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Tampa firefighters union endorses six candidates for City Council

TAMPA — Tampa's firefighters union Tuesday awarded City Council endorsements to incumbent Joseph Caetano, former council member Frank Reddick and four business and legal professionals.

Unlike the police union, however, Tampa Fire Fighters No. 754 did not announce an endorsement in the mayor's race. That's because firefighters did that six months ago, throwing an early and key piece of political support to former Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn.

In council races, the firefighters union endorsed:

• Former Hillsborough County Democratic Party head and insurance salesman Mike Suarez for the citywide District 1 seat.

• Scott Strepina, who oversees business development efforts for the Print Concierge in Ybor City, for the citywide seat in District 2.

• Family law lawyer Seth Nelson, who has served on the city's Variance Review Board and City Council budget advisory committee, for the citywide seat in District 3.

• Dennis Meyers, a former Navy reservist who is a lawyer with a civil litigation practice, in District 4 covering South Tampa.

• Reddick, the president of the Sickle Cell Association of Hills­borough County, in District 5, covering east Tampa. Reddick was appointed to the council in 2006, but lost a 2007 election to current council Chairman Thomas Scott.

• Caetano, a hair salon owner and former police officer, in District 7 covering New Tampa.

The union's executive board decided the endorsements Monday after interviewing candidates on issues that included public safety and the budget.

"They're all supporters of public safety, and we feel we can work with each and every one of them," said Jace Kohan, the union's secretary-treasurer.

In Tampa political circles, the endorsement of the firefighters union is especially prized. That's not only because of the group's public safety credentials, but because firefighters have a record of volunteering for the candidates they support. They already are walking neighborhoods for Buckhorn, Kohan said.

Tampa Fire Fighters No. 754 is the second influential public safety union to issue endorsements in the City Council races. Last week, the Tampa Police Benevolent Association likewise endorsed Strepina, Nelson, Meyers, Reddick and Caetano, but banker and current City Council member Curtis Stokes in District 1 and former Mayor Dick Greco in the mayor's race.

Greco said Tuesday that "many, many" firefighters have stepped forward to work for his campaign, and nearly 100 current and former firefighters are planning a party to support him in January.

Such endorsements should be made after organizations interview candidates and make sure that the field of candidates is complete, said Greco, who entered the race five months after firefighters endorsed Buckhorn.

The firefighters union's bylaws let members make a motion to endorse a candidate at a general membership meeting. The bylaws require a quorum of about a dozen members to be present for such a motion to be considered.

In June, 26 union members showed up for a meeting where someone moved to endorse Buckhorn and the motion passed overwhelmingly, Kohan said.

The union's website prominently says, "Tampa firefighters proudly endorse Bob Buckhorn for mayor" and features a link to Buckhorn's campaign website.

"That's our endorsement, and we'll stay with it," Kohan said.

But executive board members have proposed changing the bylaws so that they, not the general membership, make political endorsements in the future. Amending the bylaws would require a two-thirds vote of the union's 630 members.

Like the police union, firefighters made no endorsement in District 6, covering West Tampa, where teacher and journalist Kelly Benjamin is currently the only active candidate. The incumbent, Charlie Miranda, has not said if he will seek re-election.

The city elections are March 1.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa firefighters union endorses six candidates for City Council 12/21/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 11:05pm]
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