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Daystarter: National Signing Day recap; ideal forecast for opening of Florida State Fair; meet Florida's new pot czar

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.
Published Feb. 7

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.

• Prepare to endure another nice day. It'll be in the upper 50s to low 60s in the morning with patchy fog, but will turn into another sunny, warm and clear day, according to the National Weather Service. Highs will be from the upper 70s to low 80s, then drop back down into the 50s at night.

•Here are the top things to do today in Tampa Bay including the opening of the Florida State Fair, Tyler Perry brings his Madea character on a farewell tour and Sing Out! Tampa Bay returns.

• We have now entered that sweet spot in the year when the weather is nice, the crowds are lighter and SeaWorld and Universal are cranking up popular festivals with free concerts to generate foot traffic. Here's a preview of Universal's Mardi Gras and the SeaWorld Seven Seas Food Festival, both opening on Saturday with special food and concert lineups over the next few months.

• President Donald Trump pledged in Tuesday's State of the Union to "eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years." Steve Contorno reports that if the president follows through on his promise, Florida's rising number of AIDS and HIV cases will make it the epicenter of that fight.

• Louis C.K. performed the first of six sold-out shows at Side Splitters Comedy Club on Wednesday and received a standing ovation after his hour long set. There were no protestors, no phones allowed and no jokes involving the Parkland school shooting, though the comedian did allude to the outrage he stirred up with a previous joke on that topic, as well as his own admitted sexual misconduct. Christopher Spata details the the appearance.

• It's been a good week for mayoral candidate Jane Castor. A local poll put her out in front of her six opponents by more than 30 points. Now a powerful national political action committee dedicated to electing women to office announced its support for her on Thursday. Emily's List, which spent $110 million in the last election cycle to help elect a record 34 women to Congress, endorsed Castor as its choice for Tampa mayor in the coming March 5 municipal election.

• In a state where elections have brought recounts that last weeks and where 29 electoral votes can depend on a decimal point, much attention has been paid to how Florida's overall electorate could change after November. That's when voters approved Amendment 4, a ballot measure that restored the right to vote to most people who had served out sentences for felony convictions. What would 1.2 million potential new voters mean to perhaps the purplest big state? But an earlier test for Amendment 4 comes on March 5 in Tampa. Read more from Langston Taylor.

• There are more pressing issues facing Florida, but this is the most pressing question today: Will Gov. Ron DeSantis ride the giant slide at the Florida State Fair today? Christopher Spata writes that, if there's one thing associated with the Governor's Day Luncheon, it's that annual photo opportunity when Florida politicians take a slip down the giant slide. If you're headed there today, here's a primer on the gut-busting food options available this year.

• Florida has its first pot czar: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced that Holly Bell, a Nashville consultant and banker who worked to help service the hemp and cannabis industry, will be the state's first director of cannabis — a $110,000 per year job. But Samantha Gross reports that those who work in the cannabis industry expressed disappointment that Fried picked an outsider from Florida and questioned her experience in the field.

• Investor Ben Mallah recently paid $16.5 million for the Belleair Shore home of former Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, the record price for a residential property in the Tampa Bay area. Here's what else $16.5 million could have bought.

• St. Petersburg's skies have been studded with construction cranes, but the rapid development is giving rise to tension between those intent on preserving the old and others who consider that advocacy a violation of property rights. Waveney Ann Moore has the details.

• For the latest in Florida politics, make sure to check The Buzz.

• James Cordier seemed a man on top of his game. He lived in a bayfront mansion with travertine floors and an infinity pool. He had a sleek office in a downtown Tampa skyscraper. Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and nearly 300 other wealthy clients trusted him to make smart decisions with their money. But then, as Susan Taylor Martin reports, he lost his clients at least $150 million.

• Check out the Times online Business page for the latest on the economy, jobs, real estate, retail and workplace culture.

• The Madeira Beach City Commission has made the news once again: City Commissioner Nancy Oakley has resigned, days after being fined by the state ethics commission for sexually harassing a former city manager by licking his face and groping him. Read how this strange case is finally wrapping up.

• It's been more than a decade since Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials first warned that the county's booming population growth would exceed their ability to provide emergency services. But the alarm was sounded once again at Wednesday's Hillsborough County Commission meeting. Anastasia Dawson reports that union officials and dozens of firefighters urged commissioners to build at least one new fire station a year over the next 25 to 30 years to meet the needs of rapidly growing communities.

• For the latest education coverage, make sure to read The Gradebook. And check out the Gradebook podcast as education reporter Jeffrey Solochek leads a weekly discussion about Florida education.

• Check out the Times photo and video channels for the most compelling visuals.

• • •

All the recruiting news from National Signing Day are on the Tampa Bay Times online Sports page with the latest ranking of the Bulls, Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes classes.

