William March: Dems Mariella Smith, Debra Bellanti draw 100-plus at fundraisers

Published January 26
Updated January 26

Two local candidates seeking office for the first time, and backed by a wave of political activism among Democratic women, have held impressive campaign kickoffs.

A veteran south Hillsborough community planning and environmental activist, Mariella Smith drew more than 150 people to an Ybor City fundraiser opening her campaign for a countywide commission seat against Republican Commissioner Victor Crist.

Smith faces a primary against three other Democrats but has the backing of party leaders. Among those attending were U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, Commissioner Pat Kemp, and power couple Betty Castor and Sam Bell.

Smith bashed Crist as "a career politician who has held office for 26 years" who is running for a new seat to extend his term limits. She said the current board works for "corporate cronies" rather than public good.

"I’ll work for smart growth and against dumb sprawl," she said, acknowledging it’s "a David vs. Goliath fight."

Debra Bellanti, a Tampa marketing executive, also faces a tough battle against state Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, but drew an enthusiastic crowd of around 100 to a downtown kickoff last week.

Supporters at her event mentioned their opposition to Toledo’s sponsorship of legislation to provide state funding to a network of anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers."

Bellanti criticized Republican legislative moves to pre-empt powers of local government and diversion of public money to private schools.

Bellanti told the crowd she was driven to run by a controversial education bill passed last year that requires public schools to share state school construction money with charter schools.

Vern Buchanan challenger David Shapiro raises $250k

David Shapiro, Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, has reported raising $250,128 during the first three months of his campaign, October through December 2017.

He called it "a tremendous outpouring of support" but "just the tip of the iceberg" from voters who want change.

Candidates typically grab their easiest donations for a big fundraising total to start their campaigns, but campaign manager Jason Ascher said Shapiro will continue the pace.

He’ll have to. Buchanan hasn’t yet reported his October-December total yet, but started the quarter with more than $2 million in the bank.

Buchanan’s 16th district includes southern Hillsborough County.

Bob Buckhorn plans visit to sister city in Sicily

Mayor Bob Buckhorn will head a Sister Cities delegation from Tampa in May to the province of Agrigento in Sicily.

Vince Pardo, chairman of the Tampa-Agrigento Sister Cities Committee, said the trip’s purpose is mainly cultural rather than economic. Villages in Agrigento were the origin of 90 percent of the Italian immigrant families in Tampa, he said.

About 30 travelers will pay their own way on the trip, and Buckhorn’s costs will be paid by the travel agency arranging the trip, he said.

The town of Agrigento, capital of the province, is one of nine Tampa sister cities.

Kathy Castor spotlights Puerto Rico aid volunteer

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, will host Puerto Rican hurricane aid volunteer Brenda Irizarry during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday, spotlighting criticism of the Trump administration’s hurricane response.

According to Castor, Irizarry "took immediate action" after Hurricane Maria Sept. 20 to organize relief work, leading an effort that has sent more than 2.5 million pounds of supplies, and founded a nonprofit group to aid relocated families.

Bills to ban Florida fracking stalled in Tallahassee

A bill to ban oil-well fracking in Florida sponsored by two local legislators appears stalled in the Legislature, but sponsor Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, hopes to keep it alive.

Young filed the bill after a 2016 campaign controversy over her stance on fracking.

The bill, filed in October, hasn’t received any committee hearings. The House co-sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, has fallen out of favor with House leadership.

Ken Hagan can revise petition to recover fees

The state Ethics Commission will allow Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan to amend a petition seeking attorney fees from a citizen who filed an unsustained ethics complaint against him.

A commission lawyer had drafted a suggested order denying the petition, which seeks repayment of $7,841 the county paid to defend Hagan against the complaint by George Niemann of Dover.

Contact William March at [email protected]

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