Make us your home page

Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Schrader plans re-election; 2016 to be a rematch

NEW PORT RICHEY – That didn’t take long.

Pasco Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said he plans to seek re-election to a fifth term to the District 1 Commission seat based in east Pasco. Schrader announced his intentions in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday afternoon, a day after one of his 2012 opponents, Rachel O’Connor, filed her campaign papers for the same seat. Both are Republicans.

In 2012, Schrader said, that if re-elected, it would be his last term on the commission. His plans to run for property appraiser, however, took a turn in January when incumbent Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr. filed to run for a sixth term in office.

“That was the intention, but circumstances have changed,’’ Schrader said. “I’ve had business leaders and community leaders and citizens across the county encourage me to run and in all likelihood I intend to file for re-election. I do intend to seek re-election for another term.’’ …

Full Story

O'Connor again seeks Pasco Commission seat

Republican Rachel O’Connor, who ran less than 3,000 votes behind three-term incumbent County Commissioner Ted Schrader in 2012, is again running for the District 1 commission seat based in east Pasco.

O’Connor, 30, filed her candidacy papers Tuesday. Three years ago, O’Connor campaigned as a critic of government spending, economic development incentives and transportation fees that were higher for growth in rural areas. She also opposed the Penny for Pasco sales tax renewal.

She finished third in the three-way, winner-take-all open primary, collecting 31.2 percent of the vote despite being heavily outspent by Schrader (37.5 percent) and citrus magnate Ron Oakley (31.3 percent). O’Connor received just 36 votes fewer than Oakley even though he outspent her by a more than 10-1 ratio. Oakley spent $242,000 during the campaign compared to $21,300 for O’Connor.

Schrader, first elected to the commission in 2000 and its current chairman, has not said if he will seek re-election to a fifth term. 

Full Story

Two seek county judge spot in Pasco

NEW PORT RICHEY – Though incumbent judges routinely are re-elected to the bench without opposition, that has never been the case for Pasco County Judge Debra Roberts who is facing political opposition for her third consecutive election.

Roberts, who filed for re-election this week, already has drawn a challenger, Michael P. Wilson, a former private-practice attorney who now is a Pasco Sheriff’s deputy serving a detective in the professional standards office.

Roberts, the first Afrian-American to serve on the Pasco bench, was appointed to her seat by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001. She won election in 2004 and again in 2010, taking 67 percent of the vote. Her campaign treasurer is west Pasco Realtor Greg Armstrong.

Wilson, who filed candidacy papers in June, already has raised more than $7,000, most of it tied to two construction companies. Wilson received $3,000 in bundled contributions from the business and family of  Emmanuel Kavouklis of New Port Richey and the same amount from the business and family of Richard A. Krueger of Safety Harbor. Both are general contractors.

The non-partisan race for the Group 4 seat will be on the Aug. 30, 2016, ballot.

Full Story

VIDEO: Jeff Speck on road diets

If you don't know of Jeff Speck, hopefully you will.

Earlier this year, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinick added Speck to his team that's designing and building his $1 billion redevelopment of downtown Tampa's waterfront.

Speck is a city planner, author, TED talker and one of the leading proponents of "new urbanism". 

In a better world, Speck's ideas would be those of the Department of Transportation, and our streets wouldn't be solely the space reserved for cars. But his ideas are catching on and the below video explains why.

Take a look for yourself: 


Jeff Speck: Four Road Diets from Cupola Media on Vimeo.

Full Story

St. Petersburg pushes for Cuban consulate

Mayor Rick Kriseman said Cuban officials were receptive to his idea of placing a consulate for that island nation in his city.

“Having a Cuban consulate would be a very good thing for us,” Kriseman said at a City Hall news conference three days after his return from a weather-shortened 48-hour trip to Havana.

A “couple of other” Florida cities have been “outright rejected,” said City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes.
“One of them should be very obvious, it’s on the southeast coast of Florida,” Gerdes said.

Gerdes declined to name the cities that a high-ranking Cuban official said were off the list for consulates. He said he didn't want to betray that diplomat's confidence.

Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, Gerdes and the mayor’s chief of staff Kevin King flew from Tampa to Havana on a chartered plane Thursday morning, provided by the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy, a Tampa-based non profit. 

The trip was orginally slated to end Sunday, but the group returned Saturday morning to avoid Tropical Storm Erika. 

