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  1. Florida Politics

Marco Rubio has gone four months with no Tampa office, so where is he keeping records?

Demonstrators with Indivisible Action Tampa Bay gather at the corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard on June 26 to protest the Senate Republican health care bill. The demonstrations have taken place at the busy corner since March, when Sen. Marco Rubio left his office in the Bridgeport Center office building on Kennedy Boulevard. [Photo courtesy Daniel Quinn]
Published Jul. 5, 2017

TAMPA — Four months after his staff packed up and left its Tampa office, at the direction of a landlord frustrated by weekly demonstrations, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio still is looking for a home base in one of his state's largest metropolitan areas.

So how's the search going?

The Miami Republican's staff said they're working on it.

"We are committed to serving constituents and staff continues to meet with them while we work to find office space in the Tampa region as soon as possible," said a statement emailed to the Tampa Bay Times by spokeswoman Christina Mandreucci. "Discussions with potential landlords are ongoing and we hope to open a new Tampa office soon."

The owner of Bridgeport Center, a nine-story office center at 5201 Kennedy Blvd., notified Rubio's office Feb. 1 that the lease would not be renewed and that Rubio had 30 days to leave. The reason: Weekly demonstrations outside the building by activists seeking to pressure Rubio on a variety of issues. The protestors disrupted other tenants and cost the company too much money, Jude Williams, president of America's Capital Partners, told the Times in March.

News coverage of the decision put local landlords and property management companies on notice that Rubio could be a problematic tenant. That added another challenge in a tight rental market, where leasing fees are high and vacancy rates are low.

Rubio's two-person staff has improvised, meeting constituents in coffee shops, libraries and other public spaces.

The arrangement raises questions about the logistics. Constituent services often involves working with documents that contain personal information. Where are those files being stored? Is there a security concern about staff toting them back and forth to meetings? If so, how is that being addressed? And where is staff working when they're not with constituents?

Rubio's office did not respond to a list of specific questions from the Times.

It's not unusual for members of Congress to hold pre-arranged open office hours at locations throughout the community, said former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Republican who represented a portion of Pinellas County from 2014 to January of this year, when he lost the seat to Democrat Charlie Crist. Prior to serving in Congress, Jolly worked as district director for his predecessor, C.W. Bill Young.

But Jolly wondered how Rubio's office is operating with no office for more than four months.

"Many constituent contacts involve records, processing and storage, and clearly the senator is having to do that somewhere other than an office, so those are very good questions," Jolly said. "The document issue is a real one."

As inconvenient as it might be for Rubio's staff and some constituents, the delay in finding a new office has a political benefit: It removes a place for demonstrators to seek public attention in one of the state's largest media markets.

Before Rubio left the Tampa office, a variety of progressive groups were staging weekly demonstrations there to pressure him to hold town hall meetings and oppose President Donald Trump's agenda. The strategy has played out across Florida and the country.

In March, Rubio's landlord in Jacksonville asked him to leave, in part, because demonstrations disrupted a pediatric behavioral clinic next door, Rubio and his staff have said. That lease ended April 30 and Rubio found a space in the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse the following month.

Now debate is raging over the Senate Republican health care bill. Last week, as the July congressional recess approached, scores of demonstrators staged rallies outside his offices in Orlando, Doral and Palm Beach Gardens.

In Tampa, about two dozen activists gathered last Tuesday at the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and North Dale Mabry Highway, where they've been almost every week since Rubio moved out of Bridgeport Center. They held signs, some shaped like tombstones, with slogans such as "Death By Medicaid Cuts" and "Trumpcare Makes Me Sick."

Among the demonstrators were members of Indivisible Action Tampa Bay, which merged with Indivisible Tampa to create a new group called Indivisible Action Tampa Bay. Group founder Christine Hanna said about eight members met with Rubio's staff assistant Shauna Johnson at a library in New Port Richey to talk about health care back in April. Hanna called Johnson "very open and willing to meet with us."

But there is no substitute for having an open dialogue in a town hall meeting with a senator, Hanna said. Rubio has declined, saying activists will "heckle and scream at me."

Hanna said that desire for face time is fueling many of the demonstrations, and they will continue when Rubio opens a new Tampa Bay office. But she said that shouldn't alarm would-be landlords.

"It's a friendly group," Hanna said. "We're upset about the decisions he's made and the positions he's taken, but that doesn't mean we're aggressive toward him or the landlord or the property."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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