Early voting starts Thursday in special Tampa City Council runoff

Jim Davison
Jim Davison
Published Nov. 25, 2016

TAMPA — Elections are done most everywhere else, but voters in northern Tampa and New Tampa still have a choice to make for the City Council.

Emergency room doctor Jim Davison and attorney Luis Viera will meet in a runoff election Dec. 6, when voters will pick a replacement for Lisa Montelione, who left her District 7 council seat in mid-term for what turned out to be an unsuccessful run for the state House of Representatives.

More than 12,000 vote-by-mail ballots have already been sent. Early voting starts Thursday and goes through Sunday, Dec. 4.

Still, voters curious about Davison and Viera can get another chance to hear them at candidate forums scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the New Tampa Regional Library and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Babe Zaharias Golf Course clubhouse in Forest Hills.

Davison and Viera, both residents of Hunter's Green, emerged from a six-candidate field Nov. 8 by splitting more than half the vote between them — nearly 31 percent for Davison, slightly more than 22 percent for Viera.

Transportation has been an over-arching issue in this campaign, and both candidates would like to see expanded Hills- borough Area Regional Transit Authority service in the district. But they differ on other points.

Davison, 62, has long been involved in transportation issues in New Tampa, having co-founded and chaired the New Tampa Transportation Task Force.

Citing estimates from the Hills- borough City-County Planning Commission's plan for 2040, Davison notes that creating rail-based transit between downtown and the University of South Florida would cost $150 million less than between downtown and Tampa International Airport. He also sees USF-to-downtown rail transit as a better economic development generator.

Davison said the Go Hillsborough sales tax initiative was "very questionable," largely because he contends that its supporters low-balled their estimates of how much revenue it would generate. Instead, he advocated that Hillsborough County officials first look to their own budget and projections of growth in their revenues — an approach the County Commission adopted in putting together a $600 million transportation plan.

Davison expects city revenues to return to their pre-recession levels in 2018, so he thinks Tampa should engage in the same exercise as the county before, for example, going to the state for the authority to hold its own sales tax referendum for transportation. That's been on Mayor Bob Buckhorn's legislative wish list for years.

"This should be a straight-forward (discussion of) this is what we have," Davison said. "I think that's what's driving me to do this — to bring some transparency to the discussion, so it's not all emotional."

Viera, 38, is a lawyer with the Tampa law firm of Ogden & Sullivan and a member of the city's Civil Service Review Board since 2011.

Viera says transportation and the redevelopment of the area around USF — something he'd like to focus on with the creation of a community redevelopment area — require the same set of skills.

"Transportation (should be) concurrent to the redevelopment of the university area," he says. "I can't emphasize enough how important it is to reach across the aisle from the city to the county, from the county to the state. We need to make government alliances … and form partnerships to redevelop the university area. And the same thing can be said for transportation, too."

Viera says the Go Hillsborough plan was "very flawed," mainly because it wouldn't have put enough money toward transit projects. He supports the idea of allowing the city to hold its own sales tax referendum for transportation — cities ought to have the right of self-determination, he says — but doubts it would happen anytime soon.

Officially, City Council races are non-partisan, but it's not unusual for them to take on partisan overtones. This is no exception.

Davison, a Republican, has picked up endorsements from current and former GOP officials like County Commissioner Victor Crist, former City Council member Joe Caetano. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, and state Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa. Since the Nov. 8 election, he's also won over two people eliminated in the first-round of the election — Avis Harrison and Cyril Spiro, who made a video for social media on why they support him.

Viera has statements of support from a long list of prominent Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, former congressman Jim Davis, former Florida chief financial officer Alex Sink, City Council chairman Mike Suarez, County Commissioner Les Miller, former state Rep. Ed Narain, and new state Rep. Sean Shaw, plus the Tampa Bay Builders Association, Tampa Firefighters Local No. 754 and Tampa Police Benevolent Association.