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  1. Florida Politics

Poll shows Norman trailing Kemp in Hillsborough commission race

Republican Jim Norman, a former commissioner and state senator who left office in the wake of controversies, announced Tuesday he is re-entering politics. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Republican Jim Norman, a former commissioner and state senator who left office in the wake of controversies, announced Tuesday he is re-entering politics. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published Sep. 3, 2015

A poll by the prominent GOP polling firm Data Targeting Inc. shows Republican Jim Norman trailing Pat Kemp, one of three Democratic candidates in the race for the District 6 Hillsborough County Commission seat.

Norman, a former commissioner and state senator who left office in the wake of controversies, announced Tuesday he is re-entering politics.

The poll was done for a group of local Republicans. The top-line results show Kemp at 44 percent and Norman with 35 percent.

The poll included 400 respondents and has a 4.9 percent margin of error.

Norman has said a poll he had done showed a favorable result for him in the race, but wouldn't release the results.

Leytham draws fire and defense

Well-connected public relations consultant Beth Leytham has become something of a lightning rod in the controversy over a proposed county sales tax increase for transportation improvements.

Leytham works for Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm being paid $900,000 by the county to develop a transit plan and public outreach program for a possible sales tax referendum proposal.

Hillsborough County commissioners said they were "blindsided" recently when the group formulating the transit tax proposal announced it would consider a full-cent tax as an option. The proposal had been discussed for months as a half-cent.

Leytham has drawn criticism from conservatives, including local tea party leader Sharon Calvert, who calls her a "crony lobbyist" and says she, county officials and the company are using public funds to campaign for a tax increase. Talk of a full-cent option has only intensified the criticism.

But several commissioners, including those most leery of the tax, either defended Leytham's role or declined to blame her.

Commissioner Victor Crist, one of those most upset by the surprise announcement, said Leytham "has been a consultant and a tool, not a decisionmaker. … I hold (County Administrator) Mike Merrill accountable. He assured me it was his decision to pull the trigger."

Another commissioner upset about the announcement, Al Higginbotham, said, "I can't say one way or the other" whether Leytham is to blame. "I don't know who led the charge."

Commissioner Stacy White, who has so far opposed the idea of a tax referendum, said Leytham "could be responsible … although I'm not certain of that," and said he doesn't think she has too much influence on the process.

Leytham said such decisions are made "in a team environment," and consideration of a full cent tax was a response to "of a lot of feedback from the community that they wanted to talk about the 1-cent option some more. … I think it was the right decision."

Leytham is accustomed to being on the firing line. She specializes in handling controversial issues and PR "crises."

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority called on her in 2004 when a pier collapsed while under construction on the elevated Selmon Expressway lanes, and former Tampa Port Authority chairman Bill "Hoe" Brown brought her in to deal with a controversy over slumlike conditions found in rental housing he owned in 2013.

William March can be reached at wemarch@gmail.com.

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