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Hillsborough commissioner candidate 'embarrassed' county doesn't have high-speed ferry yet

Tampa Bay's efforts to launch a high-speed ferry are too slow-moving.

At least, that's the position of Pat Kemp, a Democratic candidate for Hillsborough County commissioner, who on Thursday ripped into county officials for not acting faster to make the project a reality.

"As a Hillsborough County Commissioner, I will get the Tampa Bay High Speed Ferry Project done without any more delay," Kemp said in a press release. "This is a 'no-brainer' and I'm embarrassed for our county and our region that isn't underway now."

The proposed ferry would connect MacDill Air Force Base with Apollo Beach and present another option for commuters to cross the bay during rush hour. Earlier this year commissioners voted to extend an agreement with the two companies looking to bring the ferry to Tampa Bay, though it is not expected to become a reality until at least 2018.

Kemp said that's not fast enough.

"New York is bringing on five new lines in 3 years and we can't get a single line going in 5 years," she said.

That Kemp is so adamant about bringing a ferry line to the area isn't surprising. The former Hillsborough County Democratic Party chairwoman serves on the Tampa Bay High Speed Ferry Committee.

But Kemp is running in a crowded Democratic field for the the District 6 countywide seat that includes transit activist and lawyer Brian Willis and former county commissioner Tom Scott. And it is interesting to see the positions the candidates are making a priority early in the race and on which issues they are challenging incumbent commissioners.

Willis attended a July 15 county board meeting to call on commissioners to take down a Confederate flag that hung in the county center. He also lobbied them to avoid entering into an agreement with Sentinel Offender Services, a controversial California-based company, to handle misdemeanor probation services.

Kemp criticized County Administrator Mike Merrill's proposed 2016 budget at a July public hearing for not including money for the ferry project and more for transportation. Her press release Thursday included a thinly veiled jab at Merrill and commissioners.

"We need county commissioners that get this without having to be told that it is a good project," Kemp said. "I will be that kind of County Commissioner. I will do what is right — not what lobbyists, PR consultants or the county administrator tells me to do."