TAMPA — Former Tampa City Council members John Dingfelder and Linda Saul-Sena said Wednesday they do not plan to try to run again for the council.
Dingfelder told friends in a Facebook post that many people have asked him about his plans, and he has "decided to continue to serve our community by practicing law — full time." He described it as serving as a counselor, not a councilman.
"I've been practicing law 22 years, and I've never hung my own shingle, Dingfelder said. He is currently looking for office space in the SoHo area of South Tampa and has done "a little bit of everything" as a lawyer: criminal, civil, contracts and government law. "I'm just going to be a small-town lawyer in the big city and see what walks in the door."
Another factor that Dingfelder said made it easy for him to decide not to run was the fact that former Hillsborough County Democratic Party head and insurance salesman Mike Suarez got in to the race for citywide Council District 1.
"I told him that if somebody good like him got in the race I really wouldn't feel the need to do that," Dingfelder said. "I think he's a super guy, and I think he'll be a great councilman."
Saul-Sena noted that she had served five four-year terms and that was enough.
"I enjoyed it," she said. "I worked very hard at it."
Dingfelder had considered filing a lawsuit challenging a new City Council rule that bans him and Saul-Sena from running again.
Both resigned their council seats last year to seek election to the Hillsborough County Commission. Both lost, and two days later, the City Council adopted a rule prohibiting council members who don't finish their terms from running in the next city election.
Council members who supported the rule said it was aimed at "career politicians" and would create opportunities for newcomers to serve on the council.
After consulting with an attorney, Dingfelder said he came to feel that the rule infringed on his right to run for office, which is considered a civil liberty, violated the city charter and Florida statutes and couldn't have been applied to him and Saul-Sena.
Still, "it's kind of moot," he said. "In deciding that I wasn't going to run, I decided that I didn't really care about the rule. Now, with that said, I think the rule is unconstitutional, and I think it was mean-spirited and directed at Linda and myself."
Moreover, Dingfelder predicted the rule might have some bad political karma for the people who passed it, including Council member Curtis Stokes, who was appointed to the council after Dingfelder and Saul-Sena resigned and is now running for the District 1 seat.
"You know what they say: What goes around comes around," he said. "I think at the end of the day it will bite them, because voters don't want people telling them who they can and can not vote for."
Stokes said he didn't feel it was any of those things.
"John served the city in a very gracious way," Stokes said. "Linda Saul-Sena I consider a friend. In no way do I think the ordinance targeted him and Linda."
As a supporter of the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League, Stokes said he would "never do anything to infringe on the rights of anyone."
Nor did Stokes expect voters to vote against the council members who voted for the rule. He noted that Council member Joseph Caetano made the motion, which Stokes seconded, and that the measure passed 4-2. (Caetano, Stokes, Thomas Scott and Gwen Miller voted yes. Mary Mulhern and Yvonne Yolie Capin voted no. Charlie Miranda, who had previously proposed the rule, was absent.)
"The City Council serves at the will of the people, and the will of the people spoke," Stokes said.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.