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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hillsborough's biggest labor group doesn't endorse any Democrat in clerk, commission primaries

TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s biggest organized labor group, the West Central Florida Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, is staying neutral in the county’s two hottest Democratic primary races, for Clerk of the Circuit Court and the District 6 county commission seat.

Incumbent Clerk Pat Frank faces county Commissioner Kevin Beckner in the clerk’s race. The commission primary features four prominent Democrats — former Plant City Mayor John Dicks, party leader Pat Kemp, former commissioner and Tampa city council member Tom Scott and lawyer and transportation advocate Brian Willis — for the nomination to fill Beckner’s countywide seat.

The decision is a blow to Frank, who might have been expected to get the endorsement because she’s an incumbent who received it previously.

“I have to admit that is a disappointment,” she said. “I’ve had the support of labor in almost every election I’ve ever run in. I think there are a lot of new people on the screening committee who didn’t know my history. I can’t fault them.”

But Frank added that she has already received support from some unions included in the umbrella labor group including the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union. Lack of an AFL-CIO endorsement means those unions may now make their own endorsements.

Beckner campaign manager Nick Janovsky called the decision “a big loss for Pat Frank, and a direct result of Kevin’s tireless efforts in the county, signaling the solid quality work he will do in the clerk’s office.”

Both races have local Democrats tied up in knots, with popular, well-known candidates competing against each other. The endorsement could have been influential.

Democrats are upset that Frank, a local Democratic icon, and Beckner, considered a rising star, are running against each other. Consumer lawyer Eric Seidel is the only Republican filed.

Democrats view the county commission race as a ripe opportunity: it’s a presidential year promising good Democratic turnout, and the leading GOP contender is former commissioner and legislator Jim Norman, who left office facing an ethics charge. The seat is one of only two Democrats hold on the seven-member board, along with Les Miller.

The labor council represents more than 40 unions spread over 12 counties, claiming 56,000 active, retired and family members in Hillsborough. Among its largest unions are those representing county teachers, school employees, city and county employees, plus the Teamsters and SEIU.

The screening process included candidate questionnaires and interviews in each county open to union members over the last two months, with a vote by an executive board this week.

David Bernstein of the America Postal Workers Union local said in both races, the screening committee members were unable to decide among multiple candidates, all considered friends of organized labor.

“We decided to let the primary sort it out," he said. "We’ll throw our support behind whoever comes out of the primary.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2016 8:55pm]


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