Amid financial struggles, Joseph Caetano seeks re-election to Tampa City Council

TAMPA — Joseph Caetano filed Thursday for re-election to the City Council in 2011.

He needs the $40,000 a year job now more than ever.

This week, he abandoned plans to reorganize his business under Chapter 11 in federal bankruptcy court. He refiled under Chapter 7, meaning he will liquidate assets to pay off what debts he can.

He closed his Bostonian Hair Studio in New Tampa three weeks ago.

Caetano's business owes creditors $179,116, according to court documents. As recently as 2006, records show, the salon was bringing in more than $2 million a year.

How did the rapid decline happen?

Caetano, 75, blames the economy and the fact that he turned over the day-to-day management of his salon when he ran for City Council in 2007.

"I wanted to make sure I slowed down a little bit and concentrated on my job at the city," Caetano said. "There's a lot of homework you've got to do if you want to do it right."

That's not all there is to Caetano's financial difficulties.

He's facing foreclosure on a $119,000 condominium in North Tampa. Caetano bought it for $175,000 in 2006.

He hasn't paid the 2008 property taxes on his $552,689 Tampa Palms home. That bill became delinquent April 1, with $10,202 now due.

In January, a judge ordered Caetano to pay past-due bills totalling $4,685 to Comfort Keepers, a home health agency hired to care for his ailing wife, Nair, for about three months in 2007. Comfort Keepers still hasn't received any money from Caetano, owner Robert DiRaimo said. Caetano received an insurance check from Mutual of Omaha to pay Comfort Keepers, but instead kept the money.

Caetano said he did that on the advice of his insurance agent.

Caetano, whose District 7 includes New Tampa and Sulphur Springs, has been a voice for small businessmen while in office.

But DiRaimo, who lives in Caetano's district, said he would never vote for the financially troubled council member.

"I hope nobody else would, either," DiRaimo said. "People look at him now and say he's a financial mess. These costs that he never paid for his wife's care were incurred three months after he declared he was worth $1.6 million on his financial disclosure statement (with the supervisor of elections)."

Caetano, though, said his financial problems have nothing to do with his ability to serve as an elected official helping to manage an $836 million budget.

"I didn't get where I got to by making mistakes," he said. "I know when something's wrong and something's right."

He said he doesn't think voters will judge him for not paying his property taxes, even though his City Council salary is paid by taxpayers. "Look at Donald Trump, how many times he's gone under. You can't throw somebody under the bus because of the economy," he said.

He said would take care of the delinquent property taxes: "I'm not going to ignore them."

Political consultant April Schiff said she would tell most potential candidates with Caetano's financial history they shouldn't bother running.

But Caetano's circumstances are different, partly because he's an incumbent and his problems seem to be caused by his wife's long illness. "The extenuating circumstances make his situation more acceptable to the public rather than someone who ran up their credit card and squandered all their money," she said. "I feel sympathetic towards him."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Amid financial struggles, Joseph Caetano seeks re-election to Tampa City Council 04/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 12:18am]

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