Monday, October 15, 2018
Politics

Pinellas transit campaign's leader resigns his post under pressure

Facing mounting pressure from tea party groups who accused him of acting unethically, one of the leaders of a campaign to pass a transit tax referendum in Pinellas announced on Wednesday that he is resigning.

Ronnie Duncan, a former Pinellas commissioner and chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, said he's leaving his post as co-chair of the Yes for Greenlight campaign, which he helped launch earlier this month to support a referendum that would raise Pinellas' sales tax to pay for mass transit.

Duncan said he has become an unwanted distraction, something the campaign can't afford in the runup to the November election. His resignation is the first major upheaval in a campaign that is still coming together.

From the moment his involvement was announced, Duncan has been attacked by Pinellas and Hillsborough tea party groups, whose members accused him of interfering in a local ballot question on transit while simultaneously leading the area's state-funded transit agency. Even if his dual roles weren't technically illegal, they argued, they were unethical.

Duncan responded to the criticism at first by quoting the advice of TBARTA's attorney, who argued that as long as Duncan made it clear he was acting as a private citizen, he could continue to lead Yes for Greenlight. But when the attacks continued, he decided to step down.

"I'm not doing this because I agree with them," he said. "I'm doing it because if we're not careful, it could cast a doubt on an otherwise very positive and aspirational campaign."

Duncan, who was re-appointed to TBARTA's board by Gov. Rick Scott in 2013, said neither the governor nor his staff asked him to resign from the campaign. His decision means he will no longer be involved in planning the campaign's strategy, he said, and will not help with its fundraising.

Duncan said he is being replaced by Don Ewing, president of a group called the Council of North County Neighborhoods, who like him is a North Pinellas resident and a vocal advocate for an expanded bus system and light rail. The campaign's other leader, Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, will continue to oversee its daily operations.

In response to similar concerns over public perception, Yes for Greenlight has also severed ties with Tucker Hall, the Tampa-based public relations firm it brought on to manage nearly every aspect of the campaign.

Tucker Hall was first hired over a year ago by Pinellas County's transit agency to design its more than $400,000 public education campaign for the transit referendum.

Ultimately, the fact that the company had worked on the public campaign — which, by law, had to maintain a neutral position on the referendum — and was orchestrating the private advocacy campaign, worried Yes for Greenlight's leaders. It also fueled the referendum's opponents, who have complained for months that the public education component was little more than a poorly disguised advocacy campaign.

"There was no legal problem, but it was the same perception of conflict," Steinocher said. "Part of this was the notion of: Let's make sure that how we're running the campaign doesn't become the story."

Steinocher said Tucker Hall will likely be replaced by several different consultants.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

Comments
Judge throws out Stormy Daniels' lawsuit against Trump

Judge throws out Stormy Daniels' lawsuit against Trump

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit from adult film actress Stormy Daniels that claimed President Donald Trump defamed her when he suggested she had lied about being threatened to keep quiet about their relationship. Federal District Judge ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Candidates for Pinellas commission race pause to help with natural disasters

Candidates for Pinellas commission race pause to help with natural disasters

As Election Day nears, the candidates for Pinellas County Commission have shifted from campaigning to helping residents deal with the aftermath of natural disasters.Democrat Amy Kedron held a town hall meeting and helped draft policies for businesses...
Published: 10/15/18
Trump calls on blacks to ‘honor’ him with votes, then praises Confederate general Robert E. Lee

Trump calls on blacks to ‘honor’ him with votes, then praises Confederate general Robert E. Lee

LEBANON, Ohio - President Donald Trump praised the Confederate general Robert E. Lee whilst asking African-American voters to "honor us" by voting for him at an Ohio rally which included an unexpected and provocative monologue on America’s Civil War ...
Published: 10/13/18
Carlton: Playing politics when a hurricane’s coming? There oughta be a law

Carlton: Playing politics when a hurricane’s coming? There oughta be a law

Maybe Florida needs a new law. The Disaster Decency Bill, we could call it.Because given the current political divide wider than the Gulf of Mexico, we might need it to mandate what has long been a tradition of coming together in the face of disaster...
Published: 10/12/18
MSNBC's Katy Tur hosting live panel with USF students during 'Battleground College Tour'

MSNBC's Katy Tur hosting live panel with USF students during 'Battleground College Tour'

MSNBC's Katy Tur will speak to USF students during a live panel in front of USF's Marshall Student Center on Friday from 2 to 3 p.m.
Published: 10/12/18
Monica Lewinsky comes to Tampa on Monday to talk #MeToo, media scrutiny

Monica Lewinsky comes to Tampa on Monday to talk #MeToo, media scrutiny

TAMPA — Monica Lewinsky, an anti-bullying social activist best remembered as the White House intern whose affair nearly brought down a presidency, will be in Tampa on Monday to deliver the keynote address at the 17th annual Franci Golman Rudolph Scha...
Published: 10/11/18
Updated: 10/15/18
Retired Tampa cop gunning for Hillsborough sheriff’s job touts outsider status

Retired Tampa cop gunning for Hillsborough sheriff’s job touts outsider status

One day this summer Gary Pruitt delivered a two-minute pitch to Plant City voters, describing what could change if he were picked to be Hillsborough County’s next sheriff. Among his promises: He would diversify the ranks. But the uniformed competitor...
Published: 10/11/18
Joe Henderson: It's getting easier getting to Tampa but try getting around once you're here

Joe Henderson: It's getting easier getting to Tampa but try getting around once you're here

If you haven’t been to Tampa International Airport in a while, do yourself a favor and go. The place is sleek, well organized, and has the look of an airport you might expect to see in some exotic city – which, I guess, we can say Tampa...
Published: 10/11/18
Carlton: Job one in Straz campaign to be Tampa’s mayor? Show up

Carlton: Job one in Straz campaign to be Tampa’s mayor? Show up

Tampa philanthropist and gazillionaire David Straz has gotten lots of deserved accolades for his acts of generosity over the years.His name graces the downtown performing arts center in lights and adorns the sign at a manatee hospital at Tampa’s zoo ...
Published: 10/10/18
Daniel Ruth: Whatever degree she may or may not have, mayor qualifies in chutzpah

Daniel Ruth: Whatever degree she may or may not have, mayor qualifies in chutzpah

Perhaps the tip-off Temple Terrace Mayor Mel Jurado's alleged doctoral degree was (ahem) about as worthless as a Venezuelan $1 bill was when she started pimping her dubious bona fides on her personalized license plate, "DRMEL." Really? Not....
Published: 10/10/18