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Carlton: Activist Rashid flexes muscle, and a showdown with the mayor

Who's afraid of Sam Rashid?

The powerful Republican activist who opposes a proposed transportation tax is no doubt pleased with recent stories alleging, among other things, cronyism in the awarding of a contract. That controversy is widely expected to kill off chances for a voter referendum to pay for roads and transportation improvements.

A writer of checks to campaigns, Rashid recently flexed his political muscle in a letter to Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman. In it, he opined that the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office — recently brought in to investigate and determine if there's substance or smoke there — is not "qualified or capable" to work a case involving "the potential of graft, public corruption or sunshine law violations."

Rashid let Murman know he would prefer the more independent FDLE or the Pinellas County State Attorney, and helpfully directed the agencies to four specific areas he wants investigated.

With that, Murman plans to bring up for discussion the differences between those investigative agencies at next week's commission meeting. Rashid had valid points, she said. Murman, who has received financial contributions from Rashid, said her concerns about the Go Hillsborough transportation push started before the recent stories alleging cozy relationships and the skirting of rules. Constituents told her the discussion had become more about a tax than a plan for transportation, she said.

Some have wondered if Murman, a Republican, worries about what happened to the late Dottie Berger back in 1998. Rashid is widely credited with helping oust Berger, a Republican commissioner, for her support of a tax referendum. He later successfully fought her appointment to a state post.

"No, that is not a concern for me," Murman said when I asked this week. "I can't sit here in this office just to worry about being re-elected. I have to do the right thing."

Rashid also made news when he referred to Beth Leytham, a public relations consultant at the center of the recent stories, as a "tax-payer subsidized slut," saying she made big money through her "intimately close" relationships with three elected officials.

Murman said this week that what Rashid said was demeaning and inappropriate. "And (Rashid) knows it now," she said.

Gov. Rick Scott said weeks ago he expected Rashid to resign from his gubernatorial appointment to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority after those words. But Thursday there was Rashid, comfortably ensconced at another airport board meeting.

Though the county's ongoing political intrigue has lately stolen the show, Tampa city government is hardly without drama.

Today, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn meets with the current council member with whom he has most butted heads, Chairman Frank Reddick. They've duked it out over public pools and are currently in a power play over a new citizen board to review closed internal affairs and police pursuit cases.

It's been more poker game than public process. The City Council wanted to pick seven members for a nine member board, one per council member, with two for the mayor. The mayor said two for them, the rest for him on an 11-member panel. Some council members hoped for at least four for those who represent specific districts. At last count, the mayor acquiesced with an offer of three council picks and one alternate. Which is, well, kind of like four.

Reddick is still holding out for seven picks on a 15-member board. I ask if he's bringing anything to the meeting — flowers? Boxing gloves? Flowers, Reddick says. No, actually — he's bringing hopes for open minds and a desire to get this done.

Recently I was reminded of how Buckhorn's martial arts instructor once described him to the Times, as a guy who didn't win all the time — but never took a backward step, either.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

Carlton: Activist Rashid flexes muscle, and a showdown with the mayor 10/01/15 [Last modified: Thursday, October 1, 2015 8:05pm]
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