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Joseph Citro chose home, business and political career over paying off debt

The Tampa City Council member, up for reelection, has a portion of his council salary garnished to pay off credit card debt.
 
Tampa City Council member Joseph Citro said a confluence of "bad luck" made him fall behind in credit card payments. A judge ordered his council salary garnished to pay off the $20,000 debt.
Tampa City Council member Joseph Citro said a confluence of "bad luck" made him fall behind in credit card payments. A judge ordered his council salary garnished to pay off the $20,000 debt. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Jan. 11, 2023|Updated Jan. 11, 2023

TAMPA — City Council chairperson Joseph Citro had three dreams he was unwilling to give up when he hit a financial rough patch: living on Bayshore Boulevard, owning his own business and running for political office.

The cost of those dreams was a lawsuit filed by Bank of America to collect on about $20,000 in unpaid credit card debt and, eventually, the garnishing of his council salary.

Although the 2019 lawsuit has been public record since shortly before his election to City Council on his fourth try, it came to light recently as his reelection campaign heated up.

He said three separate water leaks sprung in his condo at 4015 Bayshore Blvd. in 2015, causing him to have to undertake major remodeling of the 700-square-foot unit to get rid of mold and water damage. It took several years to get an approximately $45,000 insurance payout, roughly the cost of the remodel, he said. He didn’t move back into the unit until late 2018 or 2019.

In the meantime, he ran up credit card debt with Bank of America to pay for a $1,000-a-month rental house and to keep Studio B, his Midtown hair salon, afloat.

“Things got tight,” Citro said. “I had to start living off credit cards.”

His financial troubles didn’t deter him from launching his fourth bid for City Council in late 2017. A month before he was elected, Bank of America filed suit in Hillsborough County Circuit Court to collect the debt, saying he had failed to make payments.

Since December 2021, his council salary has been garnished. As of Dec. 30, $11,325 had been withheld from his council paychecks, city records indicate. His Dec. 30 paycheck had $408 garnished, including a $2 processing fee.

Citro said he has about $5,000 left to pay off.

Citro said he made the conscious choice not to pay down his credit card debt or declare bankruptcy. To do so, he said, would have endangered his business, the condo repairs and his political ambitions.

The coronavirus pandemic, which forced his salon to shut down for two months, just exacerbated his woes. And his attempts to work out some kind of payment plan on the debt failed, he said.

“I could have walked away and filed bankruptcy. That’s not me,” Citro said in an interview Tuesday.

Citro said he spent a “few grand” on his 2019 campaign and makes no apologies for it. Campaign finance records show he gave $1,000 to his campaign.

I had to follow my dream,” he said.

His financial woes surfaced earlier this week in a Creative Loafing story.

Citro said he doesn’t think the news will hurt his chances for a second term in the citywide District 1 seat. So far, he faces three challengers: Sonja Brookins, Alan Clendenin and Chase Harrison.

“The public has seen my record. The public knows the kind of person I am. The public knows the hard work it has taken me to get here. And the hard work that I will continue doing for the citizens of Tampa,” he said.

Citro, 64, said he takes responsibility for his decisions.

“I’m not blaming anything or anybody,” he said. “This was just bad luck after bad luck after bad luck. It was just a series of events.”