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Looking to Nov. 6, Tampa airport board hedges its bet on new lobbyist

The board moves ahead with the GrayRobinson law firm.
Passengers walk from the baggage claim area of Tampa International Airport as a sign is seen near the former car rental area in April. (CHRIS URSO | Times)
Published Oct. 4, 2018

Uncertainty about the outcome of the Nov. 6 election led the board for Tampa International Airport on Thursday to give itself some wiggle room as it hired a new state lobbyist.

"We don't know who the next governor is going to be, and the lobbyists who are close to each one of them are completely different," said Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board member and County Commissioner Victor Crist.

"We don't know who the next leadership down the line is going to be in the House and Senate," said Crist, who previously served in both chambers. "We may think we know, but politics today and the election cycles today are so up in the air that we really don't know. So to lock into a lobbying firm right now, when so much is in the air is not a good thing to do. Right now, we've got to keep ourselves flexible, so that a year from now when things have stabilized out and we have a good idea of what the future's going to look like in the following three years, then we can lock into a long-term decision."

So on a 3-to-1 vote, with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn voting no, the board reduced the base contract term for its new lobbyist, the GrayRobinson law firm, from two years to one. The airport will have the option to extend the contract, which is for about $80,000 a year, for another year at a time for up to three years.

The airport went out for bids in April after its contract with The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners expired. Staff ranked the four respondents in this order, GrayRobinson first, followed by The Advocacy Group; Lewis, Longman & Walker and the Southern Strategy Group.

Board chairman Robert Watkins abstained from voting because one of his accounting clients is a principal at The Advocacy Group.