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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Pete qualifying ends. Seven for mayor. Eight for District 6 on primary ballot

City Clerk Chan Srinivasa (2nd left) and Senior Deputy City Clerk  Cathy Davis (1st left) celebrate the end of qualifying period with colleagues on Friday afternoon

Charlie Frago

City Clerk Chan Srinivasa (2nd left) and Senior Deputy City Clerk Cathy Davis (1st left) celebrate the end of qualifying period with colleagues on Friday afternoon

The smiles of the faces of the workers in the City Clerk’s office said it all. The qualifying period for city elections was almost over.

Officially, it ended at 5 p.m., but City Clerk Chan Srinivasa said a few minutes before that it was already done. To get through all the paperwork a last-minute procrastinator for one of four City Council races or the mayoral contest would have had to arrive at City Hall about 4 p.m., he said.

No one showed as the clock ticked down. The Tampa Bay Times was the only media present.

Not like the old days, mused Cathy Davis, a longtime employee in the clerk’s office.

The TV stations, newspapers and bloggers used to gather to see the final qualifying list. Now, it’s all online, although the Internet, so fond of drama, wouldn't show any last-minute dramatics of Srinivasa telling somebody they were too late to chase their dream of elected office.

Aside from a Times reporter, consultant Meagan Salisbury, running the campaigns of incumbent City Council chairwoman Darden Rice and newcomer Gina Driscoll in District 6 also waited---just in case. …

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Hillsborough Democrats call Confederate monument vote a continuation of white supremacy

On Friday afternoon, Hillsborough County Democrats decried a vote by the county commission not to remove the Confederate monument in downtown Tampa.

Chris Urso, Times

On Friday afternoon, Hillsborough County Democrats decried a vote by the county commission not to remove the Confederate monument in downtown Tampa.

TAMPA — Two days after Hillsborough County commissioners decided not to touch a Confederate monument in downtown Tampa, Hillsborough County Democrats have decided to weigh in.

The party’s executive committee released a statement Friday afternoon criticizing the commissioners who voted to keep the monument in front of the old county courthouse — Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White — and asking them to reconsider.

The statement also warned that the vote will be on their minds in next year’s election. All four of the prevailing commissioners are up for re-election.

“We can and will express our beliefs at the ballot box in November of 2018,” it said.

In the statement, the committee called the vote “a continuation of white supremacy and white privilege policies. Symbols of the Confederacy are divisive, painful, racist, and are meant to intimidate a portion of our citizens who, because of white supremacy, have never realized complete freedom in the Land of the Free.”

Yesterday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn similarly decried the vote, calling it a poor reflection on Tampa, as did city council members during their weekly meeting. …

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St. Petersburg police investigating why civilian employees accidentally fired AR-15 semiautomatic rifle inside HQ

The St. Petersburg Police Department is investigating an incident in which two civilian employees accidentally fired an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle they brought inside police headquarters. Department rules prohibit civilian employees from bringing weapons into police facilities.

[Times files]

The St. Petersburg Police Department is investigating an incident in which two civilian employees accidentally fired an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle they brought inside police headquarters. Department rules prohibit civilian employees from bringing weapons into police facilities.

ST. PETERSBURG — An internal police investigation is looking into two civilian employees who accidentally fired a round from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle inside St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters.

Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez confirmed that the incident is being looked at by the department's Office of Professional Standards. Those investigators are trying to find out why the employees brought the rifle — which was a personal weapon, not department-issued — into the building. The department will not release any details about the incident, she said, including when it took place or the identities of the two employees until the investigation is completed.

No one was injured in the incident.

"We have no public records available," Fernandez said. "It is still very active. They are still interviewing witnesses."

However, the department does ban civilian employees from bringing firearms into police facilities, she said. That's the same for all city employees, she added, who are also banned from bringing their personal weapons into city buildings.

Stay with tampabay.com for updates.

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Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador

The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

RICHARD DANIELSON | Times

The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

“If it is appropriate,” he wrote, “the Cuban government and the Cuban people would welcome an official delegation of the Tampa City Council to visit Cuba. This would be an opportunity for you and your colleagues to learn firsthand what Cuba is doing regarding drug interdiction, illegal immigration, collaborative marine biology and tourism, among other issues.

