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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Former Gov. Bush backs Gunter in House District 36 race

Former Gov. Jeb Bush today endorsed state House candidate Bill Gunter in the race to replace former state Rep. Mike Fasano, who resigned in August to become Pasco’s tax collector.

“Bill has dedicated his life to helping others, and I believe he will be a tremendous servant for the people of Pasco County,” Bush said in a statement from Gunter’s campaign.

Gunter, the pastor of Redeemer Community Church in New Port Richey, has received endorsements from top Republican leaders in recent weeks, including House Speaker Will Weatherford and Pasco schools Superintendent Kurt S. Browning.

“Bill understands how important education is to strengthening our communities, and he will work tirelessly to ensure our children receive a world-class education that will prepare them for success in today’s global economy,” Bush said.

Gunter is running against Democrat Amanda Murphy in the Oct. 15 election for House District 36 in West Pasco.

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Pinellas GOP calls for committeeman's resignation

The Pinellas Republican leaders are calling for the resignation State Committeeman Dan Tucker over his insensitive remarks about a Pinellas County Commissioner's battle with cancer.

In a statement released late on Monday afternoon, Pinellas GOP chairman Michael Guju said the party has been trying to handle the matter internally through conversations with Tucker.

"Unfortunately, he has refused to do what is in the best interests of the party and resign," Guju said in the statement. "Thus, the Executive Board of the Pinellas Republican Party publicly condemns the insensitive comments and unanimously calls for Mr. Tucker to resign as state committeeman."

As a committeeman, Tucker is elected by Republican voters in Pinellas, and the local GOP cannot force him out. On Friday, State Sen. Jack Latvala said that if Tucker refused to step down, he would ask Lenny Curry, chairman of Florida Republican Party, to remove him.

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U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson to host Tampa fundraiser for Alan Cohn

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, is hosting a fundraiser Oct. 7 for Alan Cohn, a former investigative reporter at WFTS-Ch. 28 who is running against U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, in Florida's 15th Congressional district.

The fundraiser is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Mangrove’s Soho restaurant and lounge, 208 S Howard Ave., Tampa.

Cohn is a Democrat who lives in New Tampa. The 15th district includes Lutz, New Tampa, Temple Terrace, Brandon, Plant City to east of Lakeland in Polk County.

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott endorses St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster

Gov. Rick Scott walks with Mayor Bill Foster and state Sen. Jeff Brandes before a CareFest 2013 event at Lake Vista Park.

Mark Puente, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Rick Scott walks with Mayor Bill Foster and state Sen. Jeff Brandes before a CareFest 2013 event at Lake Vista Park.

Mayor Bill Foster landed a reelection endorsement from Gov. Rick Scott.

Minutes after Scott arrived Saturday afternoon at Lake Vista Park for a CareFest 2013 event, he huddled with Foster and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to discuss rising rates for flood insurance.

Before walking on a stage to thank CareFest volunteers, Scott said he supported Foster's campaign for a second term.

"Absolutely. Mayor Foster has done a great job," Scott said. "You look at what's happened with unemployment. It's come down. Look at all the development that's happening in St. Pete. He's done a great job."

Pressed further to say if he will campaign with Foster in the coming weeks, Scott said: "The mayor's done a great job. I'm here all the time."

Another Republican heavyweight also attended the event.

Former Mayor Rick Baker, who worked tirelessly to elect Foster in 2009, spoke briefly with Foster before Scott arrived. Baker and Foster made small talk and shook hands. Baker has remained silent in this year's race.

Foster and his challenger, Rick Kriseman, have both asked Baker for an endorsement.

Still, the nonpartisan race to lead Florida's fourth-largest city is partisan. …

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Tarpon Springs homeowners fear impending flood insurance rate hikes

On Riverside Drive near Kreamer Bayou, many of the residents have lived in their modest homes for decades. They have gotten by with jobs as handymen, construction workers and substitute teachers. Several are retired, living check to check off small pensions or Social Security.

All of them are worried about new flood insurance premiums scheduled to kick in Tuesday.

"Nobody is going to be able to afford it," said Paul Nicholas, 80, who pays about $5,000 a year for flood insurance on his small white house with green trim, which he said is at or below base flood elevation. "It's going to be like the recession all over again."

