The most powerful person in Pinellas US House race? Jack 'The Ripper' Latvala
The most important player in the Republican primary to succeed the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young probably isn't even on the ballot.
It's state Sen. Jack Latvala, one of the most effective, wiliest and cantankerous legislators in Florida.
The moderate Republican who has been variously described as the Florida Senate's Jack the Ripper or Dark Star for his unrivaled knack for piecing together coalitions and blocking bills that he opposes, is especially busy these days. Even as Latvala, 62, is working to become the first Senate president from Pinellas County in 90 years, and guiding the campaigns of candidates across Florida, and helping his son get elected to the state House and his ex-wife re-elected to the Pinellas County Commission, he is hell-bent on ensuring that whoever succeeds Young has his stamp of approval.
David Jolly, the lobbyist and former aide to Young, did not pass Kingmaker Latvala's muster, so others were pressed to step in: Former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and, after that failed, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. When that didn't pan out, Latvala embraced state Rep. Kathleen Peters, who announced her candidacy with Latvala and several of his political clients at her side.
It's nothing personal against Jolly, insists Latvala.
"He called me early on — from his area code 202 cellphone," Latvala said of Jolly and the Washington, D.C., number. "Since when do we need to all gather around one person who's the first person in the race? He's just not part of our community and I just believe we deserve a choice of somebody who lives in our community. David Jolly's not part of our community, (Democratic candidate) Alex Sink's not part of our community."
Jolly, a native of Dunedin who in recent years has divided his time between Washington and Pinellas, insists Latvala is mistaken but has no hard feelings.
"I consider Jack a friend," Jolly said, demonstrating either cool diplomacy or breathtaking stupidity.