Firefighter who fought Tampa on discrimination runs for Safety Harbor mayor

Tanja Vidovic will run against incumbent Joe Ayoub in the city’s March 2020 elections.
Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic steps out of the federal courthouse in Tampa in during the 2017 federal trial of her sexual discrimination case against the city of Tampa. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON   |   Times]
Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic steps out of the federal courthouse in Tampa in during the 2017 federal trial of her sexual discrimination case against the city of Tampa. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
Published Oct. 12, 2019|Updated Oct. 13, 2019

SAFETY HARBOR — It took a two-year legal battle and hundreds of thousands of dollars for Tanja Vidovic to keep her job as a Tampa firefighter and paramedic.

Now she has set her sights on a new career move — mayor of Safety Harbor.

Vidovic, 37, announced her intent to run in the city’s March elections on Friday, billing herself as a “mother of three, a community activist, radio host, public servant and artist advocating on behalf of the environment, safe streets, and a strong community.”

But for many, Vidovic’s name will forever be associated with the fallout from her federal discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the City of Tampa and Tampa Fire Rescue. Vidovic was fired from the department for “moral turpitude” on March 24, 2016, the day after she filed the suit.

Related: RELATED STORY: Federal judge orders Tampa to give fired firefighter her job back

Last April, Vidovic returned to her Tampa fire station after a jury agreed that the city discriminated against her because she was pregnant and retaliated against her when she complained. A judge ordered the city to reinstate Vidovic as a firefighter-paramedic and the city paid her $245,000 in damages.

Vidovic makes little mention of the dispute in campaign materials, but hasn’t been shy about speaking out against the culture of gender bias and discrimination she exposed within the fire department — and the city of Tampa.

“I am used to mayors using their power to try to silence me,” she said. “I think it is time that we have a mayor who doesn’t try to silence members of the community who disagree.”

Related: RELATED STORY: Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic won her job back in court. Now she could face new disciplinary action
Related: RELATED STORY: Firefighter Tanja Vidovic, who won job back in court, is at center of nearly two dozen complaints

Although she’s remained a prominent figure in Tampa’s political sphere, Vidovic and her family have lived in Safety Harbor for four years, she said. Inspired to launch an effort that would support local businesses and artists, Vidovic created the Safety Harbor Art Walk, which premiered in April.

“My kids go to the local public school here. We walk to school, we ride our bikes to school,” Vidovic said. “I have spent the past 10 years being a public servant, both at work and in my community. I am invested in this community. I am committed to this community. I don’t want this to become a town whose priorities are based on the profits of developers.”

In addition to her work with Tampa Fire Rescue, Vidovic volunteers at community radio station WMNF 88.5, where she’s spent two years co-hosting the Sustainable Living show on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. This year, the station honored Vidovic with the New News Programmer of the Year award for 2018.

And for about a decade, she has been the driving force behind a community gardening group that now boasts more than 10,000 members who tend to seven community orchards open to the public for harvesting throughout the Tampa Bay area. Her own Folly Farms has grown to more than 200 fruiting trees.

Related: RELATED STORY: Urban gardening family in Tampa loves to share the bounty

Her environmental activism made headlines in September 2018 when she was banned for one year from Safety Harbor’s Philippe Park after confronting several private contractors who were spraying Roundup on “invasive plants” she said were native to the area.

Bringing her activism to Safety Harbor’s mayoral office will require Vidovic to defeat incumbent Joe Ayoub.

Ayoub was elected mayor in March 2017 after defeating his opponent by more than 30 percentage points. It was a job he held once before, from January 2013 until March 2014, when he lost a bid for re-election.

Ayoub came into the role with years of experience inside Safety Harbor’s local government. A certified public accountant, he is CFO of Data Blue and was a city commissioner from March 2007 to January 2013. His resume also boasts positions on multiple government boards including the Pinellas Planning Council, Pinellas School Transportation Safety Committee, and Safety Harbor Budget Advisory Committee.