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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Union support could be potent force for County Commission candidate

Pinellas County Commission candidate Macho Liberti's connection to the firefighting community is already paying off.

Liberti, a 35-year-old firefighter and emergency medical technician for the city of Largo who is running for the commission's District 4 seat, has landed endorsements from the Florida Professional Firefighters, a statewide firefighter union. Liberti also has the backing of firefighter associations in Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor/Oldsmar, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Indian Rocks, Largo, Pinellas Park, Seminole, St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach.

Florida Professional Firefighters has donated $500 to Liberti's campaign. So has Firefighters and Paramedics for Public Safety, a Venice-based political action committee.

The support of the local associations could also translate to a potent boots-on-the-ground campaign force in the north county district.

Liberti, of Palm Harbor, is one of seven Republicans in the race for the seat being vacated by Susan Latvala, who decided not to run again. The others are Dave Eggers, Johnny Johnson, Tim Keffalas, Wanda Kimsey, Peter Nehr and Jim Ronecker.

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Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County announce candidate endorsements

The Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County have released their list of endorsements for more than a dozen local races.

The advocates for equal rights with a particular focus on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. The group's political action committee met with Democrats and decided to endorse the the candidates listed below based on their "solid support for equality and LGBT-related issues," according to a letter from the group to its members and allies.

Not surprisingly, the endorsement list is essentitally a tally of the Democrats running in the partisan races.

Here they are:

State Senate

Judithanne McLauchlan, District 22

State House

Carl Zimmermann, District 65 (Democratic incumbent)

Lorena Grizzle, District 66

Dwight Dudley, District 68

Scott Orsini, District 69

Darryl Rouson, District 70

County Commission

Pat Gerard, District 2

Mark Weinkrantz, District 4

City races

Deborah Kynes, Dunedin City Commission

Michael Smith, Largo City Commissioner, Seat 1

Samantha Fenger, Largo City Commissioner, Seat 3

School board (non partisan)

Kent Curtis, District 3

Linda Lerner, District 6

Rene Flowers, District 7 …

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Transportation to be focus of Emerge Tampa Bay town hall on Wednesday

Emerge Tampa Bay will host its third "Unfiltered" town hall discussion from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday to help local young professionals sort through bay area transportation issues ranging from mass transit to interstate construction to proposed high-speed ferry service.

The Q-and-A session will take place at the University of Tampa’s Vaughn Center and will feature Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and HART interim CEO Katharine Eagan. Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam C. Smith will moderate.

The idea is "to foster a meaningful conversation that really hits on the complexities of our transportation issues,” Emerge Tampa Bay chairman Brian Seel said in a statement. “Young professionals need answers to their tough questions so that they can channel their voices into action.”

Registration is $25 for Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Emerge Tampa Bay members, $30 for non-members and $35 at the door. Registration includes appetizers and drinks. Register at

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Aakash Patel appointed chairman of Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed Aakash M. Patel of Tampa as chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County.

Patel, 30, is president of Elevate Inc., which has clients in with community and public relations, social media, target networking and government affairs. Patel succeeds Filiberto Valero and was appointed to a term ending April 30, 2017.

“I'm thankful to Gov. Scott for this opportunity to serve children of our great state,” Patel said in a statement.

The coalition specializes in funding and delivery of early childhood care and education and after-school programs to Hillsborough children and families. It is the third largest early learning coalition in Florida as measured by the number of children served, its service area and funding levels. It is governed by a 24-member board and has an operating budget of $72 million.

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Dunedin regrouping after Taoist group buys Fenway Hotel

DUNEDIN| For years, city commissioners and a large contingent of residents had planned and paved the way for a white knight-turned-developer to swoop in and restore the long-vacant Fenway Hotel to its former glory.

Hope shined eternal in November when a Pennsylvania real estate team announced it was negotiating with PNC Bank to buy the 6.4-acre property out of foreclosure and revamp it into a boutique hotel with conference space and condos.

Those dreams were dashed this month when the Tallahassee-based Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America announced it had bought it for $2.8 million, with plans to renovate it into the nonprofit's new headquarters.

Now, city leaders and residents are regrouping, with some warmly welcoming the new vision, some begrudgingly lending their support and others vowing to take their opposition to City Hall.

Details here.


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Hillsborough transportation plan unveiling delayed to August

TAMPA -- Next Thursday was supposed to be the culmination of more than a year of meetings by local elected leaders trying to come up with a plan for improving transportation in Hillsborough County.

Now, that culmination has been bumped to August.

The Hillsborough transportation leadership policy group has postponed its meeting next Thursday until August, the group announced Friday, due to scheduling problems. The policy group was supposed to talk about finalizing a list of transportation projects next Thursday -- a list that could include rail, expanded bus routes, and roadway improvements -- to then take the public for comment and criticism. 

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said Friday the meeting had to be re-scheduled because Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez, also chairman of the board that oversees Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, is unable to make it because it coincides with a city council meeting. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn can't make a July meeting because he'll be on vacation. 

The August meeting has not been scheduled yet, Merrill said, but will be soon. 

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Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce backs Greenlight Pinellas transit plan

CORRECTION/UPDATEOldsmar Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer Jerry Custin said Monday his organization has yet to take a position.

"We're basically holding at this time, still trying to gather information," Custin said.

Friends of Greenlight spokesman Kyle Parks said his group provided the list of chambers for the Safety Harbor news release and erroneously included the Oldsmar Upper Tampa Bay group.

Parks said the list should have included the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which also has endorsed the plan.

SAFETY HARBOR -- The Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum has landed the backing of another local chamber of commerce.