The shortened trip meant scheduled economic development talks never happened, but Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said cultural exchanges are under discussion. …

Full Story

Republican Tim Schock files to run for Hillsborough County commissioner

Apparently, Bay Buzz spoke too soon.

A couple hours ago Bay Buzz reported that Jim Norman's only opposition in a Hillsborough County commissioner District 6 Republican primary was political novice Thomas Avino.

But soon after Norman officially filed to run, Tim Schock, an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Hillsborough County commissioner in 2014, formally submitted the paper work to try again in 2016. 

Schock, 42, is president of a local consulting company, Lightning Capital Consulting. In his 2014 race against Commissioner Al Higginbotham, he was vocally opposed to any new taxes for transportation, especially light rail, which again will be a big issue in the 2016 race.  

Schock won 15 percent of the vote, a distant second behind Higginbotham, who amassed a large war chest in the countywide race.

In 2014, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Schock to sit on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

Full Story

Former St. Petersburg business executive files to challenge Pinellas Commissioner Charlie Justice

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice has drawn his first challenger for 2016.

Mike Mikurak, a 61-year-old St. Petersburg Republican, filed papers Tuesday to run for the countywide District 3 seat Justice, a Democrat, has held since 2012. A married father of three grown children, Mikurak most recently worked as a partner at Accenture, Plc., providing consulting services in business strategy and supply chain management for Fortune 100 companies. He retired in 2003.

He has a bachelor’s degree in business operations from Rider University and currently serves on the board of directors for BayCare Health System, the Juvenile Welfare Board and CareerSource Pinellas.

Mikurak said his first bid for political office is about timing and bringing a businessman’s experience to the commission, not a criticism of Justice.

“I’ve spend my time working with other boards and community organizations and it was time for me to step up into a bigger role,” he said.

Mikurak said he wants to create jobs and foster economic development; improve communication between the county, the cities and the private sector; and focus on quality of life issues, especially access to health care. …

Full Story

Jim Norman officially files to run for Hillsborough County commissioner

It has long been rumored that former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman would once again make a play for office.

Today, those rumors became reality. Norman officially filed to run for the District 6 countywide seat as a Republican.

Norman, 61, was first elected to the county board in 1992 and went on to serve for 18 years. In 2010, he ran for state Senate and won, but two years later while running for re-election he pulled his name off the ballot amid a scandal involving an Arkansas property purchased by a friend and local developer. Norman didn't include it on his campaign disclosure forms; he contended the property was his wife's investment and he didn't know about it.

There's much more to Norman's history as a notable cog in nearly two decades of Hillsborough politics and government. Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton and researcher John Martin rehashed it in painstaking detail for today's paper. The whole thing is worth a read, especially the timeline at the bottom.

Controversies aside, there's something the story points out worth noting as Norman prepares for a comeback: He has never lost an election. …

Full Story

Tampa's Perfect Storm: A 36-foot storm surge

It's not probable, but, nevertheless, the latter-21st century scenario outlined in a new study by is terrifying. 

A tropical cyclone sweeps up Florida's westcoast, heading toward Tampa Bay. As it approaches, it churns waves off the Florida shelf, producing a surge of 36 feet as it turns sharply toward Tampa Bay.

By comparison, the observable storm surge of the 1921 hurricane that caused more than $10 million in damage (1921 dollars) was a mere 12.5 feet.  

The authors of the study, "Grey swan tropical cyclones", say the return probability for a storm with a surge of 12 feet in Tampa could be as little as 60 years, making Tampa Bay more than due to get swamped. (Ning Lin and Kerry Emanuel define grey swan as "tropical cyclones as high-impact storms that would not be predicted based on history but may be foreseeable using physical knowledge together with historical data.)

But 36 feet? Not likely. So, don't panic, just yet.






Full Story

Has downtown St. Pete soaked up enough TIF money?

Downtown St. Petersburg is the posterchild of urban renaissance in the Tampa Bay region. A burgeoning arts scene, restaurant and bar opening up almost weekly, high-rise condos now being joined by a flurry of upscale apartments.  And St. Petersburg One, 41-story downtown hotel and condo project on the horizon, hightlighting a bevy of new construction.

On Thursday, the City Council---meeting as the community redevelopment agency---is expected to approve another $20 million for downtown on the approach to the Pier. A newly-minted downtown waterfront master plan calls for tens of millions of more improvements. The money is coming from a tax-increment financing district created in 1982, when green benches and genial torpor were the calling cards for the Sunshine City. 

