Make us your home page

Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas County Commission candidate Johnson takes loss -- and $40,000 hit to his bank account -- in stride

The day after a disappointing loss, Johnny Johnson headed north.

The retired Tarpon Springs pediatric dentist owns a 470-acre pine tree farm between Chiefland and Cedar Key, a place to relax and hunt deer and feral hog. Whether he won or lost Tuesday's District 4 Republican primary, the plan was to spend some time there this week to take a break after months of steady campaigning.

Johnson won about 22 percent of the vote, coming in a very close third behind former state Rep. Peter Nehr in the race for the north county seat that retiring Republican Commissioner Susan Latvala has held since 2014. Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers came out on top of the field of seven candidates, winning about 30 percent of the vote.

"It was a victory either way," Johnson told Bay Buzz on Friday when he managed to get cell phone reception on the farm. "Everybody worked hard and believed in me and we grew together. We were successful in how we ran our campaign, and we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. We just didn’t get enough votes to take it to the next level." …

Full Story

No Tax for Tracks to rally at Indian Rocks Beach sushi place

Both sides of the debate over the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum are gearing up for the last critical days of the campaign before the Nov. 4 vote.

On Thursday, a new group called Women Leaders for Greenlight Pinellas announced a Sept. 9 fundraiser at the Hyatt in Clearwater, and the opposition group No Tax for Tracks blasted out a flyer about its upcoming rally on Sept. 8.

That event is set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at IRB Sushi, 416 1st St. in Indian Rocks Beach. There is no admission fee but donations will be accepted, said organizer Betsi Burgess. Capacity at the restaurant is limited to about 80 people. Refreshments will be provided. 

The scheduled speakers are Seminole Vice-mayor Tom Barnhorn (who joined a majority of his council members who last month rejected an endorsement of the Greenlight plan) and Randal O’Toole, a public policy analyst for the Cato Institute who has written a white paper about the Greenlight plan.

If that’s enough of a lure, Nashville country music artist Darryl MacQuarrie will be singing his "signature ballad of 'No Tax for Trax,' " the flyer says.

For more information, call Burgess, (727) 374-7883.

Full Story

Prominent women raising cash for Greenlight Pinellas campaign with Sept.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Some of the Bay area’s most prominent women are working to raise cash for the group backing the Greenlight Pinellas transit plan. 

Women Leaders for Greenlight Pinellas, which bills itself as “a grassroots group formed to support the county’s upcoming transportation referendum,” is holding a fundraising reception next week for the Yes on Greenlight campaign, which is funded by the Friends of Greenlight political committee.

The event slated for Sept. 9 at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa is “designed to galvanize Greenlight support from women in Pinellas” and will focus on “the need for better transportation options,” according to a news release sent Thursday.  Pinellas County Commissioners Susan Latvala, Janet Long and Karen Seel will speak about the Greenlight plan and “how it will improve the quality of life and foster economic development in the county,” the release says. …

Full Story

Mary Mulhern vs. Harry Cohen?

Is term-limited Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern considering running against the colleague she sits next to on the council dais — South Tampa representative Harry Cohen?

Yes, Mulhern acknowledged Thursday, but that’s only one of a lot of things she’s looking at.

“I’m thinking about everything,” said Mulhern, who will be out of her current job after her four-year term ends next March. She’s also exploring potential opportunities in the private sector, as well as considering county or other offices scheduled to come up for election in 2016. “There’s nothing I’m not thinking about.”

How about running for mayor?

No, Mulhern said. Not that. But she said a lot of people are urging her “to stay in public service, in government.” (Mulhern had been a candidate for the Hillsborough County Commission this year, but she dropped out of that race in January. She said the demands of serving on the City Council, raising a family, running countywide and contending with a relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis, which she has had for 25 years, forced a difficult decision to withdraw from the race.) …

Full Story

On the Hillsborough School Board campaign trail

Dipa Shah's campaign explains their response this month to a racially charged hate mailer. April Griffin says she's tired of being blamed for School Board disharmony when there's plenty of blame to go around. And Sally Harris was surprised by what she got when she asked for Michael Weston's support. Gradebook is following the three campaigns for Hillsborough County School Board.

Full Story

Jack Latvala got hip surgery on eve of primary election

CLEARWATER -- Sen. Jack Latvala gets a pass for leaving his primary election night party early on Tuesday night. He was recovering from hip replacement surgery that he underwent the previous Friday.

