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Updated: 39 min 15 sec ago

Epilogue: Al Schiff engineered career to put family first

6 hours 53 min ago

TAMPA - In a lifetime of remarkable accomplishments, executive engineer Alfred "Al" Schiff considered his family life to be the greatest accomplishment of all.

A pioneer of the industrial controls industry, Mr. Schiff integrated the expertise of an engineer, U.S. Air Force pilot and sailor into the strengths of a husband, father and mentor.

"A few people are great at business, a few are great technologists. A few are great at giving back to the community and a few are devoted to family," said Ned Schiff, the youngest of his three sons.

"Dad was that somewhat rare blend of analytical and artistic who are great at all four of those things."

Mr. Schiff, 86, died at his south Tampa home July 10. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Rose Schiff, sons Brian, Gordon and Ned, and 10 grandchildren.

"He was just an unbelievably positive person," Ned said. "I asked my brother the other day if he could remember dad ever complaining about anything.

"He thought about it and finally said, "'Maybe the Cleveland Indians pitching staff.'"

Sailing, both recreationally and racing competitively, exemplified Mr. Schiff's calm and steady guidance.

"He wanted to maximize his family time, so sailing was something you could all do together without distraction," Ned said. "And the family name, Schiff, means ship in German."

The University of Rochester grad repaid a ROTC scholarship by serving in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of captain. Then he jump-started his career at Reliance Electric designing a critical orbital tracking control system for early space missions. He went on to develop solid state motor drives for the paper and steel industries.

When Reliance acquired Toledo Scale, Mr. Schiff oversaw the multinational company's transformation from purely mechanical to electronic technology. He was especially proud to receive a Presidential "E" Award for significantly expanding U.S. exports, an honor bestowed by the late astronaut, Sen. John Glenn and the Department of Commerce.

Exxon acquired Reliance and Toledo Scale in 1979 and Mr. Schiff was soon named chief operating officer of Gilbarco, a gas station technology provider based in Greensboro, N.C.

"He did some really unique things," Ned said. "Like open houses for families to come see what they were doing and art shows at the plant.

"A lot of his success - growing their market share to 50 percent worldwide - came from changing the culture not only business-wise, but by teambuilding, from the janitor to the CEO."

Once asked by an interviewer how others might describe him, the Cleveland native replied, "loaded with ideas, hard driving but fair and supportive."

His two favorite words, he said: It's working.

He never met a problem, concurred Ned, "just opportunities that needed solutions."

Upon retiring from Exxon and moving to Tampa in 1987, where the Schiffs had long owned a second home, he formed Schiff-&-Associates to help small technology businesses grow.

The couple stepped up as benefactors of the Florida Orchestra, the Straz Center For the Performing Arts, Opera Tampa, Sarasota Opera, Asolo Theater and public broadcast station WEDU. He was integral to the investment committee of the TOP Jewish Foundation, serving Tampa-Orlando-Pinellas communities.

"Al was thoughtful and forward thinking, always recommending improvements to enhance individual investors' funds as well as helping to secure the future of the Jewish and non-Jewish organizations that TOP serves," said board member Bonnie Wise, Chief Financial Administrator of Hillsborough County.

Mr. Schiff's board leadership at Tampa's Museum of Science-&-Industry resulted in a $38 million expansion, including building Florida's first IMAX theater.

With no connection to the University of South Florida, he served on the USF Foundation Board and chaired the USF College of Engineering Advisory Board (2002 to 2006), earning a Lifetime Achievement Engineering Excellence Award in April. The Al and Rose Schiff conference room in the USF complex is named for them.

"His actions were louder than his words," Ned said. "He inspired people to do more than they ever thought they could."

Contact Amy Scherzer at (813) 226-3332 or email her at ascherzer@tampabay.com

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Guest column: Deputy's legacy of heroism inspired a place for dogs to play

6 hours 53 min ago

My dog Sophie likes to remind me that the dog days of summer are just around the corner. That means it's time for her to shed her winter coat, head outdoors and enjoy the Tampa sunshine.

Where can Sophie and her furry friends go to enjoy, but not bake, in the Florida heat? They head over to the Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park, located in Tampa's Channelside neighborhood.

This is an extra special park to me, because it honors a man who loved his own furry friend. Just like I love Sophie, Deputy John Kotfila Jr. loved his German Shepherd pal Dexter. Deputy Kotfila gave his life to save two lives as a wrong way driver approached on the Selmon Expressway.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE Dog park planned to honor deputy who died acting as human shield

Someone at the Expressway Authority must have a dog because they got it right: It's in the shade of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, there's plenty of room for puppies to show off their moves, exercise areas to really impress the other barkers, and even top-of-the-line canine turf that doesn't hurt delicate paws.

As much as transportation woes seem to always dog our region, the Expressway Authority's ability to repurpose underutilized land beneath the thoroughfare into a valuable and thriving community asset is just one example of how the authority continually reinvests tolling revenues back into the region.

When it comes to providing safe, reliable and innovative multi-modal transportation solutions for our community, the authority is truly "Best in Show."

Channelside is booming and, with all of the exciting plans for Water Street Tampa yet to come, this part of town is only getting started. The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park is a great neighborhood amenity and, because of its connection to the Selmon Greenway, dog owners like me can walk to the park on pedestrian-friendly pathways.

And because there is ample parking, residents from across Tampa can also enjoy the park and stay to frequent one of the several dog-friendly shops and restaurants in the neighborhood.

As much as I could go on about the Expressway Authority and its good work, Sophie needs to go. Literally. Sophie really needs to go. Fortunately, the Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park has pet waste stations positioned around both sides of the park to make it easy to clean up afterwards. It's a dirty job but cleaning up after your pet is important and the right thing to do.

And kudos to the Expressway Authority's partner, the city of Tampa, and the great job it does of providing ongoing maintenance and management of the park. Someone deserves a treat!

So, to all Sophie's four-legged friends, stop on by the park and see why it's where all the hip doggies, and their owners, hang out. It's a fun place for both dogs and owners, and a great way to honor one of Tampa's finest heroes. I know Dexter must be proud.