“We must remain hopeful,” he added, “that the day will soon come when barriers that exist between us will come down.”

This week, the council voted to reply, thank you, we like that idea, too.

No details are set. A couple of council members said they have no intention of paying for any visit with public funds, and Capin said any council delegation wouldn’t represent the city as a whole. …

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Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate

Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.

[JOHN PENDYGRAFT | TIMES]

Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.

ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

In a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times at 490 First Ave. S, Nevel argued he had been excluded from the debate by “big money” interests and because the Times sought to silence his message.

Kriseman and Baker will take part in the debate, sponsored by the Times and Bay News 9 along with the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College, at the Palladium Theater in downtown St. Petersburg.

“It represents an attack on the whole idea of democracy itself,” Nevel said. “It represents an attempt to control what issues will be talked about in this debate.”

The Times, Bay News 9 and St. Petersburg College have invited only Kriseman and Baker to the debate. Without complete local polling, the Times decided to rely on fundraising totals to determine which candidates will participate. …

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During the most expensive mayoral election ever, St. Petersburg City Council wants to limit PAC money

A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections

Charlie Frago

A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections

ST. PETERSBURG — In front of a large group of red-shirted campaign finance reform supporters, the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday started the ball rolling on an ordinance that would limit individual campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees.

The vote followed hours of impassioned debate and took place amidst what has already become the most expensive mayoral election in city history: incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and his challenger, former Mayor Rick Baker.

Together the two Ricks have smashed fundraising records by garnering a combined $1 million in donations — and the Aug. 29 primary is still two months away.

The measure, backed by a national campaign finance movement and the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, was opposed by the city attorney’s office. They argued it was unconstitutional and would expose the city to millions in liabilities if defeated in the courts.

“They have shopped this ordinance around for at least a year to cities around this country,” Assistant City Attorney Joseph Patner said. “There is a reason they cannot get another city to pass this,

“Passing this is all risk in our opinion with no benefit.” …

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Drew Atkinson drops out of contention to lead the Pinellas County Attorney's Office

From left, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, Commissioner and County Attorney Oversight Board Chair Janet Long, attorney Wade Vose and Commissioner and Board Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch are seen during an organizational meeting of the County Attorney Oversight Committee in the Clearwater courthouse in February.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

From left, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, Commissioner and County Attorney Oversight Board Chair Janet Long, attorney Wade Vose and Commissioner and Board Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch are seen during an organizational meeting of the County Attorney Oversight Committee in the Clearwater courthouse in February.

As Pinellas County's 12 elected leaders work to select a new legal adviser, one of the five candidates under consideration withdrew from the hiring process.

Drew Atkinson, 44, the general counsel at the Florida Department of Management Services, notified county leaders Wednesday that he was withdrawing his application to lead the Pinellas County Attorney's Office. That leaves four candidates vying for the post, which pays more than $215,000 a year.

"I have decided to withdraw my application for the Pinellas County Attorney position," Atkinson said in a statement.

"I recognize the considerable time and effort contributed by the County Attorney Oversight Committee and others involved in the recruitment and selection process, and I have been impressed by the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the review.  It is an honor to have been selected as one of five finalists."

His statement did not cite a reason for withdrawing. Atkinson's prior positions include the Florida Department of State, Office of the General Counsel for the Governor and the Florida Attorney General's Office.

Reached on the telephone, Atkinson declined to explian why he withdrew from consideration.  …

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Hillsborough Commissioners vote to keep Confederate monument in downtown Tampa

A Confederate monument will remain outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa, county commissioners voted Wednesday.

Chris Urso, Times

A Confederate monument will remain outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa, county commissioners voted Wednesday.

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioners voted Wednesday to keep a Confederate monument on public space outside the old county courthouse in downtown Tampa. 

The 4-3 vote also included a request for county staff to budget and design a diversity mural that will be painted on the 10-foot high, 75-foot wide wall that stands behind the monument. They also voted to draft an ordinance to protect all of Hillsborough's war memorials from future removal.

