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Rick Kriseman, Jimmy Patronis have a war of tweets over a city firefighter with cancer

St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Lt. Jason Francis, diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January, says he’s entitled to certain benefits under a new law. The city says it’s seeking clarity about his eligibility.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, left, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, left, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. [ Times staff ]
Published Aug. 21, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Mayor Rick Kriseman got into a Twitter spat that spanned the weekend over a city firefighter with cancer.

St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Lt. Jason Francis was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January, according to a lawsuit he filed last week against the city. Francis says he is entitled to certain benefits from the city under a new law that passed during the 2019 legislative session for firefighters with certain types of cancer, and that the city won’t grant them to him.

One of the benefits in question is a $25,000 payout.

RELATED STORY: Firefighter cancer coverage gets approved in Florida Senate

The problem is the law went into effect after Francis’ diagnosis, on July 1. That’s the date Francis went to the city to claim his benefits, according to the lawsuit.

When word of Francis’ story got out last week, Patronis took to Twitter to warn Kriseman that if St. Petersburg “wants to wage war over the cancer benefits debate – I’m ready.”

That prompted Kriseman to clap back, offering to school Patronis with “the facts.”

City officials say they are seeking guidance on whether the benefits apply to a firefighter with a diagnosis before July 1.

“As has been reported and as is stated in his complaint, Lt. Francis received his diagnosis prior to the new state law going into effect, making him ineligible,” Kriseman’s office said in a statement. “The city, as well as Lt. Francis’s own lawsuit, seeks clarity from a court or from the Florida Legislature to clarify this benefit for all Florida cities and firefighters who have been placed into yet another predicament by the state of Florida.”

Kriseman’s office also said Francis told the city’s human resources department he was not seeking the $25,000 payout.

Patronis persisted on Twitter, imploring Kriseman and the City Council to “step up" for Francis. He ended with the hashtag #DoTheRightThing. Kriseman responded that it’s not within the council’s purview, and that “we’re doing the right thing.”

Patronis responded, sharing with Kriseman, a former state legislator, his view on the “legislative intent” of the law — to cover firefighters with cancer.

That led Kriseman, a Democrat, to play the President Trump card on Patronis, a Republican: “Classic Trump playbook from my GOP friends,” the mayor tweeted, “tweet first, facts never.”

Patronis threw the last barb on Tuesday, saying Kriseman should “just LEAD" and posing the question, “Why does he need to add attorney’s fees for his cancer fight?” He ended with the hashtags #cancersucks and #leadershipfailure.

Kriseman did not respond on Twitter.