Badia Verona lives in the Channelside area of downtown Tampa and enjoys walking her dog Sophia through the Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park, opened last June at 705 Raymond St.

New Tampa Rec Center plans coming to fruition - finally

9 hours 53 min ago

NEW TAMPA - After almost 10 years of plans and funding shortages, the expansion of the New Tampa Recreation Center in Tampa Palms is coming to fruition.

The original request for the expansion was set to be for 5,000 square feet, but now the expansion area will total nearly 8,000 square feet and provide more than just extra space for the center.

"About a year and a half ago, we were told that this project was something that could not happen," said City Councilman Luis Viera. "But then New Tampa and North Tampa organized together."

Viera also credits the New Tampa Council and in large part, Tracy Falkowitz and her family.

"If it was not for the Falkowitz family this would not have happened," Viera said. "They are the ones that, as a family effort, brought people to the Tampa City Council in order to lobby to make this thing happen."

FleischmanGarcia Architecture, the firm responsible for the original design of the center, has been working on the expansion project for the past six years and now with a budget of $1.95 million, the expansion is slated to begin in early 2019 and be completed by August of 2019. The years of long waitlists may be a thing of the past for New Tampa residents with the added square footage.

The new building will include a 2,000 square foot multi-purpose room that can be easily divided into two rooms as needed, a 1,500 square foot preschool gym, and 2,000 square foot training box equipped with a garage-style door and outside entrance.

"We're excited, we really love it here," said Pasco County resident, Snehal Shobhashana who drives to the center every week to take her 3 ½- and 6-year-old daughters to their classes. "They're both in the gymnastics class, one is in dance too, and we waited for almost two years to get into the programs, but I really liked it here."

In addition to the added rooms, enough square footage has been allocated to build six new handicap accessible restrooms, including one that will cater to the current outdoor playground.

The main goal of the expansion is to improve the flow pattern within the center, not only allowing more room for students, but creating an opening for new and upper level dance, gymnastics, and even strength training programs.

"I think it will add functions that the community is looking for and needs, functions that the original building didn't have mainly because we didn't have the space and the budget needed to do it at the time," said Kevin Smith, senior vice president for FleishmanGarcia Architecture.

What does this mean for the center during the construction process?

Parks and Recreation promises that none of the current programs will be affected during the construction of the new building and that accommodations will be made in order to avoid any disruptions to the center's traffic flow and parking.

"We're excited for the opportunity to expand the program," said Parks and Recreation Director Paul Dial. "We believe that it's a great program that has a large impact in the city for gymnastics and dance, and this is going to give us that opportunity to bring more kids into the program, plus they'll have access to some other programs and activities as well. That's what it's all about - the kids."

Contact Jennifer Lima at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Keystone, Bayshore, West Tampa combine to earn Little League state softball title

9 hours 53 min ago

TAMPA - There is a group of area teenaged girls who came together a few weeks ago for a little adventure, which has steadily - dramatically and joyfully - turned into a much bigger ordeal.

You could call it a "softball odyssey."

It started on June 11 when 14 all-star girls from West Tampa, Bayshore and Keystone Little Leagues combined at their first practice to form the "Key-West-Bay" team.

What followed was relative magic, or rather eight straight victories by a combined score of 105-17 and a state title in the Junior Little League Softball division (ages 13-14).

Next stop: The Southeast Regional Tournament July 20-22 in North Carolina against teams from West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina.

A victory there would propel Tampa's team onto the World Series July 29-August 4 in Washington state.

It would also cause the girls' parents much more flipping and flopping of work schedules, vacation plans, bank accounts, laundry, pet sitters, accommodations and so on. For example, first baseman Amara Woodward flew in from a family vacation in Wyoming on a Friday evening, hit five buckets of softballs at a batting cage that night, then got up at 5 a.m. on Saturday and rode four hours with the family to play in a state tournament game in St. Augustine.

"There have been some traveling challenges," said Sarah Woodward, Amara's mother. "But it's all been worth it. It's been a blast!"

Woodward said it's not like a travel ball tournament where you just play games: "The difference is that with this format you earn your way. You have to win to keep moving on. It's exciting."

So far, the toughest stage actually proved to be the first one, the district final against a group combined from Interbay, Tampa Bay and Northwest Little Leagues. Key-West-Bay swept the series 13-6 and 12-8, which surprised a few folks and, quite frankly, a few Key-West-Bay players.

"We knew (Interbay-Tampa Bay-Northwest) was probably favored but we just came in loose and had fun with it," said second baseman Jessica Ficarrotta, a Robinson High sophomore who played last year on a team that reached the Southeast Regionals before losing. "That's the thing with this team, we're just playing hard and having fun. We don't feel any pressure."

Third baseman Saylor Clark said the magic stems from everybody liking each other from the first moment they met a few weeks ago.

"It has been a short amount of time that we've played together but I feel we are all close," said Clark, who will be a freshman at Sickles High. "We already have a strong bond."

Could Key-West-Bay go all the way?

"I think it just might be possible," said Key-West-Bay manager Tony Roman, who cited another local team from South Tampa that won a World title in 2013. "I don't know exactly what these other teams in our region have, but I know we have great hitters, solid pitching and defense and a great attitude.

"I know we're going to enjoy the adventure."

Contact Scott Purks at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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Sunday Conversation: Sherry Hoback looks to move Tampa Family Health Centers to the next level

9 hours 53 min ago

TAMPA - Taking over for an administrator who has run a company for almost 20 years can be daunting. • But Sherry Hoback prepared for some time to replace Charles Bottoms as CEO of the Tampa Family Health Centers, a non-profit organization that operates clinics and mobile units, serving thousands of patients each year in Hillsborough County.

Tampa Family Health accepts patients with Medicare, Medicaid, HMO advantage plans, private insurances, the Hillsborough County Insurance plan as well as those unable to pay.

Hoback, 44, earned a master's degree in business administration from Keiser University Tampa, and credits her training for helping with the transition to the top position.