Read more here.

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Dunedin approves property tax rate increase

As expected, Dunedin city commissioners on Thursday night approved the 2014 city budget and a property tax rate increase by a 3-1 vote. Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski voted no and Mayor Dave Eggers was absent due to a death in his family.

The $72.5 million budget includes a 10 percent increase in the city property tax rate, from 3.3817 mills to 3.7345. A resident who paid $338 this year will pay $373 next year.

Patricia Emrick of Patricia Avenue was the only resident who spoke during Thursday's public hearing. She said the city's ability to set aside excess risk safety fund reserves for "non-essential" expenditures like an expansion at the Dunedin Fine Art Center made her question the need for the tax rate jump.

Commissioners Ron Barnette, Julie Scales and Heather Gracy said the increase was necessary to maintain the city's level of public services.

Bujalski and Eggers have said they wanted to hold off at least a year to give the economy time to improve and the city's new finance director time to study alternatives.

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Hildebrand, other Republicans line up behind Deomcrat Murphy

Democrat Amanda Murphy has picked up three more endorsements – all from Republicans, including Ann Hildebrand.

Murphy’s campaign said it received endorsements from former Pasco commissioners Hildebrand and Sandra Werner as well as Ray Gadd, assistant schools superintendent.

Murphy is running to replace Rep. Mike Fasano who resigned when appointed Pasco’s tax collector.

“Pasco Schools can’t afford to have anyone but Amanda Murphy representing (and) speaking up for them. It's time to invest in our children and their future, and that's exactly what Amanda plans on doing,” Gadd said.

The support followed an endorsement this week from another prominent Republican, millionaire philanthropist Frank Morsani.

The Hildebrand endorsement also stands out in that it came after Hildebrand contemplated running for Fasano’s seat herself, but bowed out because of residency issues. The former commission chairwoman lives in Auburn, Ala., most of the year.

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No debate in race to replace Fasano

Amanda Murphy and Bill Gunter met at a candidates’ forum this morning but don’t expect an all-out debate between the Democrat and Republican rivals in the House District 36 race to replace former Rep. Mike Fasano.

Blame the campaign’s tight schedule – the election is two weeks away – and a communication problem at the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the last debate between Republicans Gunter, Jeromy Harding and Jim Mathieu on Sept. 4.

Chamber President Henry "Chip" Wichmanowski said the chamber’s government affairs committee agreed to set the debate for Oct. 3 but didn’t tell the candidates until a week ago.

Murphy confirmed she'd be there, but her Republican opponent said he was busy.

Gunter spokesman Brian Hughes said he couldn’t recall Gunter’s schedule on Oct. 3, but noted  “the bottom line is it’s going to come down to really pushing turnout, and at the end of the day Bill is really enjoying walking the neighborhoods and doing the door-to-door stuff, meeting with people and businesses.”

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Foster gets help from Republican Party of Florida


The Republican Party is now helping St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.


The party’s regional field director in the area is helping Foster’s team canvass neighborhoods on weekends, Chris Martin joined up with Foster’s team last week, the mayor said.

Foster has repeatedly blasted challenger Rick Kriseman for accepting more than $30,000 in help from the state Democratic Party in the nonpartisan race. The party pays the salary for Kriseman’s campaign manager.

Cesar Fernandez, Kriseman’s campaign manager, called Foster a hypocrite for accepting the GOP help.

“Bill Foster once criticized Rep. Kriseman for making this race partisan,” Fernandez said. “The same Bill Foster now has a high profile political operative from the Republican Party of Florida working on his campaign. This is the Foster formula of saying one thing and doing another.”

Foster scoffed at the accusation.

“Mr. Kriseman has been supported by the Democratic Party from day one,” Foster said. “Some offer of assistance from the Republican Party was inevitable. My desire was to keep this nonpartisan.”



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Dunedin city manager receives outstanding public official award

The Florida Association of Museums has named Dunedin City Manager Rob DiSpirito its 2013 Outstanding Public Official.

The honor is awarded annually to a public official whose work is a model of government support of the museum field.

