The Tampa Tribune today announced their first endorsements in Tampa's municipal elections to be held on March 1st, starting with the three City Council races that everyone registered voter can participate in when early voting begins a week from Saturday.
Districts 1 & 3 are among the most crowded fields of the entire contest. Then again, with 28 candidates in all, most of the races are filled with talented applicants, making for some tough choices for Tampa voters.
In District 1, the Trib gives due deference to Curtis Stokes, Rick Barcena, Tom Slaughter and Guido Maniscalco. But they come out in support of Mike Suarez, a former chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee. Endorsements may be overrated, but this could be a big one for the 46-year-old former Bob Graham aide.
While we felt all the candidates would serve effectively, Suarez's balanced views of government, business and the community were impressive. In the race for District 1, the Tribune supports Mike Suarez.
The District 2 race had been (like District 6) one of the rare contests that looked like would not go to a run-off, as Republican Scott Strepina announced a year ago that he was running for the city-wide seat held the past four years by Democrat Mary Mulhern (Yes, these are non-partisan races, but both candidates are involved in Hillsborough politics).
The race had been relatively ho-hum until Seminole Heights community activist Susan Long threw her hat into the ring on the last day of qualifying, running predominantly because of her anger at the council's lack of action on voting for an ordinance banning panhandling.
The Trib politely says the 51-year-old Mulhern, who never served in office until she narrowly defeated Shawn Harrison in 2007, "is not always an artful politician," but praises her for doing her homework and speaking out. They also write:
She had frequent disagreements with the mayor and her staff over access to information and doesn't mind ruffling feathers when she thinks it's in the public interest.
In District 2, the Tribune endorses the reelection of Mary Mulhern.
The District 3 race is one of the most provocative, Yolie Capin, Michael Ciftci, Chris Hart, Seth Nelson and Jason Wilson all in the mix. The Tribune says Ciftci's "experience is thin," and says of Hart that "He is likable but his rambling style can be hard to follow."
The Tribune is supporting 32-year-old ER doctor Jason Wilson, who the paper's editorial board likes a lot, saying he would bring a fresh perspective to the council, adding:
He would help the city better promote itself to young professionals. Wilson impresses us as an honest, effective communicator, especially on social and medical issues, a candidate more interested in Tampa than its politics.
On the panhandling issue, his criticism goes beyond the usual points of public safety and individual freedom: "No good data says that panhandling helps the homeless. I know a lot of them. I take care of them at the E.R."
Wilson's voice would add depth to council debates. In District 3, the Tribune endorses Jason Wilson
Regarding this race, all 5 of the candidates will participate in a radio debate on WMNF 88.5 FM next Thursday afternoon, from 5 to 6 p.m. that will be hosted/moderated by this reporter.