"I knew when I was in college that my mark would be in the operations side," Hoback said. "I love bringing up the next generation of health care professionals."

Hoback and her husband Jon, a data base administrator, live in Land O' Lakes with their 17-year old son, Jonathan, and 15-year-old daughter, Graceanne, and a white Labrador retriever.

She recently talked with Tampa Bay Times correspondent Lenora Lake about her role in the organization.

Tell me more about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to college?

I grew up in Pittsburgh and went to Carlow University, a nursing school and got my undergraduate degree.

What brought you to Florida?

There was 42 inches on snow on the turnpike there when I finished college - and my family had transferred to Florida. I landed in Florida, too, then. I met my husband here as he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

Exactly what are the Tampa Family Health Centers?

We are federally qualified health centers that see patients whether they have the ability to pay. Our trademark is that we serve the most underserved; our centers are along bus routes and in areas of dense population. The majority of our patients walk or take the bus to come to our centers.

We work with a number of community partners who ID the need for a center in the community. We also champion hiring many members of our staff from the community served. This creates a shared sense of community.

Why did you want the position of CEO?

I had been with the company for 10 years and had served as the director of nursing, chief clinical services officer and chief operating officer. At a point, Charles (Bottoms) and I laid out a succession plan. Our partners knew that one day we would make the transition. Then one day he said, "Are you ready for this?"

What changes - if any - are you planning?

Charles built an amazing footprint of health care. I am very excited to increase access by targeting land now. We also are partnering more with the community and will have a health care facility on the Mort Elementary School campus. It will be for community use and for children to get care immediately and miss less school.

Building and growing is what we do by creating an excited, positive culture.

I understand the 15th center is in the design stage near the Town 'n Country area?

We are near to breaking ground on it at the Hillsborough Avenue and Countryway area. With it, we took our model to the next level with a holistic approach. Dental is integrated with it. With it and other centers in the future, my challenge will be to grow and solidify our partnerships in the community. Through them, our patients could have access to other services for good health such as walking tracks, yoga and other activities.

How many patients are seen each year?

In 2017, we had 103,000 individuals come through and we are expecting about 300,000 appointments in 2018. That would be about 110,000 individuals in 2018.

How many people do you employ?

We have about 525 people serving in our 14 clinics and three mobile units. We run the full course of care - primary care, pediatrics, obstetrics, podiatry, psychiatric, dental, pharmacy and more. We also offer care management and financial services because a lot of patients don't realize that they are eligible to get on a (health insurance) plan.

Are you doing anything to help your medical teams deal with the many current issues that are arising : ie: child abuse, domestic abuse, suicide increasing, immigrants' needs, etc. If so, what?

I like this question. We are really making sure of the transparency in the organization - we have to talk about those issues. Our behavioral health services also is integrated into our health services by working with our partners and having resident experts come in and work with our teams.

There is a swelling around the opium epidemic and Hillsborough County is bringing that to the table on how to make changes. During the hurricanes to the end of last year, we treated people from Puerto Rico for no charge. They may have left and didn't have their blood pressure medicines, insulin or other needed items.

One of the people who came from Puerto Rico, a nurse, became a center manager for us.

What is your relationship with the Florida Department of Health? You seem to have taken over their clinics operations.

We work very closely with them and Doug Holt (the director) is very supportive. They now really focus on prevention.

What else would you like to tell me that I haven't asked?

For me it has been such a honor and a privilege to be the next leader of this outstanding organization. We have such a supportive board out in the community. Tampa is the second largest FQHC (federally qualified health centers) in Florida and we are a model to show how health care works.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Lenora Lake at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Humane Society launches plans for DeBartolo Family Animal Shelter

9 hours 53 min ago

In a cage inside a room at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay's intake building sits Rocky, a small, quiet dog with a dark coat and long wispy bangs.

To the left and right of him are other cages filled with dogs who also have had a complete examination by the veterinarian.

They await placement in the facility's primary shelter, and it could be a while.

Space is at such a premium at the Society's main building, cages line the hallways and storage rooms have been converted to offices.

But that soon will change thanks to a gift from the DeBartolo family that will spark construction of a new 41,000-foot animal shelter.

Humane Society officials plan to break ground on the $11-million DeBartolo Family Animal Shelter as early as next spring, said the nonprofit's CEO Sherri Silk. The gift is the result of year-long discussions between Society staff and board of directors, and the DeBartolo family.

The society already has raised $8.7 million toward the new building that will replace the current facility, which has stood for more than 50 years. The construction will expand the Society's campus along Armenia Avenue, which also boasts an Animal Health Center that opened in 2012.

Society officials will continue to pursue gifts and donations, many of which have come from the general public according to development director Karen Ryals.

The Society officially launched their capital campaign this week with a website and donation portal at ShelterThemTampa.com.

"It's a win-win for the Tampa community," Ryals said. "We'll be able to help more animals."

Former Society volunteer Sylvia Tagliarini said she's excited for the coming changes at the shelter, where she was visiting Wednesday to adopt another dog.

"I think it's wonderful," she said.

It's estimated that that new building will help the Society save an additional 2,000 animals annually.

The Society's current collection of modular and concrete buildings and adjacent outdoor play areas will be removed to make way for a multi-story facility that will have central heating and air, isolation space to contain animals with contagious disease, and nursery accommodations for under aged puppies, kittens, and nursing moms.

Additionally, the new building will allow the Society to expand some of its outreach to the homeless and their pets and its humane education program.

The Society will relocate its offices and shelters to temporary quarters while the new building is under construction. The estimated time of construction is 14 months. Some animals will be housed at Hillsborough County's Pet Resource Center, Silk said.

Contact Kenya Woodard at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Tampa 9-year-old fosters dreams by swimming with the Florida Aquarium sharks

9 hours 53 min ago

TAMPA - Gigi Suszynski and her father Nick Suszynski stood on the deck above the steps of the mammoth salt-water tank.

Sporting diving wetsuits, they strapped on oxygen tasks and donned masks. Yet as father and daughter prepared to brave the chilling 74-degree Florida Aquarium waters on July 10, they carried more than the needed tools for a dive.