Commissioners Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White, all Republicans, voted to keep the monument outside the courthouse. The board's other Republican, Commissioner Al Higginbotham, joined Democrats Pat Kemp and Les Miller in advocating to remove it.

The vote followed three hours of contentious debate and public comment.

Click here to read more.

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Omali Yeshitela leads rally endorsing Uhuru candidates for St. Petersburg elections

International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement founder Omali Yeshitela (right) endorses Eritha "Akileâ€" Cainion (left) for the District 6 City Council seat at a news conference Tuesday at the Uhuru House Tuesday.

[JOHN PENDYGRAFT | TIMES]

International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement founder Omali Yeshitela (right) endorses Eritha "Akileâ€" Cainion (left) for the District 6 City Council seat at a news conference Tuesday at the Uhuru House Tuesday.

ST. PETERSBURG — In the midst of a hotly contested mayoral primary and city council elections, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidates were endorsed by the group’s founder at a rally Tuesday.

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race

Uhuru founder Omali Yeshitela, who himself ran for mayor in 2001, endorsed mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel, 27, and District 6 council candidate Eritha “Akile” Cainion, 20. Both have already qualified for their respective races.

“We are winning,” chanted the crowd of about 40.

Yeshitela railed against the glut of other candidates in the mayoral and City Council races, describing them as “corporate puppets.” He praised the two Uhuru movement candidates as disruptors of the status quo: rising housing costs, broken cemeteries, gentrification and “parrot-like” politicians.

“Our candidates believe that we should not be sacrificed on the altar of capitalism,” he said.

Both Uhuru movement candidates said African-American residents and businesses have seemingly been under an “economic quarantine.” The solution to that is reparations. …

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Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District chief resigns

Salvatore D'Angelo, Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District chief, announced his resignation Tuesday night. D'Angelo said he accepted a position as the executive director of the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District.

Handout photo

Salvatore D'Angelo, Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District chief, announced his resignation Tuesday night. D'Angelo said he accepted a position as the executive director of the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District.

Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District Chief Salvatore D'Angelo announced Tuesday night he was leaving the department for a new job.

D'Angelo said after a district commission meeting he accepted a position as the executive director of the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District. Aug. 4 is his last day at Pinellas Suncoast, which provides fire and emergency medical services for Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the unincorporated Oakhurst area.

"You are blessed with some wonderful first responders," he said, addressing the Board of Commissioners, "and it has truly been an honor to serve them and you and this community."

D'Angelo said his decision to leave was drive by his completion in August of his doctorate in public administration from Florida Atlantic University.

"When I received my Ph.D., there were some opportunities that presented themselves," he said. "It was right for me professionally."  …

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Paint diversity mural behind Confederate monument, Commissioner Crist proposes

Commissioner Victor Crist wants a mural commissioned behind the Confederate memorial outside the old county courthouse that will highlight America's diversity.

Chris Urso, Times

Commissioner Victor Crist wants a mural commissioned behind the Confederate memorial outside the old county courthouse that will highlight America's diversity.

TAMPA — Don't take down Tampa's Confederate monument, "rebrand it."

That's the idea from former advertising executive and Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist ahead of Wednesday's expected discussion on the statue's future.

Crist wants to leave the statue and paint a large mural behind it. The painting, which would dorn a 10-foot-high by 75-foot-wide space on a white wall around the statue, would depict the diverse faces of America with the slogan "United we all stand."

"Then when you face the monument, what really jumps out at you are all the people looking back at you from all the walks of life," he said. "However, you look at this statue and whatever your reference point may be, that gets absorbed into the overall meaning that we are all in it together."

Originally, Crist wanted to erect other statues near the monument to tell a more complete picture, but now says it would likely be too expensive. He will ask county staff to come up with a budget and plan for the mural, but he already has artists in mind. Crist will show a 90-second video Wednesday to demonstrate the space and will explain his vision for it. …

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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman makes his re-election bid official; says city can't afford to go backwards

Mayor Rick Kriseman tells supporters at Cycle Brewing that the city needs  to keep moving forward

Dirk Shadd

Mayor Rick Kriseman tells supporters at Cycle Brewing that the city needs to keep moving forward

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman officially qualified to run for re-election Thursday, then dashed to a series of campaign events in his quest for another four-year term.

