TAMPA — In the wake of state Rep. Trey Traviesa's sudden decision not to seek re-election, two prominent developers are exercising an influential role behind the scenes in deciding who fills his empty spot on the ballot.
Hillsborough Republican Party officials meet today to consider who gets the nod, but would-be candidates have been looking beyond the two party leaders who will make that formal decision.
They're seeking the blessing of Bing Kearney and Don Phillips, two power players in the local development scene.
Phillips and Kearney are getting resumes, phone calls and visits from those seeking to replace Traviesa, who announced Tuesday he wouldn't seek re-election in District 56.
Phillips said Thursday night that he has spoken with a "few" of the candidates, but would not specify how many.
"I'm involved in the process, sure," said Phillips, who moved to Tampa from North Carolina about five years ago and is managing director of a company with Bayshore and Westshore Boulevard condo projects. "But I'm mostly interested in good leadership in the community."
One candidate, Mark Proctor, said he met with Phillips for 45 minutes Wednesday to discuss his governing philosophy — and to listen to Phillips' views. He said the meeting went well, but he left not knowing whether he had Phillips' backing.
He gave his resume to Phillips and Kearney, whom he didn't meet with but said he has known for 20 years. Kearney could not be reached for comment.
The only other two people to get his resume were David Storck and Carol Carter. Storck and Carter sit on the committee, and are the only two votes that will decide the nomination. A third member is out of the country.
If Phillips and Kearney don't vote, why seek their support?
"If I get selected, I would immediately need to raise money," Proctor said. "They contribute to candidates and to the party."
Proctor, an east Hillsborough Republican real estate broker and political consultant, said the decision will be Storck's and Carter's — to a point.
"You'd have to believe that (Strock and Carter) would consult with other people," he said.
The winner faces Lewis Laricchia, a relatively unknown Valrico Democrat. Many think the yet-to-be chosen GOP candidate will have an edge to win the predominantly conservative suburban district.
Because Traviesa dropped out after the June 21 qualifying deadline, his replacement won't be chosen by the district's 40,000 GOP voters, but the two party officers.
Phillips downplayed whatever influence he wields.
"When they meet with me, it's the same as when you're lobbying for a better job," he said. "You do that by getting advocates who support you."