Gigi, 9, brought with her the dreams of a marine biologist career she first started harboring three years ago. Nick toted the paternal responsibility of nurturing those dreams.

Every loving parent can relate. Whether a child aspires to be a doctor, a lawyer or president of the United States, moms and dads search for ways to enhance those goals with encouraging doses of reality. Swimming with sharks may seem a bit extreme, but the Suszynskis had made up their mind to literally dive into the world of ocean exploration.

As Gigi entered the water and began to shiver, Nick gave his daughter a comforting hug.

"Thanks dad," she smiled confidently.

•••

In 2015, Gigi, then 6, walked into her father's bedroom at their Carrollwood home and revealed her audacious plan to be a marine biologist.

"It wasn't a surprise when she told me," Suszynski said. "Gigi is the kind of young girl that when she puts her mind to something, she fully accomplishes it."

She enhanced her decision with uncommon confidence and a declarative first step.

"Dad, I want to swim with the sharks."

Gigi had set her sights on frolicking with the ferocious looking tiger sharks that cruise the aquarium's crystal-clear waters.

But there was one problem. The aquarium's minimum age requirement for its "Swim with the Sharks" program is 9.

So she waited.

A rising fourth grader at Tampa's Villa Madonna Catholic School, she didn't let a day slip past her ninth birthday to take the plunge. She seized the opportunity to get her first hands-on experience as a gift. Nick could have watched from the other side of the glass, but came along to offer self-assurance.

It's an experience that rates a bit higher than the traditional father-daughter dance.

"Gigi had been dreaming of this day for the last three years," Nick Suszynski said, "and I knew it would be a great birthday opportunity."

•••

"Swimming with the Sharks," which has been in operation since 2002, is a premier program at the aquarium. The personalized, and highly supervised scuba and snorkel experience gives guests a unique aquatic adventure. Scuba certification is not required.

The program allows guests age 9 and over to swim underwater alongside more than 1,000 fish. The cost is $110 per swimmer.

"Here at the aquarium, we have a responsibility to help promote and educate the next generation on the beauty and importance of the environment," said Roger Germann, Florida Aquarium CEO and president. "Our job is to bring dreams to reality by investing in the future of our children, especially young women like Gigi.

"We are so proud she chose the aquarium to experience first-hand her future hopes and dreams."

Dive master Spencer Taylor said they divide the experience into two segments.

"After a complete run down of the safety rules, we introduce them to the equipment and allow them to go into the shallow side of the habitat and get used to the rainbow-colored fish swimming around them," Davis said. "Once they are acclimated, we let them experience the beauty of the underwater environment for about 10 minutes. Next, they travel to the other side of the tank where the sharks are swimming."

•••

Taylor and fellow dive master Nonalee Davis, who both have 15 years of experience, met the Susynskis at the staging deck.

Both father and daughter started the dive with a bit of tentativeness. Within a minute, however, both calmly propelled themselves through the illuminated water like seasoned divers.

As they swam, they seemed to blend with all the different and unique species of fish.

After a few minutes, they returned to the original staging deck. Taylor took charge with instructions on going into the deepest side where all three would encounter the larger, scarier-looking fish, steeling themselves in the waters with a long guiding pole.

Gigi and Nick latched onto the pole. Taylor positioned himself in the middle, guiding father and daughter through a maze of underwater beauty. Moray eels, great barracuda and two Tiger sharks swam within arm's reach.

As they moved through the water, a stingray, with its extra wide wing span seemed to fly above their heads. A large green sea turtle named Flip spun past them as if he was an old friend.

Gigi released one of her hands to reach out to Flip to say hello.

•••

Experts would say Nick Suszynski, a father of four, implemented an important ritual in fulfilling Gigi's dream. It's important for moms and dads to understand the interests of their children and foster them.

"If a child sees themselves performing their dream, they can achieve it," said Gwen Hanner, a licensed mental health counselor based in Tampa. "But it must come with parental or teacher support and they must have a shared vision.

"The greatest gift they can give any child is to say, 'I believe in you.'"

However, it's equally important for parents not to cross the boundary into unrealistic expectations or unreasonable demands. Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, told Psychology Today that when parents "support instead of push," it allows kids, "to find their passions and interests and follow their own paths toward success and happiness."

As Gigi's time in the tank came to an end, it appeared she had found her path. She returned to the deck, stood up, removed her gear, gave her father a high-five and a hug, and confirmed her joy.

"That was amazing, and a little scary too."

Contact Mike Merino at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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Tampa Rough Riders help restore Cuban monuments to their namesake

Sat, 07/21/2018 - 2:55pm

Theodore Roosevelt and his cavalry unit known as the Rough Riders sailed from Tampa to Cuba in June 1898 to help that nation defeat Spain.

To honor the Rough Riders' heroics, Cuba erected two monuments near its city of Santiago.

Now, more than a century later, those historic markers have fallen into disrepair.

So, the Rough Riders again rode to the rescue.

For five days in June and early July, 120 years after Roosevelt arrived, the Tampa Rough Riders, an organization dedicated to promoting the cavalry's history, visited the Cuban cities where its namesake displayed valor.

There, the Tampa non-profit and Cuban citizens celebrated their ongoing joint efforts to restore those historic markers.

"It was a special trip," said Tampa Rough Rider Frank Reno, who arranged the trip through his Cuba Executive Travel Inc. "This was all about good will and exploring our shared history. It exceeded expectations."

Cuba had been fighting for independence from Spain for three years when the United States intervened in 1898.

The military disembarked for the island nation from Port Tampa - then its own city - and neighboring Tampa was where most of the troops stayed.

An historic marker at Armenia Avenue and Lemon Street tells of the Rough Riders' time in Tampa.

RELATED: Rough Riders replace stolen plaque honoring their namesake

According to Tampa Rough Rider and historian Rod Sullivan, after landing on the shores of the village of Daiquiri, Roosevelt and his men assisted in securing the larger beach area of Siboney so more American troops could arrive safely.

