Voters in central and West Tampa face a special election Feb. 23 to replace state Rep. Michael Scionti, who resigned in December. House District 58 covers a diverse area, from the gentrifying neighborhoods north of downtown to working-class Egypt Lake and heavily Hispanic West Tampa. The district is home to nationally recognized historic districts, run-down commercial corridors and many small and family-owned businesses. Early voting begins Monday.
Janet R. Cruz
No state House district in Tampa is more diverse than District 58. Its neighborhoods include some of the city's oldest but also some undergoing the fastest demographic changes. While heavily Hispanic, the area flavor is hardly monolithic, as newer residents from Central and South America add to the older Cuban culture. Democrat Janet R. Cruz, a Tampa native, is the only candidate who grasps the district's varied needs and its priorities.
Cruz, 53, a political activist and former small business owner, has a long history championing the progressive social causes that the district is solidly behind. She supports mass transit, affordable access to health care, historic preservation and programs that do more than warehouse kids in Florida's juvenile justice system. Cruz understands an expansion of offshore drilling would threaten both the state's environment and its tourist economy.
Republican Hunter Chamberlin is a 37-year-old attorney who moved from Miami to Tampa five years ago. He is unfamiliar with the district and out of touch with its needs. Chamberlin wants to expand tax breaks to industry and allow "unfettered" growth of charter schools. He has no record of civic involvement in Tampa.
Cruz has a way to go on policy discussions, and she has never held elected office. But her warm persona and deep political ties could make her a player.
In the special election for state House District 58, the Times recommends Janet R. Cruz.
Opportunity to reply The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. The candidate for House District 58 should send a reply no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday to: Tim Nickens, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by fax: (727) 893-8675; or through our Web site at: www.tampabay.com/letters. Replies are limited to 150 words.