TAMPA — Yvonne Yolie Capin this week kicked off her City Council re-election campaign with an evening fundraiser overlooking the Hillsborough River — and drew an opponent to force her to spend some of that money.
Longtime community activist Paul Erni, 48, filed papers on Thursday to run in council District 3, one of three at-large seats elected citywide, during municipal elections next March.
A Tampa native, Erni has worked for 24 years as a salesman for wine and spirits wholesaler Republic National Distributing. He also has judged cases as a Tampa code enforcement hearing master for 20 years and served four years on the city's Public Nuisance Abatement Board, where he was chairman and vice chairman.
"I think I'm well-rounded," he said Friday. "I know code. I know land use. I know zoning. That's mainly what City Council is all about."
Erni also has been active in neighborhood associations in University Square, Old Seminole Heights and Hampton Terrace and has held a series of leadership positions with North Tampa Pony Baseball. The son of immigrants — his mother from Honduras, his father from Switzerland — Erni said both parents "inculcated me with a sense of service."
"I really think I can bring a sense of accountability and honesty and integrity to the Tampa City Council," he said.
'Why not take on a challenge?
This is Erni's second run and third try overall for the council.
In 1999, he lost to Shawn Harrison in a race for the council's District 7 seat, which represents northern and New Tampa. In 2010, he was among the 66 people who applied for two City Council seats vacated when John Dingfelder and Linda Saul-Sena left to run for the Hillsborough County Commission.
One of those slots — not the one Erni applied for — went to Capin, who served on an interim basis in the District 4 seat representing South Tampa and then was elected to the citywide District 3 seat in 2011.
Contacted earlier this week, Capin, 64, had not heard about Erni but had expected to draw an opponent.
"When I run for office, it's always with the idea that someone is also running for the same seat," she said. "I'd be surprised if there weren't any."
In choosing to run in District 3, Erni bypassed the District 2 seat that will come open next spring when Mary Mulhern leaves because of term limits.
But that seat could draw a candidate with strong name recognition. In March, council chairman Charlie Miranda will leave his District 6 seat representing West Tampa and part of South Tampa because of term limits. Miranda has not said whether he plans to run for Mulhern's at-large seat — historically he hasn't started campaigning until a couple of months before the election — but it would not come as a surprise if he did.
Asked why he decided to run against Capin, Erni said, "Why not take on a challenge?"
"I think I could do better," he said. "I think Yolie is a very nice person. I don't know her personally, but I think I can do a good job.
In preparing to run, Erni met three to four weeks ago with Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
"A lot of candidates who contemplate running come in to see me," Buckhorn said. The mayor said he gave Erni "my perspective on where the city is, what the role of a councilman is, what to focus on, how to focus on it — just sort of generic advice from someone who has been there before."
Erni decided on his own which seat to run for, both men said. Asked about an item in La Gaceta saying that he has encouraged people to run against Capin, Buckhorn said, "I encourage a lot of people to get involved in the process. And I encourage people particularly who share my same values and vision for the city."
"I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about Yolie Capin," he said.
So you aren't trying to get people to run against her?
"No. Not particularly," Buckhorn said. "The City Council races are going to take care of themselves. But I will have no aversion about supporting people who have been helpful to the administration and helpful to me getting stuff done."
Is Capin helpful?
"She's for the most part been fairly supportive," Buckhorn said.
That said, Capin has not shied away from criticizing the mayor. Last year, she said Buckhorn needed to "step up" and show more leadership on tackling problems related to homelessness.
"Everyone refers to him as a cheerleader," Capin said in a council meeting in May 2013. "In this, we need a quarterback."
Told of Buckhorn's responses about Erni and her, Capin said, "very interesting."
"I would imagine that that's how it should be: not to spend a whole lot of time thinking about any particular council person, but to think about how to move this city forward," Capin said.
When she contemplates having a contested race, Capin said she thinks in terms of running for the same seat as someone else, not running against anyone — unless, she said, "it gets personal."
Capin also said she's confident about the prospect of running on her record, which includes her sponsorship of Tampa's domestic partnership registry, her work to designate the "Historic Tampa Cuban sandwich" as the city's signature sandwich and her desire to establish a local EB-5 initiative to help pay for city projects with money from wealthy foreign investors.
"I am not an easy target," she said. "I am resilient, and I work very, very hard."
Capin is the third incumbent council member to draw an opponent. Last September, now-retired police Sgt. Borthland R. Murray filed to run for the East Tampa seat held by Frank Reddick. Last month, South Tampa businessman Kent King filed to run in the South Tampa district represented by Harry Cohen.