The Rough Riders then went on to help take Kettle Hill. This, Sullivan explained, allowed the United States and Cuba to capture San Juan Hill, considered a decisive victory in the war that ended on August 13, 1898.

"Kettle Hill provided a good vantage point for the rifleman to protect the troops assaulting San Juan," Sullivan said.

A historic marker on Siboney's beach was dedicated solely to the cavalry and another on Kettle Hill mentions the significance of the battle there.

[http://www.tampabay.com/news/White-soldiers-used-black-child-for-target-practice-during-grim-chapter-in-Tampa-s-history_168734873" target="_blank"]RELATED: White soldiers used black child for target practice during grim chapter in Tampa's history

In 2016, NBC correspondent and former Tampa resident Kerry Sanders was in Santiago to cover Hurricane Matthew.

While there, he discovered the markers and noted their poor condition. So, upon returning home, he reached out to the Tampa Rough Riders.

"They had been exposed to the elements for over 100 years," Tampa Rough Rider George Conlan said of the markers. "They didn't look good."

The Siboney marker's base was crumbling. And, completely missing was its stone frame that was supposed to encase a bronze placard. "The bronze turned green and was kept in someone's garage," Conlan said.

And the lettering on the Kettle Hill marker was so faded that it was barely legible.

But Conlan's expertise lies in marble and stone restoration. As president of Apollo Beach's Natural Stone Care, he's dedicated 40 years to the craft.

Conlan led a 2017 trip to Santiago for a small contingent of Tampa Rough Riders, who count more than 500 in its membership. They assessed the markers, explained to area leaders the restoration work that needed to be done and assembled a group of Cuban artisans he was confident could perform the work.

And he continued to consult the Cuban team via email and returned this past January to provide further assistance.

During this latest trip that included 20 Tampa Rough Riders, they brought supplies not available on the island, such as a special paint needed to repair the Kettle Hill marker's lettering.

The Siboney monument's base and frame have been repaired and its bronze placard should be restored and remounted in the coming months. And the Kettle Hill marker's lettering should be restored soon.

As a thank you, Santiago's mayor greeted the delegation. They were provided a private tour of the city's war museum and laid wreaths in a cemetery where Rough Riders killed in battle were buried.

"It's been a great experience," Reno said. "We had the expertise and the desire. Now we have a bond too. We look forward to going back."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office mourns loss of 'selfless warrior'

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 8:35pm

He was always willing to help, inspire and service others even at a time when he was helpless.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jonathan Black used his Facebook page - Our Battle through Pancreatic Cancer - not only to document his journey with pancreatic cancer, but to uplift and encourage others that even life's most difficult adversities can be tackled with faith in God and positive thinking.

He also advocated for suicide prevention, and after he gave an update on his progress, he ended each post with inspirational Biblical scripture and encouraging words like "Life is worth fighting for. Give it all you can."

Doctors diagnosed Sgt. Black, a detention corporal for Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer on Nov. 24, 2017, the day after Thanksgiving

And while many families spent the 4th of July holiday barbecuing, at the beach or enjoying fireworks, The Black family spent another holiday in the hospital, watching Sgt. Black fight for his life.

Sgt. Black, 40, a selfless humanitarian who only ever asked for prayers, died among family July 8 due to complications from his Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

His wife of six years, Heather Black says after all the pain he suffered he finally seemed comfortable and wasn't afraid. He was at peace and ready to go to heaven to meet Jesus and see their daughter Emily Rose Sabow, who tragically died from carbon monoxide poisoning on Dec. 21, 2015.

"That made it a lot easier, and it's kind of relieving because I know he's not suffering anymore," she said.

"He's my warrior; he's my strength. His heart was so strong-he hung on for so long, days more than we expected him to."

She recalls some of their best days together, including their wedding day and first overnight trip alone in October of 2011 at Ruskin's Harborside Suites at Little Harbor, which was the pinnacle of their relationship.

"We had so much fun and learned so much about each other and knew after that trip there would never be an end to our relationship," she said.

The two were inseparable and literally soulmates.

After spending an entire week at Moffitt Cancer Center with him, she barely got any rest, but she said he knew how tired and delirious she was, and practically waited until she rested.

"Once he heard from me that I had slept, that was it," she said.

The news stunned his friends and colleagues.

"When I learned of his passing, I broke down with emotion," said Lt. Chris Fortner, Sgt. Black's colleague and best friend who shared a viral video of a final radio check for his friend - something traditionally done in law enforcement for deputies killed in line of duty or for firemen.

"He just had that ability, that way with people to make them feel welcome and like part of his family. He is irreplaceable, a truly unique gift from God. Jon will be forever missed, but his immortal spirit will continue to influence us and his legacy lives on in all the good he did, all the lives he touched and love he shared."

The news also struck Sheriff Chad Chronister with emotion who was at a loss for words.

"I'm heartbroken knowing the void that's been created with the passing of Jonathan Black that we must fill for the community we serve and the employees we work with," he said.

"One of the most selfless people I've ever met. The guy was a warrior. He epitomizes the idea of serving to protect and he did nothing but help people. That's what he stood for. Even at his lowest point he was still serving and protecting others."

Chronister spoke highly of his work ethic and the impact he had in the office, always mentoring those around him. He said working as a detention corporal, Sgt. Black never saw people coming in as bad people. Instead he always saw it as an opportunity to help them and truly put others first.

Hundreds of uniformed deputies and HCSO personnel joined Chronister at Black's funeral at Bell Shoals Baptist on Friday (July 13). He shared a few words about Sgt. Black.

"You may have lost the battle with cancer, but cancer never beat you."

Chronister also honored Sgt. Black's legacy by announcing posthumously promoting him to the rank of sergeant on July 10, which he was working to obtain but refrained from after the death of his daughter.

Also, he continues to honor Sgt. Black's service with the formation of the Sergeant Jonathan Black Suicide Prevention and Education program in service training on Jan. 1 of 2019. It'll aim to provide the deputies training on suicide prevention, educate them on mental health, change the culture of law enforcement and remove the existing stigma that someone can't ask for help because it may reflect poorly on them.

