerBayClub.com