Applicants eye vacancy on Tampa City Council after Dingfelder exits

Council members expect two dozen or more people to apply.
Former Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder.
Former Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published March 17, 2022

The Tampa City Council faces a tight time deadline and a likely crush of applicants, as it sets out to appoint a replacement for board member John Dingfelder, who resigned last week.

At least one former council member, civic activists and previously unsuccessful council candidates are among the potential or likely applicants.

The city charter gives the remaining six council members 30 days, which started March 14, the day the city clerk accepted Dingfelder’s resignation, to appoint a replacement.

They’ll have to evaluate an expected two dozen or more applications, probably interview some, and possibly take several votes.

The seat will be up for election in the March 7, 2023 city elections.

The opening also gives the council members — all men — a chance to add a woman to what has been the city’s first all-male council since 1971, when the city’s first female council member, the late Catherine Barja, was elected, according to a Tampa Bay Times obituary and to research by Councilman Guido Maniscalco.

The council has already received criticism over its makeup.

During the debate over whether the council should confirm Mayor Jane Castor’s appointee as police chief, Mary O’Connor, Castor spokesperson Adam Smith called it “rather bizarre” that O’Connor, “a highly qualified woman … should wait for seven men to sign off” before taking office.

Council member Bill Carlson said in an interview this week that he won’t vote for a male appointee because the council needs female representation;

Another board member, Charlie Miranda, said he wouldn’t rule out voting for a man, but, “he’d have to be extraordinary to get my vote … We need a strong-minded female and there are a lot of them.”

Miranda said a female presence “is very important — it adds civility and calmness.”

Other members acknowledged the desirability of gender diversity but said they’d consider all candidates and look for the best.

Joe Citro said he would prefer an applicant who plans to run for the seat in the coming election, to demonstrate “the desire to be a council member in the future.”

But most members said an applicant’s promise either to run or not run, which wouldn’t be binding, won’t influence their choice.

Among the likely or potential applicants:

  • Alan Clendenin, 62, a long-time Democratic Party activist, said he will apply. A retired air traffic controller and national union official, Clendenin is also a member of the Democratic National Committee, the governing board of the national party. He lost to Citro in 2019 for the citywide District 1 seat but plans to run again regardless of whether he’s appointed.
  • Lynn Hurtak, 44, a former elementary school teacher and now a technical editor who works with international aid organizations, said she intends to apply. She has served on city boards and commissions and as vice president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association.
  • Julie Jenkins, 59, a fundraiser for philanthropic organizations and former businesswoman, said she’s “seriously considering” applying. She is a former unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the state House and the council.
  • Lee Lowry, 50, a veteran civic activist and scholarship fundraiser for the Hillsborough Community College Foundation, said she’s interested but undecided on whether to apply — “I’m not sure my personal and work life will allow it.” Lowry is a past Junior League president, a former member of the state Council on Human Trafficking, the former chairman of the county Citizens Advisory Committee and now on the city code enforcement board.
  • Former council member Mike Suarez, 57, a Tampa native and insurance executive and former two-term council member, said he’s interested but undecided whether to apply. A former aide to Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham who has also worked with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, Suarez has a history of involvement in civic and professional groups. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019.

The office is non-partisan, but all six of the sitting council members are Democrats. The Hillsborough County Democratic Party “will be very interested in who gets the appointment,” said party chairperson Ione Townsend.

Clendenin, Hurtak, Jenkins and Suarez are Democrats; Lowry is a former Republican, who now has no party affiliation.

The nominee must get the votes of at least four council members. In the past, the council has made such appointments by a series of votes, eliminating those with the fewest votes in each round.