Chronister sat with Sgt. Black on July 6, the day he told him he was at the end of the road and ready to go, and assured him the sheriff's office would always be there for his family.

Contact Monique Welch at mwelch@tampabay.com

Epicurean to host fourth annual Epic Chef Showdown for Feeding Tampa Bay

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 8:35pm

The Epicurean Hotel, 1207 S Howard Ave., plays host to the seven-week Epic Chef Showdown Feeding Tampa Bay benefit from 6:30 to 9 p.m each Monday starting July 16 running through to Aug. 27.

Local celebrities and notable food writers will judge the fourth-annual cooking competition that pits eight of the Tampa Bay area's top restaurant chefs facing off in the Epicurean's Kitchen Theatre.

Each week two competing chefs get a mystery box of ingredients not typically put together and have to create two unique dishes with added pressure from a timed clock. Once the time is up, judges critique each dish, one restaurant gets eliminated and the winner moves on to the next round.

This year's participating restaurants include Datz, FarmTable Cucina, The Mill, Mise en Place, Noble Crust, On Swann, Parkshore Grill and Rooster-&-the Till.

Each week, celebrity Chef Jeff Philbin of "MasterChef' will emcee the event. Maryann Ferenc, the well known CEO and proprietor of Mise en Place and Feeding Tampa Bay's 2018 Hunger Hero, will emcee on the first and last week of the competition.

Judges rotate week to week including personalities ranging from Sheriff Chad Chronister, WFLA's Stacie Schaible, radio personality Mike Calta from 102.5 The Bone and Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper.

"Food brings people together to celebrate friendship, to embrace family tradition, and to share moments that shape who we are," said Thomas Mantz, executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay, in a prepared statement.

"Epic Chef Showdown celebrates food in a unique and fun way, and our ongoing partnership with the Epicurean Hotel allows us to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in our community and ultimately give families in the Tampa Bay area the opportunity to reach their full potential because of a meal on their table."

A limited number of tickets are available to the public for $125 and the finale is $175, which includes a course meal with wine pairings. Those without tickets can watch from the lobby area and Epic Chef Showdown will stream live on Feeding Tampa Bay's Facebook and YouTube channel.

For more information visit EpicChefTampaBay.com.

Whitman: Religious freedom decisions raises more questions than answers

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 2:29pm

My family and I recently visited a zoo in the Midwest. Eating in the picnic area, we sat catty-corner to an Amish family. The men and women shared the work of mixing ingredients to make potato salad.

The women wore long dresses and bonnets, the men pants and plaid collared shirts. They appeared happy, unfazed by any differences between themselves and the summer crowd.

I wondered how it must feel to walk out your front door and enter a world where the majority follow customs unlike your own.

Inside the zoo I noticed two Muslim women covered and wearing hijabs. I spotted a family with girls in long skirts. I watched a teen walk by in shorts I found too revealing.

We live in a country where people with drastically different ideologies coexist. Yes we have our issues. Discrimination shows itself. Still not one person I saw at the zoo hid their religion to enter a public place.

Freedom of religion is one of our country's greatest attributes. We need to protect it. We need to preserve the right to live our faith of choice out in the open.

But when does that right infringe upon others? What lines do we draw and who holds the power to draw them?

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Christian baker who refused to create an artistic wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Following the 7-2 decision, the baker, Jack Phillips, wrote when he operates his business, he's always mindful of whether God is pleased with his creations.

"That's why even though I serve all people, I can't design cakes that celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my faith," Phillips wrote in a piece syndicated across the nation. "It's also why I've declined requests to create cakes that celebrate Halloween or memorialize a divorce."

Legal scholars called the court's decision narrow. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and called for balance in future decisions.

"The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts," Kennedy wrote, "all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

Clearly, the decision created more questions than answers about religious freedom laws. At what point do personal beliefs get reigned in by the government? Can someone refuse service to LGBTQ couples? Can someone do the same to interracial or interfaith couples? Can a Muslim baker refuse a Christian or vice versa?

What if the customer ordered a Satanic cake? Would the public rally for the bakery owner or the devil-worshiper?

I'm torn. I'm not interested in doing business with a person whose judgment of my lifestyle would lead them to turn me away. I do not favor the idea of forcing someone to compromise their core beliefs - even if I disagree with them.

Yet perhaps I'm comfortable with that stance only because my religion, Christianity, remains dominant in America. I have never walked out my front door into a world where I am not the majority.

The hardest question in the land of the free is knowing when it's okay to put up fences.

Contact Sarah Whitman at sarahrothwhitman@gmail.com.

Habitat celebrates new Brandon ReStore with big crowd

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 2:29pm

BRANDON - Elizabeth Rodriguez paused for a moment and fought back tears of joy as she addressed nearly 300 people who showed up for the grand opening of a new Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Brandon on July 14.

Rodriguez, 41, is a single mom and registered nurse working in the Hillsborough County School District. She graduated from Habitat's homeownership program after 300 hours of sweat equity to own a 1,300-square foot, three-bedroom, two-bath house in Tampa.

"I am complete. I have everything I wished for," she said moments before Habitat for Humanity opened its doors to a third area retail location. "Now when I walk into my home, I do not see just the structure and the walls I see my friends painting the walls and telling me how to cut a right angle. My home is full of love and great memories. God bless America."

Profits from the 15,000-square-foot location at 501 W Robertson Street go toward building homes throughout Hillsborough County. The home improvement store and donation center sells new and gently-used furniture, appliances, cabinets, plumbing and lighting fixtures, windows, doors, flooring and building materials at deeply discounted prices.

Habitat for Humanity CEO Tina Swain said nearly 20 percent of the 1.3 million people in Hillsborough County are living in poverty and Habitat plans to build 20 homes this fiscal year and improve 30 more through preservation projects on exteriors or landscapes with financial aid from the proceeds at its first East Hillsborough county store.

"We knew we wanted to be in Brandon for a while," Swain said. "It took us some time to seek out this location. When we looked at it, it was the perfect spot, we couldn't believe it."

