Willis to Kemp: You're not Hillsborough's only transit candidate
TAMPA — Which candidate for Hillsborough County Commission District 6 is the strongest advocate for transit?
It’s a question that has become a point of contention between two of the Democrats running in the open race.
Tampa lawyer Brian Willis took issue with an endorsement that Pat Kemp, also a Tampa lawyer, posted on her Facebook page Saturday from former county commissioner-turned-lobbyist Ed Turanchik. The endorsement heralded Kemp as the “only candidate running for County Commission District 6 prepared to fund transit now.”
Willis said that assertion is not only untrue of himself, but the other two Democrats in the race, former county commissioner Tom Scott and former Plant City Mayor John Dicks. The four are vying to replace Commissioner Kevin Beckner and will face off in a Aug. 30 primary.
“Every single Democratic candidate has argued that the County Commission needs to put more money into transit now,” Willis said. “Pat has heard us say so at forums many times, she knows these claims are false.”
Willis, who co-founded the now-defunct transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay, pointed to the comprehensive transportation plan he released last week that includes a detailed map on proposed new train, bus and ferry routes.
Kemp, though, said she stood by Turanchik’s claim because she was the loudest candidate calling for a greater commitment to transit during the county’s debate this year over whether to raise the sales tax by a half cent to pay for transportation needs.
“I spent endless time at meetings working and doing everything I could to talk to individual commissioners, the administration, anyone I thought could bring greater influence and to have a plan for increasing our transit,” Kemp said.
That criticism, though, ultimately led Kemp to stop short of supporting a half-cent surcharge for transportation. Her three primary opponents backed the proposal, which would have gone to voters in a referendum this fall but it failed to first pass the commission.
“I would have been on board 100 percent if they would’ve moved up the transit commitment,” she said.
And while that proposal was maligned by conservatives and some Democrats and environmentalists, it did include a new dedicated stream of funding for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to spend on bus projects (about $300 million over 10 years) and for the City of Tampa, which planned to expand the downtown streetcar and explore a light rail line to Tampa International Airport with its share.
Now, Kemp has backed a proposal from two Republicans on the commission, Sandy Murman and Stacy White, to dedicate one-third of future growth in county revenue toward transportation. Turanchik and other community players from the left and right of the political spectrum have helped shape that proposal. Proponents say it will raise about $1 billion over 10 years; a sales tax hike would’ve raised about $117.5 million a year.
It’s that commitment to doing something now that earned Turanchik’s support. Turanchik is a lobbyist for HMS Ferries, which has proposed a ferry project connecting the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg and east Hillsborough to south Tampa.
“I have worked on transit for 25 years. I'm sick and tired of waiting for us to pass a multi-billion dollar tax plan as a condition for progress,” he said in the endorsement. “We are smarter and better than that. I'm extraordinarily thankful that there is one Democrat running for the County Commission who will make transit funding a priority now.”
Willis has supported putting some new revenue toward transportation but continues to back a sales tax as the only option that can truly knock out the county’s lengthy backlog and future needs for roads, bridges, sidewalks and buses.
“Instead of putting forward a vision, Pat Kemp has consistently supported Republican plans that move us backward and don’t commit to transit long term,” said Willis. “Now, she's repeating false claims about all of her fellow Democratic candidates. This needs to stop.”