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March column: Could Ribeiro shake up Senate District 19 race?

St. Petersburg trial lawyer Agostinho Ribeiro has entered the race ffor state Senate from a district where opponents have greater name recognition. [Courtesy Agostinho Ribeiro]

St. Petersburg trial lawyer Agostinho Ribeiro has entered the race ffor state Senate from a district where opponents have greater name recognition. [Courtesy Agostinho Ribeiro]

Agostinho "Augie" Ribeiro, a late entry in the state Senate District 19 Democratic primary race, has the potential to shake up a race that's complicated because it crosses Tampa Bay, taking in minority neighborhoods in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Ribeiro's problem: A first-time candidate, he lacks the name recognition of his competitors, state Reps. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Ed Narain of Tampa, and former state Rep. Betty Reed of Tampa, and he's getting a late start to build up that name recognition.

"Nobody seems to know much about him," said Mark Hanisee, who's been active in the Democratic parties in both counties. "The other three are household names."

Ribeiro's advantages: A successful lawyer, he's willing to spend his own money, though he won't give a figure; and he's Hispanic — the son of penniless Portuguese immigrants to New York — and the only non-black candidate in the race. As of 2012, 52 percent of the district's Democrats were black, and 9 percent Hispanic.

He could undercut an advantage Rouson is counting on — that Narain and Reed supporters will split the district's majority Hillsborough vote.

Ribeiro, who's fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, founded a Connecticut law firm representing consumers against corporations in defective product cases, including the massive case over faulty GM ignition switches responsible for fatal wrecks. He opened an office in St. Petersburg and moved there after meeting his future wife, former Deputy Mayor Sarah Lind. He's been a donor to Democratic candidates and the party.

Ribeiro criticizes the other candidates for taking contributions from insurance companies, utilities and payday loan companies, which he says he won't do.

"The candidates currently running have been part of the system that has let down so many kids and families in this district," he said. "We need someone with a greater skill set."

In the heavily Democratic district, the primary will decide the race.

But some black political leaders, including Sen. Arthenia Joyner, who's leaving the seat because of term limits and backs Narain, aren't happy Ribeiro's running.

"This district is intended for the minority community to be able to elect a candidate of their choice," she said.

Ribeiro's response: "I've made it my career, my life and my mission to represent the underrepresented, the disadvantaged. They need a skilled voice and loud champion."

Clinton (Bill) for Hillsborough Kennedy-King dinner?

It's a long shot, but local Dems are seeking a big get for their Kennedy-King fundraising dinner Aug. 6 — former President Bill Clinton.

Clinton had been expected to attend a private fundraising lunch at the Brandon horse farm of Democratic donor Bryan Baldwin, but the event was cancelled when the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting occurred a few days before it was to take place.

Public relations executive Tom Hall and Alex Sink, Florida's former chief financial officer, were involved. Hall said he hopes Clinton will speak at the dinner instead of re-scheduling the lunch.

Obviously, Tampa's important to the campaign, but that date is a week after the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, so it's going to be tough to get any commitment.

Warren makes ethics promises

Andrew Warren, the Democrat challenging Republican State Attorney Mark Ober, has issued a pledge that if elected, he won't accept campaign contributions from any employees of the State Attorney's Office.

"I don't want employees of the State Attorney's Office or the public wondering whether employees are being evaluated and promoted based on political donations rather than performance of their duties," he said.

It's not unusual for constitutional officers to receive contributions from their employees. Ober has reported 80, totaling $22,957, most from lawyers in the office.

But Warren said that's not the reason for his proposal. "It's about making sure the public understands how employees are being evaluated and promoted."

Ober responded, "It would be wrong to prohibit my employees from exercising their right to support me when they choose to. They live in the community and have well-informed opinions … I have never pressured an employee to support me."

Warren also said he won't accept contributions from anyone being investigated by his office. That, he said, stems from the news that state Attorney General Pam Bondi solicited and accepted a $25,000 contribution from Donald Trump while her office was considering investigating Trump's real estate school.

As a former federal prosecutor, Warren said, he wasn't allowed to accept so much as a sandwich from subjects of investigations or their lawyers.

Warren took a sidelong shot at Ober, asking whether such conduct was allowed when Bondi worked in Ober's office.

"The conduct of my office has never been questioned," Ober responded. "To me that is purely partisan political rhetoric. I'm appalled that he would suggest that of the fine people that have worked in this office."

Refunds coming from unopposed candidates

Three Hillsborough County constitutional officers — Tax Collector Doug Belden, Sheriff David Gee and Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer — won re-election without a fight last month when no candidate qualified to run against them.

Among them they've raised $626,442 — $372,840 for Gee, $208,306 for Belden and a comparatively paltry $45,296 for Latimer.

All intend to refund their excess contributions.

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

March column: Could Ribeiro shake up Senate District 19 race? 07/07/16 [Last modified: Friday, July 8, 2016 7:15am]
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