Swain describes the retail experience as a "cross between Goodwill and Home Depot" and invites people to volunteer, shop or donate Tuesdays through Saturdays between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

For every two homes completed locally, Habitat tithes money to build a home in Haiti or the Dominican Republic as well. To volunteer or apply for current job openings that include driver, associate and warehouse coordinator visit habitathillsborough.org.

Bloomin' brings new concept to Riverview

Riverview area residents who enjoy food from Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba's Italian Grill but might not have the time to visit one of the restaurants, but a new Riverview location will give them the opportunity enjoy delivery, takeaway and catering from both eateries.

The parent company, Bloomin' Brands, has combined the two brands at 13025 U.S. 301, Suite 104 near Summerfield Crossing Boulvard. It's a fairly new concept for the proprietor, with other locations in Tampa, Conway, Hollywood and Miami Gardens.

The Outback/Carrabba's Express location provides about 75 percent of the menu from both restaurants.

Customers can also mix and match favorites from both restaurant menus, and Outback and Carrabba's Express will also offer a selection of beer and wine.

The hours of operation are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday - Thursday and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Call (813) 262-0034 or visit outbackandcarrabbasexpress.com.

SHARE YOUR NEWS: If you have an item for Everybody's Business, contact Eric Vician at ericvician@yahoo.com.

Carrollwood Players seeks youth playwrights for KidSpeak 4.0

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 2:29pm

The Carrollwood Players Theatre seeks boys and girls in third through seventh grade to write original, short 10-minute plays for their program called Kidspeak.

Youth playwrights can compete against peers in the community theatre's fourth year project.

Playwrights selected will receive a complimentary ticket to see his or her show performed. First, second and third place winners will be announced at the close of the last performance. Winners are determined by audience and judges vote and will receive a trophy.

All plays submitted must be original unless the student is re-imagining the concept to make their own idea, but any plays that copy exact plot lines will not be considered. The script can relate to any topic with a maximum of four characters and must have a recognizable beginning, middle and end while telling a short story with dialogue.

The story should contain no more than two locations as the black box where each play will be performed offers minimal set space. The story also should use limited props. Plays must not exceed 10 minutes and no more than five pages typed, numbered and double-spaced.

The cover sheet of the play should have a title, student's name, parent's phone number and email. The first page should provide names of characters and a brief description of each personality. Plays can be submitted as a word document, rtf, txt or PDF file and upload online.

The Carrollwood Players Theatre also seeks a third through seventh grade student to shadow their director and learn how to direct a live stage production.

For more information or to register, visit carrollwoodplayers.org/kidspeak-4-0-feb-2019.

The Spring readies for paddle event with Tampa Heights kickoff party

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 2:29pm

The Spring of Tampa Bay will host a kickoff party for its 2nd annual Paddle for Peace fundraiser to take place this September, from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday (July 25) at Cruis-A-Cade, 2002 Cruis A Cade Place.

The kickoff party will have food and drinks, and guests will have the opportunity to learn more about this year's Paddle for Peace fundraiser and receive a discounted registration rate of $20.

Paddle for Peace is open to paddle boarders and kayakers of all experience levels age 6 and above, spectators and pets, and the event hosts challenges for two miles, one mile and a half mile along the Hillsborough River from Water Works Park to Curtis Hixon Park in Downtown Tampa.

Individuals and teams can earn awards and prizes based on fundraising efforts, which all support The Spring's mission to bring safety, hope, and renewal to survivors of domestic violence.

Proceeds from the Paddle for Peace event directly benefit three of The Spring's most important programs and services fostering healthy lifestyles, domestic violence prevention and creating a safe environment for pets.

The Spring of Tampa Bay is the Department of Children and Families (DCF) certified Domestic Violence Center for Hillsborough County and aims to be a positive force for social change, creating a 'zero tolerance' attitude toward domestic violence in Hillsborough County.

Since its founding in 1977, the Spring has provided sanctuary and services to more than 60,000 abused adults and their children.

This fundraiser will help continue its mission to help more victims of domestic violence rebuild their lives and raise awareness to prevent domestic violence from occurring.

The kickoff party is free, but guests are encouraged to RSVP at thespringtampabay.wufoo.com and for more information on the Paddle for Peace visit peaceinpurple.org.

Brandon's Dancer Center holds pre-professional dance program auditions

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 2:29pm

The Dance Center, 161 E Bloomingdale Ave in Brandon, will offers a pre-professional training program for dancers who are seriously interested in pursuing a professional career in ballet. Admittance into the program requires an audition.

The program's primary focus covers technique with an emphasis on stage presence, pointe and variations. Dancers pursuing a career as a professional artist need to be introduced to the classical variations that can be required as a professional.

The program will allow the dancers to participate in ballet classes five to six days a week.

The Dance Center offers private coaching with international instructors for dancers enrolled in the program. Dancers may also have the opportunity to enter the Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP) and the American Dance Competition (ADC).

Classes offered at The Dancer Center outside of the program include classic ballet, Pas de Deux, Pointe, Modern, Jazz, Tap, Hip-Hop and Acrobatics. They also offer private evaluations for dancers to see where their training is at and how to go forward.

The Dance Center will hold auditions in the months of July and August. Classes are held Monday and Friday from 1-3 p.m.

Other opportunities include being a part of the Brandon Ballet.

For more information or to audition, call (813) 684-4282, email tdc@brandondance.com or visit brandondance.com.

County shelter's new approach helps combat deadly canine parvovirus

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 2:29pm

TAMPA

When someone mentions puppies, images of wiggly, bouncy furballs often come to mind.

But all too often Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center staff members see vastly contrasting images: puppies vomiting; puppies experiencing extreme weight loss and lack of appetite; puppies fighting for their lives.

Puppies fighting against the deadly canine

parvovirus.

Because the virus is so contagious, the often resource-strapped animal shelter was not equipped to deal with parvo-infected dogs until recently. Many had to be euthanized before they were adopted.

"It is a devastating diagnosis, especially for open shelters like ours," said Pet Resource Center veterinarian Mallory Offner. "It's hard to contain and spreads easily. But that's changed now."

