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Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister finally files for re-election

Chronister has heavily courted Democrats in a county the Republican sheriff acknowledges is trending Democratic. | William March

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister has finally made it official, filing for re-election in November — but he had already mounted a substantial campaign.

He’s piled a massive $764,175 into his political committee, held a kickoff and made public appearances, and he’s heavily courted Democrats in a county the Republican sheriff acknowledges is trending Democratic.

Chronister’s only filed opponent, Democrat Gary Pruitt, charges that Chronister has also used public money to boost his name recognition by putting his name on around 1,000 patrol cars and other vehicles — even including a warehouse fork lift — at a cost of about $15,000.

Chronister called the accusation ridiculous. He said he put his name on the cars as an accountability measure, and that it’s typical for elected officials to put their names on buildings and materials seen by the public.

“I want people to know that good service or bad service starts and ends with me,” he said. “It’s also a reminder to the deputies that when they’re out there, they’re an extension of me.”

Why is Chronister running so hard, considering Pruitt, who lost to Chronister by 10 points in 2018, has only raised $4,435 cash and isn’t even backed by the local Democratic Party? Prominent Democrats and much of the law enforcement community publicly support Chronister.

But ballots indicate party affiliation, and Hillsborough Republicans have begun to dread countywide races. A presidential race, drawing out infrequent voters, could intensify the trend.

“It’s a D-plus-12 county,” meaning a 12-point Democratic voting advantage, “so I start out 12 points behind,” Chronister said.

He couldn’t raise campaign funds before filing, but the sheriff has put $764,175 into his political action committee, Friends of Chad Chronister, including $177,000 from the wealthy Debartolo family he married into.

He has courted local Democrats so strongly, including a $5,000 sponsorship for their annual fundraising gala in September, that some have questioned whether he would switch parties. Chronister firmly denies that and says he views his job as non-partisan.

He’s not ignoring Republicans. The River at Tampa Bay Church, a large evangelical church with ties to the Hillsborough County Republican Party, honored Chronister with a Sheriff Appreciation Day last month, billed as non-political support for law enforcement.

According to records provided by Chronister’s office, it cost $14,948 to add decals with his name to the office’s cars and other vehicles, which didn’t carry former Sheriff David Gee’s name. The office also spent $19,856 putting Chronister’s name on buildings and in offices, in most locations replacing Gee’s name.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Isabel Castillo noted that local elected officials including Tax Collector Doug Belden and Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer routinely put their names on materials used to communicate with the public including web pages, tax bills and voter mailings.

Hattersley campaign unionizes

State Rep. Adam Hattersley, running for the East Hillsborough-Lakeland congressional seat, announced that his campaign staff members — both of them — have joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, making it the state’s first unionized 2020 political campaign.

Former television journalist Alan Cohn (left) and State Rep. Adam Hattersley are Democratic candidates in Florida's 15th Congressional District. (Photos courtesy of Alan Cohn and Adam Hattersley.)

That’s aimed in part at competing with his opponent in the Democratic primary, Alan Cohn, for organized labor support, expected to be one of Cohn’s strengths in the closely contested primary battle.

The two are seeking the nomination against U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover.

Hattersley said the staff will grow after the legislative session.

“Unions have been under assault in Florida and across the country,” he said. “Our team wants to send the message that we stand with workers.”

Cohn, a former news broadcaster, is courting union support, telling labor groups he’s been a member of broadcasting and journalism unions throughout his career.

His campaign chairman is former Teamsters local 79 President Ken Wood, and Cohn is backed by the Teamsters, the International United Food and Commercial Workers, Plumbers and Pipefitters and American Postal Workers unions, and he says he expects more.

But Hattersley campaign manager Amy Bolick said Hattersley also expects significant labor support. As state legislator, she said, he had a 100 percent score from the AFL-CIO.

Castor, Kriseman at Tiger Bay

Tampa and St. Petersburg mayors Jane Castor and Rick Kriseman will be on the grill for the Feb. 21 Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting. [LANGSTON TAYLOR | Times]

Tampa and St. Petersburg mayors Jane Castor and Rick Kriseman will be on the grill for the Feb. 21 Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting, billed as “A Tale of Two Boom Towns,” and yes, baseball will be on the agenda. The lunch opens at 11:15 a.m. at The Cuban Club.

Contact William March at