Maybe it's time to start thinking about how much money might be too much, especially as other areas in the city, notably south St. Petersburg, continue to struggle with poverty, crime and joblessness, says Karl Nurse, the council member representing downtown.  …

Full Story

In Florida, little Twitter love for tourists

Florida spends millions every year promoting the state as a tourist destination. That + sunshine has worked. When international tourists visit the U.S., the top three destinations are New York, Florida and California.

But such success doesn't necessarily impress Florida's residents, or at least those who express themselves on Twitter.

According to Stratos Jet Charters, Inc., Florida is one of the least welcoming states for tourists, according to the sentiments expressed on tourist-related tweets. The jet charter company geotagged tweets from June 1, 2014 to July 20, 2015 that contained #tourist, #tourists, tourist or tourists.

Florida was the eight least welcoming city, with a sentiment rating of -0.088. The least welcoming? Delaware, at -0.261, followed by Wyoming, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Georgia, Maryland and Oklahoma. The most welcoming? Illinois, with a sentiment rating of 0.438, followed by Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Nebraska, Alaska, Idaho, Arizona, Tennessee and Washington.

Florida ranked eighth in the highest rates of tweets telling tourists to leave.  

Full Story

Kriseman returns early from Cuba because of storm

Mayor Rick Kriseman's trip to Cuba ended early.

The mayor is heading back to St. Petersburg with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, City Council chairman Charlie Gerdes and Chief of Staff Kevin King this morning. They should be back in the city by lunchtime, said Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby.

Tropical Storm Erika is approaching Cuba and Kriseman has said that he would return early if severe weather threatened. Forecasts show the storm reaching Tampa Bay early Tuesday.

Kriseman's trip was to have ended Sunday. In Cuba, the group visited government officials, academics and cultural representatives.


Full Story

Interactive: Where does Tampa Bay rank in affordability?

It's been pretty clear for a pretty long time just how much of a joke the federal poverty line is.

In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau had it at $24,008 for a two-parent, two-child family. Like the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (which earns a full-time annual wage of $15,080), this doesn't come close to covering real world expenses, nor does it take into account the wild variations in cost of living expenses for different cities.

The Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank founded in 1986 to study the needs of low- and middle-income workers, this week provided a more accurate measure of what it truly costs to secure an "adequate but modest standard of living" in the United States, circa 2014. 

And it's fascinating.

EPI has estimated the income needed for housing, food, child care, transportation, health, other necessities (such as apparel, entertainment, personal care expenses, household supplies, school supplies, telephone services) and taxes for 10 family types (two parents, two kids; one parent, one kid; 1 adult, no kids, etc) for 618 specific U.S. communities.  …

Full Story

St. Petersburg grills wastewater staff on recent sewage dumps

It wasn't an easy first public appearance for Tom Gibson, the city's interim public works administrator.

Gibson replaced Mike Connors, who abruptly retired on Monday, after months of controversy, the most recent episode being the city's dumping of more than 16 million gallons into Tampa and Boca Ciega bays this month.

On Thursday, Gibson faced council members that demanded answers and solutions. Gibson and Water Resources Director Steve Leavitt held to their position that the dumping was due to an extraordinary weather event from mid-July to early August.

But several council members weren't buying that explanation. They wanted to know how much it would cost to fix leaky sewer pipes and manhole covers. 

The answer? At least $350 million dollars. 

Council member Karl Nurse said the city needs to raise its wastewater rates from a proposed 3.75 percent to 4.50 percent---that would raise about $350,000. 

He acknowledged that was a drop in the bucket. Even if the city doubled its efforts---already budgeted at about $4 million for next year---it would take 50 years to fix all the pipes, he said. …

Full Story

Tampa Bay Young Republicans elect all-female executive board

The 150-member Tampa Bay Young Republicans this week elected its first all-female executive board. Its members are:

• President Janine Kiray, who was re-elected to a second term. She is a Florida native, University of South Florida graduate and legislative assistant to state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. 

• Vice president Holly Holobyn, an Indiana native, Indiana University graduate and a casualty adjuster for USAA in Tampa. She previously was the group’s secretary.

• Treasurer Dana Gordon, a Florida native from Ocala and graduate of Vanderbilt University with a doctorate in clinical psychology who specializes in medical drug research and bio-medical device technology. 

• Secretary Sammy Jo Baker, a New Jersey native who received a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University-Maryland and a law degree from Ave Maria School of Law in Naples. She currently works as a Florida assistant attorney general in the agency’s child support enforcement unit.

Full Story