DiSpirito was nominated by the Dunedin Historical Museum, which lauded his commitment to Dunedin’s culture and history as demonstrated by his:

•Ongoing donations of historical items from his personal collection for museum displays

•Quest to preserve waterfront land now known as Weaver Park, the former Fenway Hotel and other buildings that have been placed on the national register

•Support of the city’s citizen-led Arts & Culture Committee

•Push for city funding of “quality of life” expansion projects at the museum and Dunedin Fine Art Center

DiSpirito was recognized Thursday night by the City Commission while his wife, son and daughter looked on. He said the award truly belongs to the commissioners, city staffers and residents who supported the measures.

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Philanthropist Morsani crosses party line, gives support to Murphy

Along with the usual menu of endorsements, House candidate Amanda Murphy now counts millionaire philanthropist Frank Morsani as a supporter.

Murphy, a Democrat, picked up Morsani’s backing after endorsements from the Florida Fraternal Order of Police and Pasco County Professional Firefighters, groups usually counted as reliable Democratic supporters.

The Morsani endorsement stands out because he’s a Republican. Murphy’s a Democrat aiming to replace Mike Fasano in the House District 36 race in west Pasco.

Murphy said she’s known Morsani for more than 10 years from her job as an investment advisor at Raymond James. She said she spoke with him when considering a run for office.

“I respect his opinion. He’s a brilliant man,” she said. “We’ve talked about lots of different issues going on in the state.”

Morsani, 82, is a former president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He built an empire of auto dealerships and over the years has donated millions to the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. He’s lived in the Tampa Bay area since 1970. …

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Tampa's new landlord training program moves the needle on PolitiFact Florida's Buck-O-Meter

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other city officials met Tuesday with about 150 landlords to talk about city codes and ways to keep rental properties in good repair. The new program, which has another landlord training session scheduled for Oct. 28, moves the needle from "In the works" to "Kept" on one of the 34 campaign promises being tracked by PolitiFact Florida's Buck-O-Meter. (Click here for the Buck-O-Meter's rating on this promise.) With this latest update, Buckhorn's ratings on the Buck-O-Meter stand at 19 promises kept, eight that resulted in a compromise, three promises broken, two stalled and two still in the works.

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First Kriseman television commercial airs Thursday in St. Petersburg mayor's race

With the St. Petersburg mayor’s race in full swing, campaign commercials are coming to your television.

Ads for challenger Rick Kriseman will hit your televisions on Thursday, the first after the primary election. In the 30-second spot, Kriseman talks about the Pier, the Tampa Bay Rays, jobs and neighborhoods. The ad is titled "Potential."

"This is not about me," Kriseman says in the ad. "It's all about the people of St. Pete."

Kriseman, a former City Council member and state lawmaker, is battling Mayor Bill Foster in the Nov. 5 election. It is unclear when Foster will run his ads on televsion. He could not be reached.


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Gunter denies trying to hide past drug use in application for chaplain at Pasco Sheriff's Office

House candidate Bill Gunter says he’s never hidden from his past, but four years ago he failed to disclose past drug use when he sought a chaplain’s position at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.

The Presbyterian minister and Republican candidate for House District 36 in Pasco County has talked openly about using marijuana, cocaine and other controlled substances in statements to reporters and others, chalking it up to youthful mistakes.

But he was less than candid in March 2009 when filling out a volunteer application for the chaplain’s corps to counsel deputies.

Asked whether he had used or tried any narcotic or controlled substance, Gunter wrote he had smoked marijuana. Asked to describe the circumstance, he wrote “high school party.”

On a question about his criminal background, on whether he had ever been “detained by any law enforcement officer for any investigative purposes,” he checked the “no” box.  

Gunter, 43, has made no secret that he used drugs in high school and as a student at the University of Florida, including cocaine.

“You name it, I did it,” he once told a Times reporter. …

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Tarpon Springs to consider Doggie Dining

Tarpon Springs may be the next Pinellas city to adopt doggie dining.

Under a proposed ordinance, restaurants could designate an outdoor dining area for patrons to dine with their four-legged friends. Restaurant owners would have to get a city permit and abide by rules such as banning pets from furniture and requiring that dogs stay leashed.

"At the end of the day, my focus is helping the restaurants in town get people inside their doors," said Commissioner David Banther, who proposed the ordinance.

Read more here.

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