Thursday, September 20, 2018
Politics

Booted by landlord a year ago, Marco Rubio opens new office in Tampa courthouse

TAMPA — After months of meeting constituents in libraries and coffee shops, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and his staff have opened a new office in the Tampa Bay area.

Rubio’s office quietly started doing business Jan. 8 in the new regional office at the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in downtown Tampa. The opening comes nearly a year after the Miami Republican’s former landlord booted his staff out of a mid-rise building in the Westshore area because weekly demonstrations by activists outside the building were bothering other tenants.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Rubio is asked to leave because of protests at office

Rubio’s office in Suite 1130 of the courthouse, 801 N Florida Ave., stands seven floors above the regional office of Rubio’s Democratic counterpart, Sen. Bill Nelson.

"Its downtown location is central to the Tampa Bay region and is within roughly an hour’s drive from almost any point in the nine counties covered" by the regional office, Rubio spokesman Anthony Cruz said in an email.

Rubio’s office has typically had two staffers. For now, the office is staffed by regional director Jonathan Torres.

"We expect to be fully staffed in the office shortly as Senator Rubio continues fighting for the Tampa Bay region and the rest of Florida," Cruz said.

Asked for a copy of the lease agreement, Rubio’s office referred the request to the U.S. General Services Administration. The GSA did not immediately respond.

Rubio’s office troubles began last Feb. 1 when the owner of Bridgeport Center, a nine-story office center at 5201 Kennedy Blvd., notified Rubio’s staff that his lease would not be renewed and that Rubio had 30 days to leave.

The reason: Weekly demonstrations outside the building by activists seeking to pressure Rubio on a variety of issues. A number of groups staged weekly demonstrations urging Rubio to hold town hall meetings and resist President Donald Trump’s agenda. The strategy played out across Florida and the country.

The protestors disrupted other tenants and cost the company too much money, Jude Williams, president of landlord America’s Capital Partners, told the Tampa Bay Times in March.

That month, Rubio’s landlord in Jacksonville also asked him to leave, in part, because demonstrations disrupted a pediatric behavioral clinic next door, Rubio and his staff have said. The Jacksonville lease ended April 30 and Rubio found a space the following month in the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse.

News coverage of Rubio’s ouster put Tampa Bay landlords and property management companies on notice that the senator could bring problems as a tenant. That added to challenge of finding a space in a tight commercial rental market, where leasing fees are high and vacancy rates are low.

A Rubio spokeswoman told the Times in July that discussions with potential landlords were ongoing and that the Senator’s staff hoped to have an office "soon." Meanwhile, Rubio’s two-person staff improvised, meeting constituents in coffee shops, libraries and other public spaces.

The office has not responded to questions from the Times about how staffers ensured that sensitive constituent documents remained secure while in transit.

Cruz said Tuesday that "very limited space availability in the federal courthouse was a large factor" in how long it took to open a new office.

"Additionally, moving a Senate office into a federal courthouse involves multiple agencies across all three branches of government," he said.

Fore several months after Rubio’s staff moved out of the Westshore building, demonstrators from groups such as Indivisible Action Tampa Bay gathered at the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway.

Founder Christine Hanna said members of her group hope to schedule a meeting with Rubio’s staff soon for an "office warming." There are currently no plans to demonstrate outside the courthouse, Hanna said.

"When there’s a need to make our voices heard, when there’s something we want to bring to the senator, we plan on doing that," she said.

Jamie Delgado, who serves as policy advocacy officers for Indivisible Action Tampa Bay, said he hopes Rubio’s evictions will spur him to be more responsive to constituent requests for a town hall meeting.

"The demonstrations didn’t happen in a vacuum,:" Delgado said. "They happened because he ignored Tampa and Jacksonville."

Rubio has yet to hold a town hall meeting in the Tampa Bay area. When the time again comes to demonstrate, publicly owned property like a federal courthouse has its advantages for law-abiding activists, Delgado said.

"There’s never going to be that risk where people are simply thrown off the property by authorities," he said. "They can always voice their opinion if they’re peaceful."

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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