Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Politics

Pinellas Democratic chairman tells pastor he's 'persona non grata' if he runs for Congress

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County's Democratic chairman left a bluntly worded voicemail telling well-known St. Petersburg pastor Manuel Sykes he would be "persona non grata" if he followed through with plans to run for Congress.

Sykes was the only announced Democratic candidate in Pinellas County's 13th Congressional District, but he said Wednesday he has now decided not to run after all.

In the voicemail, Mark Hanisee said party officials had spoken to the offices of two key Democrats, former congressional candidate Alex Sink and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

"Neither one of them are endorsing you, nor is the (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee). They have another candidate," Hanisee said. He added, "You better hold off, or, like I told you Sunday night, you are going to be persona non grata. Take that to the bank. That's telling you the gospel truth. You're going to be getting a call from Rick Kriseman, if you haven't already, telling you to back off. Have a nice weekend."

Sykes said the comments disappointed him, and "the party needs to be purged of these kinds of hindrances to its progress and progressiveness." He said all candidates should be allowed and encouraged to run.

Angela Owens, an attorney who was working with Sykes' campaign, said she listened to the recording and found it "appalling."

"It was shocking to me … because it's against the rules," Owens said. "Aren't they supposed to support Democratic candidates?"

Sykes, 57, of Bethel Community Baptist Church, said comments from Hanisee and some other party officials were a factor in his decision not to run.

As a first-time candidate likely to be outspent by Republicans, Sykes said one of his main strategies was to work within the party organization, getting to know people in Democratic clubs who could spread the word of his campaign.

But "when I have my own party leaders blocking me, I knew that was sort of being cut off at the knees," he said.

He said he had had a conversation with Hanisee before getting the voicemail and had also spoken to another Democratic Party official who disliked his chances because he said the district is overwhelmingly white, and he said white voters are less likely to forgive past transgressions than African-American voters are. Sykes was the subject of a 2007 news article about a child he had out of wedlock, a subject that might well have come up during the campaign.

Hanisee said in an interview that someone was spreading rumors that Kriseman and Sink had endorsed Sykes, which he said wasn't true. Sink said in an interview that she admires Sykes and encouraged him to explore a possible run. But she also told Hanisee that rumors about her endorsing Sykes were not true because she was waiting to see who else might join the race.

Hanisee said that was part of the reason for his call to Sykes. He added, "I was only advising him that this was going to be an uphill battle.

"Listen," Hanisee said in an unprompted comment, "to me it has nothing to do with whether he is white or back; he is just not a credible candidate in this particular district."

Why not?

"Because he lives in another district, he's never run for office before, (and) he has no prior political experience. If you check the demographics, it's like a 2 percent, 3 percent African-American district."

Sykes had previously acknowledged that he lives outside the 13th district; he used to live inside it, but then its boundaries changed. He had said he would move into the district to run in it.

Regarding Hanisee's comments about Kriseman and Sink, Sykes said he talked to both of them, and both were helpful. He said Kriseman "told me to do what's in my heart to do. He's a friend." Sink told him she believed he would run a good race, he said. Both also warned him it would be a daunting task.

Kriseman could not be reached Wednesday night.

Hanisee said he did not know which candidate the DCCC was backing. Late Wednesday, no Democrats had filed to run for the seat against newly elected Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.

Comments
Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Two things you need to know about Florida’s prison budget:1. It was $2.3 billion this year.2. It was still not enough.Kind of staggering when you think of it that way, huh?We keep spending more and more on housing prisoners, and it’s like throwing mo...
Published: 09/18/18
Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he was willing to speak to a Senate panel to "refute" an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman while in high school, after his accuser said via her attorney that she was ready to testi...
Published: 09/17/18
California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in subu...
Published: 09/16/18
Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on em...
Published: 09/17/18
Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

His time in Tallahassee is coming to an end. Eight years of triumph or shambles, depending on your point of view. And yet, Rick Scott’s legacy may not be written until his final minute as governor.For several years, Scott has been plotting a judicial...
Published: 09/15/18
Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

WASHINGTON D.C.? — Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Donald Trump still called his defense secretary "Mad Dog" a nickname Jim Mattis detests ? the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with h...
Published: 09/15/18
Carlton: The mayor, the restaurateur and the giant statue that had to go: A Tampa tale

Carlton: The mayor, the restaurateur and the giant statue that had to go: A Tampa tale

You would have thought the controversy over whether chickens should be left alone to keep boldly roaming the streets of historic Ybor City — and the impressive pro-chicken lobby that showed up to argue on their behalf — would be the quintessential on...
Published: 09/15/18

5 takeaways from Paul Manafort’s plea agreement

Five takeawaysWASHINGTON — Paul Manafort’s agreement to plead guilty and cooperate with the special counsel marks a milestone in the investigation led by Robert Mueller. Here are several key elements:Mueller knows more than we doThe public doesn’t kn...
Published: 09/14/18
Clearwater voter forums will discuss referendum on strong mayor charter change

Clearwater voter forums will discuss referendum on strong mayor charter change

CLEARWATER — Residents can hear varying perspectives on the Nov. 6 referendum on whether to change Clearwater’s form of government into a strong mayor system at two upcoming forums.The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce will host a forum Monday ...
Published: 09/13/18
Woman who says she exchanged sex for rent with Hernando commissioner describes political alliances

Woman who says she exchanged sex for rent with Hernando commissioner describes political alliances

BROOKSVILLE — Valerie Surette, the woman at the heart of prostitution-related charges against former Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson, told Sheriff’s Office detectives in March that he frequently talked to her about county business. In a r...
Published: 09/12/18