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Changes in politics; changes at port

When the politics change at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee, one thing is for certain: A new counsel will take over at the Tampa Port Authority.

At least, that has been the track record for the last 20 years, and it doesn't appear likely to change now.

On his way out is Tampa lawyer Joseph Spicola, who once served as counsel for former Gov. Bob Martinez. He had replaced T. Terrell Sessums, a Democrat and former speaker of the state House of Representatives, who served on the port for more than 15 years. Spicola, who was hired in March 1989 after Republicans gained a majority on the port board, has resigned effective July 31.

On his way in _ depending on a board vote _ is Steven A. Anderson, a Tampa lawyer who is a top Lawton Chiles supporter. Anderson served as the governor's campaign coordinator in Hillsborough County.

Joseph Garcia, chairman of the five-member board and a Chiles appointee, said he will discuss Anderson as possible new counsel at a meeting this morning with port director Joe Valenti and deputy port director Joe Scroggins.

Garcia on Monday didn't discuss the politics of the situation, although the board has recently shifted back to a Democratic majority. Instead, he said Anderson, who has been a lawyer for other governmental groups, "has other qualifications we think are significant."

The port's board, which meets in July, will make the final decision about Spicola's replacement and about the new counsel's fees.

It's a lucrative post. Spicola and other lawyers at his firm bill the port from $100 to $150 an hour for their advice.

Spicola's role changed in the past year from port employee to consultant after he was found to have violated the state ethics code by referring more than $70,000 in work from the port to his private firm. Spicola later was fined $500 by the board, far less than the $10,000 fine recommended by the state Ethics Commission.

Spicola, who dated his letter of resignation June 15, one day after his 62nd birthday, said he has long had plans to cut back on his 36-year law practice. "This is nothing surprising," he said. "I told them six months ago I would be doing it this summer."

Anderson, who turns 45 this week, has worked for the Tampa Sports Authority and has experience in real estate transactions, which make up a substantial amount of the port's business. A partner in an 11-lawyer firm, he also represents Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Ron Alderman.

Anderson has a prominent political past. He ran for the Legislature in 1978 and 1980. In 1991, after he was acquitted on federal bank fraud charges involving a Hyde Park real estate deal, Anderson blasted the charges as unfounded and blamed them on what he said was a political move by Republican-appointed prosecutors.