Latvala, R-Clearwater, shared a victory party with fellow legislator Ed Hooper, who won the Republican primary for Pinellas County Commission District 2.

Hooper was marveling that Latvala had even shown up, given that he'd a hip replaced a few days prior. "He's a tough guy," Hooper said.

Latvala previously had hip replacement surgery in 2011.

On primary night, Latvala sat a table talking with his wife and his son Chris Latvala, who won his own Republican primary for House District 67. The primary night party at Quaker Steak & Lube in mid-Pinellas drew an exuberant crowd of supporters and politicos, including Rep. Kathleen Peters, Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito and Clearwater City Council Member Hoyt Hamilton.

After the elder Latvala left early, the younger Latvala worked the room like a pro.




Full Story

Bucs, Home Shopping Network give big to Greenlight Pinellas transit campaign

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Home Shopping Network are the latest big corporate names to back the Greenlight Pinellas transit campaign.

A report filed Friday with the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office shows The Buccaneers Limited Partnership kicked in $25,000 and St. Petersburg-based HSN gave $10,000 to the Friends of Greenlight, the political committee working to pass the transit referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot. Parsons Brinckerhoff, a multinational engineering and design consulting firm that has an office in Tampa, gave $25,000, doubling its total contributions to the campaign.

The donations helped the Friends raise $69,160 in the fundraising period from Aug. 9 to Aug. 21. The group to date has raised nearly $723,000, putting its $1 million fundraising goal in sight, said spokesman Kyle Parks

If approved, the plan would raise the county’s sales tax by a penny, to 8 cents on the dollar, to expand bus service and build a 24-mile light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. 

No Tax for Tracks, the political committee trying to defeat the referendum, so far has raised $46,103.

Full Story

St. Pete employees get reminder about city's new vision after revelations about racial tension in some city departments

ST. PETERSBURG | Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin issued a memo to all employees this week in the wake of stories in the Tampa Bay Times about racial tension among employees, most noticably in the Stormwater Department, where a white supervisor spray-painted the back of a black worker's back and made reference to the Klu Klux Klan.

Tomalin began her letter, which went out Thursday, by reminding people of the city's new vision, unveiled when Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration took office this year. One of the chief values, Tomalin said, is diversity and inclusiveness.

"Recent media coverage regarding race relations among our team presents an opportunity for us to affirm our commitment to a culture of inclusivity where everybody is treated with dignity and respect," Tomalin wrote.

On Sunday, the Times chronicled the story of a black worker whose white supervisor spraypainted his back, an event came to be known as the "KKK incident." But past and former city workers told the newspaper the incident is just one of the frustrations of many black employees within some city dapartments.  …

Full Story

Joyner, Cruz to endorse USF prof in Senate District 22 race

ST. PETERSBURG | State Sen. Arthenia Joyner and state Rep. Janet Cruz are expected to endorse University of South Florida St. Petersburg professor Judithanne McLauchlan for the Senate District 22 seat currently held by Republican Jeff Brandes.

The Democratic lawmakers are making it official Saturday at the "Diversi-Tea" event at the Manhattan Casino, hosted by Business and Professional Women/St. Petersburg-Pinellas. The event is aimed at celebrating the 9th Amendment.

McLaughlan, endorsed earlier this month by Mayor Rick Kriseman, is trying to unseat Brandes, who has represented the 22nd district since 2012. The district encompasses parts of south Pinellas, the beaches, and south Tampa.

Neither faces a primary challenge.

Full Story

Littlefield mailer features Fasano

Pasco County Commission candidate Ken Littlefield this week rolled out a mailer featuring a smiling photograph and glowing quotes from Tax Collector Mike Fasano.

"It's not an endorsement. He just said some nice things about me," Littlefield, 70, said of the mailer that shows the two men smiling and standing side by side.

Littlefield said he sent 13,000 of the ads to west Pasco voters.

It reads: "I have known Ken Littlefield both personally and professionally for many years. We served in the Legislature together as part of the Pasco County delegation. As a colleague in the Florida Legislature, we worked closely on legislation of great importance to Floridians. Ken Littlefield is a man of honesty, integrity and strength of character. He cares about the little guy and gal!"

Littlefield posted a picture of the mailer on Twitter Thursday, thanking Fasano.