• The Gators only needed four recruits to lock up their 2019 class Wednesday thanks to a prolific early period in December. But Mari Faiello reports that Florida beat out SEC rivals Georgia and Alabama to land two of those players, giving coach Dan Mullen reason to be excited about this class by beating out the two teams that played in the SEC championship.

• Florida State failed to sign a quarterback for the second year in a row, but Seminoles coach Willie Taggart said he has a plan to solve his lack of depth at the game's most important position. But as Matt Baker reports, Taggart wasn't willing to discuss that plan just yet at his signing day news conference.

• University of South Florida coach Charlie Strong announced he landed 19 players on signing day. But Joey Knight reports that Strong said he'll be relying on something else to boost the Bulls' talent level this offseason: the NCAA transfer portal.

• Columnist Martin Fennelly profiles one of the Tampa Bay area's top recruits on signing day: Hillsborough High School's Terence Doston, who signed to play football and baseball for West Virginia.

• One of the Lightning's most popular players may be out of the team's plans. Click here to learn the latest about Ryan Callahan from beat writer Diana C. Nearhos. Follow her at @dianacnearhos and Mari Faiello at @faiello_mari.

• The Bucs have a new head coach, and maybe they'll soon have another kicker. The Falcons released former Buc Matt Bryant on Wednesday, which means he could rejoin Tampa Bay. That story and all the offseason changes are just a click away at You also can follow Rick Stroud at @NFLSTROUD and fellow beat writer Eduardo A. Encina at @EddieInTheYard.

• MLB has taken under consideration some major rule changes, including adding the DH to the National League. Just click here to keep up with Marc Topkin @TBTimes_Rays and all the latest news on the team.

• The Rays are putting single-game tickets on sale to the general public Friday, but one of their online pre-sales allowed us a first look at their new pricing structure with the Tropicana Field upper deck being closed.

• Get the latest sports news, reaction and analysis from Times sportswriter Rick Stroud and the rest of the crew on the Bucs, Bulls, Lightning, Gators, 'Noles and Rays via our Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast.

• • •

The Times online Arts and Entertainment page tells you everything you need to know about what to do, see, eat and experience around town.

• Listen to our new podcast, Life of the Party, so Stephanie Hayes and Brittany Volk can brief you on latest celebrity news, entertainment headlines, gossip and other weird stuff and help make you far more interesting than anyone has the right to be.

• Don't just write the right way — write the Lane way. Keep up with Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Lane DeGregory's podcast, WriteLane, and learn about her approach to the craft of storytelling.


  1. Officers arrived and helped treat the wounded man. Then he was rushed to a hospital.
  2. The Pinellas County Commission moved closer Tuesday to granting a total of $20.6 million to three museums: the Salvidor Dali Museum (top), the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center (bottom left), and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Photos courtesy of Pinellas County
    The Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg Museum of History and Tampa Bay Watch are on track to receive bed tax dollars for expansions.
  3. West Port Colony apartments in St. Petersburg C2 Design Group Inc, Chris Stevens
    The complex off Fourth Street N is convenient to both Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg.
  4. According to a forecast by PNC, business leaders feel sunny about the coming six months.
  5. Lithia Motors Inc. has acquired three dealerships from the Williams Automotive Group including Wesley Chapel Toyota near the Interstate 75 and State Road 54 interchange in Wesley Chapel. [Times (2007]
    Wesley Chapel Toyota, Wesley Chapel Honda and Tampa Honda dealerships change hands
  6. Sen. Travis Hutson presents his Job Growth Grant Fund legislation to the Senate Education Committee on Nov. 12, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The original version would have targeted charter schools only.
  7. Left: A burned Ford Taurus, found near Key Vista Nature Park, pictured in the Pasco County Sheriff's Office's forensics building. Right: 21-year-old Michael Psilakis, of Hudson, is accused of killing the unidentified man whose body was found in the car. Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    Michael Psilakis, of Hudson, faces first-degree murder and other charges. The victim has not been identified.
  8. A flag supporting President Donald Trump flutters near the University of Florida's Century Tower before an Oct. 10 appearance on campus by Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle. A controversy over the political nature of the event has led to calls for the impeachment of Student Body President Michael C. Murphy, who helped set it up. Courtesy of Chris Day
    A push to oust Student Body President Michael Murphy comes after an email surfaces, suggesting he worked with the Trump campaign to bring a political speech to campus.
  9. Tampa-based consumer data company Bridge is working to solve a specialty retailing problem that goes back to the end of Prohibition, and it’s getting help from venture capitalists at Florida Funders.
    Bridge specializes in providing detailed consumer data that helps producers of liquor, beer and wine target their advertising.
  10. Jacob "Jake" Weinert, 28, seen here holding his son Jasper in 2018, was killed Tuesday morning when a pickup truck struck him from him behind while he was riding on U.S. 301 in Tampa, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Courtesy Izabel Sgie
    Jacob Weinert, a 28-year-old father of two, was struck by a pickup near Sligh Avenue, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.