This time it's the organization in Safety Harbor, which on Friday announced its support for the plan that would increase the county sales tax by one cent to expand bus service and build a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Voters will decide on Nov. 4. …

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Paul Erni files to run against Tampa City Council's Yolie Capin

Yvonne Yolie Capin this week became the third incumbent Tampa City Council member to draw an opponent. Paul Erni, a salesman and longtime city code enforcement hearing master, filed papers Thursday to run for the citywide seat Capin now holds. This comes after La Gaceta floated a rumor that Mayor Bob Buckhorn was encouraging people to run against Capin. True? "No," the mayor said. "Not particularly."

Full story here.

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Fifteen candidates qualify for three Pinellas County Commission seats

ST. PETERSBURG -- Fifteen candidates qualified for three Pinellas County Commission races.

Dying to know who's running? Click here.

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Libertarian candidate drops bid to unseat Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni

Unless another candidate jumps in by noon on Friday, incumbent County Commissioner John Morroni's effort to win a fourth term will be a battle between two Republicans.

Libertarian party candidate Jack Harris, who announced his candidacy back in November 2012, has dropped out of the race for the District 6 seat Morroni has held since 2000. Harris notified Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark via letter on Wednesday. He did not cite a reason for withdrawing. The phone number listed for Harris in campaign records has been disconnected and he did not immediately return an email from Bay Buzz.

That leaves Morroni and Tom Rask, owner of a Seminole-based web publishing company, as the only two candidates who have qualified. No other candidate has announced plans to run for the seat that represents a swath of the county running from Pinellas Park and northeast St. Petersburg through Seminole and down the south beaches. The commissioner is elected by district voters.  …

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Dunedin to get 3 new commissioners this fall, vote for mayor

DUNEDIN| Three new faces will join the City Commission this November, while voters will go to the polls to decide which of two candidates will become mayor.

When qualifying ended at noon Monday, former commissioner Deborah Kynes and seasoned city volunteers Bruce Livingston and John Tornga were automatically elected when no one filed to run against them.

Julie Scales and Julie Ward Bujalski, two longtime sitting commissioners who often disagree on policy issues, will compete in the Nov. 4 election for the top spot.

The City Commission shake-up was set in motion this winter when Mayor Dave Eggers resigned to run for Pinellas County Commission and Commissioner Ron Barnette announced his retirement. The new contenders will join Commissioner Heather Gracy, who was elected in 2012.

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Belleair commission adds mixed-use option for Biltmore site

BELLEAIR| Town commissioners on Tuesday night added to the city code a new zoning category that would let a developer build a mixed-use project on the Belleview Biltmore property.

They unanimously approved the controversial measure with little discussion while about 20 audience members looked on. Two people publicly spoke in favor of the proposal, while three residents said they opposed it.

The mixed-use option is aimed at smoothing the way for St. Petersburg developer Michael Cheezem, who intends to buy the site, to apply for the new zoning designation, demolish the former hotel, then build a small replica inn, condos and townhomes in its place.

The new category would require that any mixed-use project approved for the site contain architecture, building materials or artifacts that are either salvaged from or reminiscent of the historic hotel.

Only a hotel or single-family homes are currently allowed on the Biltmore property. Town officials noted that providing new zoning categories that developers can pursue does not prevent preservationists from attempting to negotiate a purchase with the hotel's private owners.

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Will fourth time be the charm for public input on St. Pete pier?

A fourth-time-could-be-the-charm attempt to mine public opinion on St. Pete's pier will kick off Thursday evening at Childs Park Recreation Center and continue at other venues across the city.

Those heeding the call will gather around tables to consider a list of possible amenities culled from past efforts to solicit public input. Residents can also add new ideas to the list.

Full story here.

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County Commission races shaping up as candidates qualify

It's the second official day of the candidate qualifying period and the three County Commission races are starting to take shape.

One of the biggest questions is whether there really will be a dozen candidates in the race for the open District 4 seat being vacated by the retiring Susan Latvala

By Tuesday afternoon, five of the 12 announced candidates had already qualified. 

Republicans: Dave Eggers and Tim Keffalas qualified by collecting 1,668 signatures; Johnny Johnson and Peter Nehr paid the $5,425.74 qualifying fee for major party candidates.

Democrat Mark Weinkrantz paid the fee.

There are two no-party candidates in the race. Neither had qualified by Tuesday afternoon.

In District 2, Republican incumbent Norm Roche paid the fee. So did Democrat Pat Gerard, the Largo mayor who now has to wait out the clock to find out if another Democrat will jump in before the qualifying period ends at noon Friday. Republican Ed Hooper, a state representative from Clearwater, had yet to qualify Tuesday afternoon. …

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Goliath Davis to St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman: Pick an outside police chief

ST. PETERSBURG | Chatter about who will become the next police chief has gotten intense lately, with residents and community leaders weighing in on the issue.

Former St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis recently offered his thoughts in a column for the Weekly Challenger.

Davis, a former police chief himself, said many were surprised when Assistant Chief Luke Williams, whom he called "the most qualified individual in the department," wasn't named as one of four finalists.

But Davis doesn't think that means Mayor Rick Kriseman should embrace the only hometown candidate left, Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan.

In fact, Davis wrote, Kriseman needs to hire from the outside to ensure the department can heal and move forward from current internal power struggles.

"The police chief in St. Petersburg occupies a very large stage and given the current state of affairs within the department, there is not a candidate in house capable of providing the stability and direction needed to 'right the ship' and move the department and ultimately the city forward. An internal candidate ensures instability and discord," he wrote. …

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