Littlefield, a former state legislator, is running against Mike Moore and Bob Robertson in the Republican primary on Tuesday. The winner will take on Democrat Erika Remsberg in the general election in November. …

Full Story

Pinellas Democrats tout Greenlight Pinellas, stop short of endorsement

The Pinellas County Democratic Party has decided not to take an official stance on the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The party’s message: Research it and make up your own mind.

“Greenlight Pinellas is too important to the future of our communities and county to reduce it to partisan politics,” the party said Wednesday in a statement.

But the rest of the three-paragraph news release reads like an endorsement of the plan that would increase the county’s sales tax from 7 to 8 cents on the dollar to pay for expanded bus service and a 24-mile light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. 

“It’s unfortunate that some local Republican Tea Party types oppose the Greenlight Pinellas as they oppose virtually everything else,” the release said. “But in fact, most commissions and councils in Pinellas made up of Republicans, Democrats, Independents, top local GOP elected officials, the Tampa Bay Rays organization, the chambers of commerce and most residents of Pinellas County realize we need much better mass transit so our residents will have state-of-the-art travel options of expanded buses and local trains.” …

Full Story

Pasco commission candidate holds superintendent's backing despite opposition to school impact fee hikes

In press releases and robocalls, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning has endorsed County Commission candidate Mike Moore, who is on the record as being opposed to tax and fee increases – including to the school impact fees which Browning and his administration have backed.

The district has seen its enrollment grow lately after a few static years, and officials have planned new schools to cope with the increase. Revenue from higher impact fees on new construction could help pay for the construction.

Browning's administration has been researching the possibilities, which would depend upon a commission vote. On Wednesday, Browning said he stands by his backing of Moore, one of three Republican candidates seeking to replace the retiring Pat Mulieri in Commission District 2.

Moore said at an early August candidate forum that he was "not for raising" school impact fees.

That did not dissuade the superintendent.

"The candidate assured him that he would be open to considering input on fee increases, but the district would have to make the case," school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said for Browning.

Reached while campaigning, Moore backed Browning's view. …

Full Story

Dunedin hosts meetings this week on proposals for new City Hall

DUNEDIN| The public is invited to listen in as city officials discuss revised proposals from two developers interested in building a new municipal services annex.

The annex would house a new City Commission chambers, consolidate government services into one location and possibly include an adjacent parking garage or mixed-use element.

The meetings are set for 9 a.m. Thursday and 11:30 a.m. Friday in the conference room at Dunedin City Hall, 542 Main St.

Read about past discussions here and here. Call (727) 298-3001 for more information.


Full Story

Last hurrah at the Bro Bowl

Bro Bowl designer Joel Jackson, center, holding poster, with skateboarders on Sunday.

Courtesy of Joel Jackson

Bro Bowl designer Joel Jackson, center, holding poster, with skateboarders on Sunday.

Skateboarders gathered Sunday at the Bro Bowl in advance of next month’s anticipated closure, demolition and eventual relocation of the skateboard basin as part of a $6.9 million update of Perry Harvey Sr. Park.

Also in attendance: non-skater retiree Joel Jackson, 72, who designed the skate bowl in the 1970s while working as an urban planner at Tampa City Hall.

In an email, Jackson said skaters “wanted to have one last go at it.”

“I was seriously moved to hear so many express how much bowl meant to them,” he said.

Full Story

House candidate Sprowls nets big-ticket law enforcement endorsements

Chris Sprowls, one of two Republican primary candidates vying to unseat Democratic State House District 65 incumbent Rep. Carl Zimmerman in the general election, has picked up a slew of big-ticket endorsements from heavy hitters in the law-enforcement arena.

Sprowls has worked six years at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, where he is a special prosecutor in the gang unit and director of the Veterans Treatment Court.

His boss State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri give glowing reviews in a television commercial which touts Sprowls' dedication to putting criminals behind bars.

Sprowls, whose resume includes past stints as a congressional page and legislative intern for Sen. Mike Fasano and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, also features statements of support from both on his website.

Other supporters include Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Pinellas Property Appraiser Pam Dubov and a bevy of prominent veterans and local elected officials.

Meanwhile, Sprowls' opponent, Debbie Faulkner, told the Tampa Bay Times days ahead of the Tuesday primary that she was unsure whether she had any formal endorsements. …

Full Story