The mayor paid the $250 qualifying fee surrounded by family members, then spoke with reporters in the City Clerk’s office.

“This is just the next step in continuing to move this city forward,” Kriseman said. “This is a great city, but we still haven’t reached that pinnacle yet.”

The mayor said his opponent, Rick Baker, was focused on the negative.

“I haven’t heard him push out any big initiatives," Kriseman said. "I heard him talk about how bad the city is and how things aren’t going well.”

Kriseman, a Democrat, also said Baker was being disingenuous in his argument that the nonpartisan mayor’s race shouldn't be a partisan affair. Kriseman pointed out that when Baker was mayor, the Republican stumped for the 2008 GOP presidential ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Baker’s campaign responded that Kriseman is grasping at political straws. …

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Chickens on way and costume might be next

SAFETY HARBOR — Commissioner Scott Long might be wearing a chicken suit sometime soon. At the last City Commission  meeting,  commissioners app roved  an ordinance that  allows up to four hens in single-family homes . The approval comes after heated discussion over the last few months . At a May meeting, Long, whose wife is a news designer at the Times, expressed concern over how much time the commission had spent discussing and researching chickens, pointing out that the research material he had received in his agenda packets was more than 90 pages.
“I’ll make this pledge to you,’’ he said. “If we pass this and we ever get more than 95 households in the city with chickens, and I’m still on the City Commission, I’ll come to the next meeting wearing a chicken suit.” 
In a recent discussion with the Times, City Manager Matt Spoor talked about the issue:
“You know, if this goes through I’m thinking I’ll buy some chickens just to see Scott Long dressed as one.’’
The regulations included in the new ordinance ensure that no roosters will be permitted, no eggs can be sold and no chickens can be slaughtered. The ordinance also requires stipulations when it comes to the coop and fencing. 

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Hillsborough commissioners to debate future of Confederate Memorial next week

Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday will discuss the Confederate memorial that stands outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa.

Times File Photo

Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday will discuss the Confederate memorial that stands outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa.

TAMPA — Next week, Hillsborough County Commissioners are expected to discuss what to do about the Confederate Memorial in downtown Tampa.

At Commissioner Stacy White’s request, commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting will debate not only the Confederate statue outside the old county courthouse, but all military memorials, according to a draft agenda.

The conversation by the commission will follow a call from one of their own, Les Miller, to remove the memorial, as well as a demand from Confederate advocates to put in place an ordinance to protect all monuments from removal.

Several dozen individuals showed up at last week's county commission meeting to protest Miller's suggestion. They held signs that said: "America builds monuments/We don't remove them."

Miller said the recent removal of Confederate memorials in New Orleans moved him to act now.

"It just fueled the fire that I had to get it done," Miller said. "But I wanted to make sure I did it the right way. I'm not going to say tear it down and take a chisel to it and make rocks out of it. It’s a part of history? Let it be somewhere that is a part of history." …

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Do political yard signs matter in St. Petersburg's mayoral election?

Rick Baker's campaign is all in on yard signs. Kriseman? Not so much.

Charlie Frago

Rick Baker's campaign is all in on yard signs. Kriseman? Not so much.

ST. PETERSBURG — Ah, the political yard sign. Usually decked out in some combination of red, white and blue. Sometimes it has a catchy slogan. As Election Day approaches, the signs sprout like mushrooms after a hard rain. After the election, they wilt slowly, lingering for months, a careworn reminder of victory or defeat.

As St. Petersburg’s mayoral election picks up speed (it’s already shattered fundraising records), the humble yard sign has entered the political discourse via its successor: social media.

Bill Bucolo, a Democratic activist and supporter of Mayor Rick Kriseman, tweeted a FaceBook post Monday where he lamented what he saw as a lack of enthusiasm for yard signs supporting the Kriseman campaign.

But Kriseman can’t actually distribute yard signs until Thursday, when the mayor kicks of a spate of campaign events including filing his official qualifying paperwork at City Hall.

His campaign said they’ll eventually start handing out yard signs, but campaign officials said they’re focusing their efforts on face-to-face interaction. They believe that’s more likely to move the needle among potential voters. …

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