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With U.S. attorney vacancy, Hillsborough’s top prosecutor says he’s staying put

Re-elected state attorney in November, Andrew Warren said he will remain in the job. Friends confirm Stacie Harris, who has specialized in stopping human trafficking for Florida’s Middle District, will apply for the U.S. attorney vacancy.
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks with the news media outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse in 2020. Warren said he intends to stay in his current office and won't apply for the open U.S. Attorney job for Florida’s Middle District.
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks with the news media outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse in 2020. Warren said he intends to stay in his current office and won't apply for the open U.S. Attorney job for Florida’s Middle District. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Apr. 2
Updated Apr. 3

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, expected by many to be a strong candidate for the open position for U.S. Attorney for Florida’s Middle District, says he intends to stay in his current office and won’t apply for the new job.

But another local prosecutor who friends confirm is applying, Stacie Harris, who has specialized in stopping human trafficking, will be a strong contender and would be the district’s first black female U.S. Attorney, according to local supporters.

Stacie Harris, assistant United States attorney for the Middle District of Florida. She is now on a special assignment with the Department of Justice.
Stacie Harris, assistant United States attorney for the Middle District of Florida. She is now on a special assignment with the Department of Justice. [ Florida State University Alumni ]

The post is likely to attract numerous other qualified applicants, whose names won’t be made public until later this month.

Warren said he’s been approached “by various people in the Tampa Bay and Washington” about the post, “and there’s been a groundswell of support.”

“It’s extremely flattering but I made a commitment to Hillsborough County four years ago to reform our justice system. We’ve made tremendous progress but our work is not finished yet. I was just re-elected to continue this work and I intend to do so.”

Some view Warren as a rising Democratic political star. There’s been speculation he would eventually run for state attorney general as well as the speculation about U.S. Attorney’s post. His decision may suggest he’s inclined to the political path.

Harris, a Tallahassee native and Florida State University law school graduate, has worked in the Tampa division of the U.S. Attorney’s office since 2008 as major crimes division chief and human trafficking coordinator. She is now on a special assignment with the Department of Justice.

Harris wouldn’t comment on her plans, but friends say she has told them she’s applying.

“There’s been a lot of community support for her to apply, and I think she would make a very strong candidate,” said state Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.

A flap over the state’s federal Judicial Nominating Commission has raised questions about Senate confirmation of President Joe Biden’s nominees for posts including U.S. attorneys. Both of Florida’s Republican senators are refusing to participate in a commission set up by Democrats.

Black Lives Matter reverberations in New Port Richey

Reverberations from last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations are being felt in the New Port Richey City Council elections set for April 13.

Four candidates in the non-partisan race are seeking two citywide seats — two incumbents and two comparative outsiders to city politics who both say they’re running in part because of the aftermath of the protests.

They are council members Matt Murphy and Mike Peters, and first-time candidates Kate Connolly and Rachel Giuliani Hagenbaugh.

Matt Murphy, New Port Richey City Council member
Matt Murphy, New Port Richey City Council member [ Matt Murphy ]

Hagenbaugh, a 10-year city resident and homemaker from an Hispanic and Italian family, is active in the Black Lives Matter movement and was one of a number of critics of the city and police reaction to the events.

Rachel Giuliani Hagenbaugh, candidate for New Port Richey City Council
Rachel Giuliani Hagenbaugh, candidate for New Port Richey City Council [ Rachel Giuliani Hagenbaugh ]

“I’m not black, but my brown skin helps me sympathize on the topic of racism,” Hagenbaugh said.

Connolly, a four-year city resident previously from Tarpon Springs, has worked in advertising and sales and as a political operative for Democratic candidates including Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith.

Kate Connolly, candidate for New Port Richey City Council
Kate Connolly, candidate for New Port Richey City Council [ STEVEN LE - THEE PHOTO NINJA | Kate Connolly ]

Both women say the council, currently all white and male, should be more diverse — Hagenbaugh’s campaign includes the slogan, “The woman for change.” But they and other political insiders acknowledge the city, with many Midwestern immigrants, is less conservative than the surrounding county.

Mayor Rob Marlowe, for example, though he has been criticized for New Port Richey’s response, proclaims himself a supporter of Black Lives Matter goals. In an interview, he said he was “horrified” by police killings including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and “couldn’t be a juror in that trial” because of his feelings.

And Peters and Murphy both said the movement raised valid issues.

New Port Richey City Council member Mike Peters
New Port Richey City Council member Mike Peters [ Mike Peters ]

But Peters also said use of social media on both sides exacerbated tensions, and “Everybody could be a little bit more understanding.” Murphy said he attended one protest as a bystander, “just to see what was going on,” and was railed at as if he were a counter-protester.

Both men are longer-term residents who operate local businesses.

New Port Richey police issued thousands of dollars’ worth of anti-noise law citations last summer to Black Lives Matter protesters for using bullhorns, later dropped, but didn’t cite Proud Boys and other counter-protesters who showed up at the rallies also using them.

Police said the counter-protesters stopped when asked. But protesters said the police ignored dangerous, threatening behavior by the counter-protesters, many of whom came from outside the city or county, and even provided them information on protest plans.

The situation drew unprecedented national attention to the small town of about 16,000, including coverage in The Washington Post.

The events later became the subject of bitter recrimination in public forums at City Council meetings.

But Connolly said the atmosphere has now calmed -- “The city has reached out to BLM, and the conversation is shifting a bit.”

Rice appeals to women voters

“Happy Women’s History Month!” said a text message sent out by city Councilwoman Darden Rice’s mayoral campaign. “Darden Rice has broken many glass ceilings and is running for Mayor of St. Pete. Are you ready for a woman mayor?”

With this and other campaign moves, Rice is actively pursuing women’s votes. It could be a good strategy — of the three prominent candidates in the race, Rice is the only woman.

St. Petersburg City Council member and mayoral candidate Darden Rice.
St. Petersburg City Council member and mayoral candidate Darden Rice. [ Photo courtesy of Darden Rice ]

A spokesman for the campaign of opponent Ken Welch called text message deceptive — St. Petersburg already had a woman mayor, Corinne Freeman, from 1977-1985.

But in an interview, Rice noted that was under the weak-mayor form of government — very different, she said, from today’s strong-mayor system.

“St. Petersburg has come a long way if an openly gay woman has a real shot, but that’s not why I’m running,” she said. “This would be shattering glass and rainbow ceilings, and that’s important and historic, but I’m not asking people to vote for me because I’m a woman. I’m running on my ideas to make St. Petersburg a better place. Nobody else in the race has the city experience I’ve had.”

Rice said more than half the electorate in the city’s 2017 municipal primary was female.

In a biographical video on her campaign web site, Rice recounts her battle with breast cancer.

She has publicized endorsements by LPAC, which backs lesbian candidates, and Florida’s Ruth’s List and hopes for backing from the national Emily’s List — the latter two support pro-choice Democratic women.