Senator Bill Nelson, Congresswoman Kathy Castor and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio were some of the top name officials at a news conference held at Union Station in Tampa this morning, heralding the beginning of a public campaign to inspire Floridians to contact the White House to have them support the state's bid for getting over $2.5 billion in federal stimulus funds for a high-speed rail line.
"I personally think the decision has already been made," Senator Nelson boldly proclaimed. "I think it's going to be favorable for us, and that's for a number of reasons." Nelson said that in his conversations with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, he detected nuances. "You pick up body language when you talk to them," he said, " and the Secretary of Transportation acknowledges that our project is ready to go."
Nelson and others used 23,000 jobs as the number of people who would be employed if the $2.53 billion that Florida is requesting for high-speed rail comes through.
Speaking to reporters after the news conference, Nelson was asked to elaborate on his 'body language' remark. He emphasized that nobody should get too cocky that Florida has the funds in the bag.
"You never take anything for granted, because there's always something that can intervene....I think we're going to get this grant. It may not be the whole $2.5 billion but it's going to be the substantial grant for us to complete it. I think we're going to get it because it's so obvious that it's a stimulus project that's ready to go with jobs, created immediately to stimulate the economy." And he said the news on whether the funds are coming should come sometime before the President's State of the Union Address scheduled in early February.
Mayor Iorio used the occasion to trump up the light rail proposal that Hillsborough County voters will probably get a chance to vote on this November (we write probably because the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners has not officially approved ballot language on that measure yet). "I wish President Obama could hear this," the Mayor said. "I wish he knew of our plans in November for a referendum. I wish he knew of our light rail plans and our plans for an enhanced bus system and how it all ties together with a high speed connection from Tampa to Orlando."
The local effort is being led by Ed Turanchik, the leader of ConnectUs. He directed all of those in attendance to pull out their cell phones, where he then told them to text 24453, and then send the word "jobs", with the number directed towards the White House. Turanchik then discussed the media campaign to persuade as many Floridians along the I-4 corridor to do likewise.
A new ad that will be screened approximately 1,000 times on Brighthouse Networks between the Tampa Bay and Orlando area will take place during the next couple of weeks. The 30 second ad was then played for the dozens in attendance. There will also be an internet marketing campaign displaying that same message as well going online.
Turanchik emphasized the 'big-tent' aspect to the rail project, as representatives from both labor and business stood behind him and spoke briefly. Mark Wilson from the Florida Chamber of Commerce made an issue about how the two groups usually are at each other's throats, saying, "It's rare were as unified as we are on this issue."
Robert Ray, president, West Central Florida Federation of Labor & member of IBEW Local 915, stood in for Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams. "This is a huge endeavor that for so many years has been a necessary and needed component in the Tampa Bay region, and throughout Central Florida, " he said. Ray also acknowledged the unlikely pairing of the Chamber with his group, if just for one day, and stressed one of the themes of the day, "it's about jobs, jobs, jobs."
Florida's other Senator, Republican George LeMieux wasn't present, but sent a statement that was read aloud.