Using grant money from Maddie's Fund, a nonprofit that raises private funds for shelter medical supplies, the Pet Resource Center sent Offner to Austin, Texas, to receive specialized training that gave her the education needed for the shelter's first parvo-isolation ward.

For the county's only shelter that accepts animals regardless of breed, age or medical condition, it's a game changer.

In March, Snoopy, a 5-month-old mixed breed, was the first success story. Since then, shelter veterinarians have treated 27 dogs. Each one has been adopted.

"It's had a really positive impact," Offner said. "The saddest thing is taking in puppies and not being able to do anything to help them. Now we can see them not only get better but go on to their happy homes."

Last year, 24 dogs came in that tested positive for the parvovirus. All but one had to be euthanized. Of the 32 in the treatment program, three had to be euthanized, one died and another still in treatment.

The virus is easily transmitted, resistant to heat and cold, and can survive indoors or outdoors for long periods. The virus is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact and contact with contaminated feces, environments or people. The virus also can contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars, leashes and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs.

In February, the Pet Resource Center converted its euthanasia holding kennels that were no longer needed. In recent years, shelter kill rates have been on a decline thanks to the availability of resources, said Laurn Postiglione, Pet Resource Center coordinator. Funding for the ward came from private donations.

"This new ward is not only able to change the future of dogs that would have died without treatment, but it also keeps our other critters safe from the highly-contagious virus," Postiglione said.

In the isolation ward, there are about six full size dog kennels with one entrance. The staff wears special protective gear and are limited to what tasks they can do after caring for the parvo-infected dogs.

The deadly parvovirus affects a dog's gastrointestinal tract and can lead to dehydration, vomiting and loss of appetite. Most deaths occur within three days after the symptoms appear.

No specific drug kills the virus in infected dogs, and treatment is intended to support the dog's body systems until it can fight off the viral infection.

Treatment usually consists of intensive care efforts to combat dehydration by replacing electrolyte, protein and fluid losses.

When a dog develops parvo, treatment can be very expensive, and the dog may die despite aggressive treatment. But with early recognition and aggressive treatment, survival rates approach 90 percent, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"Sadly, that's why a lot of shelters don't treat parvo-infected dogs," Postiglione said. "It's just too expensive and risky. But for the first time, we're able to make a real difference."

Contact Tim Fanning at tfanning@tampabay.com.

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USF CyberCamp aims to grow interest in cybersecurity field

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 11:14am

YBOR CITY - In the SecureSet Academy's Ybor City office, students in the University of South Florida's cybersecurity summer camp set about trying to pick old-fashioned locks.

The students possessed varying understanding levels of lock picking, but each grabbed a tension wrench and went to work on locks ranging from practice locks to high security locks.

Lock picking does not immediately come to mind when envisioning cybersecurity, but the exercise aimed to give the kids confidence in breaking security measures.

The exercise represented just one of several activities the students enjoyed during the week-long camp that USF used to inspire high school students to pursue careers in cybersecurity.

Today's booming need for cybersecurity professionals sparks the need to promote the industry, according to camp instructor Nate Fisk. He said the field requires a diversity of skills.

The camp, now in its third year, succeeds in raising awareness of the field.

"We wanted this camp to speak to the students at their level," Fisk said. "We want them to see the different skills. Everyone leaves here able to get into a web page : one of ours of course."

More than 25 area high school students received hands-on opportunities to explore the rapidly growing field during the camp, which ran from July 9-13.

USF's College of Education, the Florida Center for Cybersecurity and the Florida Center for Instructional Technology collaborated to operate the camp.

"There are so many people interested in helping and growing the program," Fisk said. "It's all about reaching them. We want them to leave here knowing cybersecurity is cool."

Jaden Wright, a rising freshman at Robinson High School, said the camp succeeded in maintaining his heightened interest in the field. He noted how fun it was to learn about Linux and more related cybersecurity topics and participate in activities like lock picking.

"I love the teamwork and how interactive the camp is," Wright said.

Some noted the importance of bringing what they learned from camp into their online lives.

"We're learning how to protect ourselves and how not everything on computers is safe," said Chasity Smith-Pedersen, a rising junior at Spoto High School.

Smith-Pedersen came to camp with an interest in coding and how to make web sites.

"I thought I'd be sitting in front of my computer screen all week and that's not the case."

A few students came in with previous cybersecurity experience, including Brooksville Central High's Ethan Stayt, a rising senior whose dad works in Information Technology (IT).

"I grew up watching my dad doing these types of things," Stayt said.

Stayt considers cybersecurity a possible field while also considering the military as an option.

"(Cybersecurity) is a growing field and someone needs to fill the positions."

The camp is led by university-level instructors and USF students. Stayt said their participation helped the camp earn his recommendation for anyone interested in cybersecurity.

"It's hands on and enticing and all the instructors are here to answer your questions."

Contact Katelyn Massarelli at kmassarelli@tampabay.com

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March column: Is Congressional District 16 more flippable? What about District 15?

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 11:14am

In the wake of good fundraising news for Democrat David Shapiro, who is running against Rep. Vern Buchanan in Congressional District 16, political analysts are upping their odds of Shapiro's winning.

But what about Congressional District 15, where Rep. Dennis Ross is retiring, leaving his seat vacant?

Democratic candidate Kristen Carlson has had some fundraising success there. Finance reports covering her first three-month period as a candidate show her leading the field in both parties, though with the help of some of her own money.

But so far, the Cook Political Report, which raised its rating of Shapiro's chances, hasn't revised its "likely Republican" rating for CD 15. Neither has another respected analyst, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.

Shapiro's boost came after he raised $406,433 in the second quarter, bringing his total for the campaign to more than $1 million, including a $50,000 loan from himself in the first quarter.

Citing that and some negative news stories about Buchanan, Cook revised its rating of the district from likely Republican to the less-secure "leans Republican."

In CD 15, Democratic Andrew Learned is continuing a spirited primary race with Carlson, and Republicans Neil Combee and Ross Spano appear to be leading the field in the Republican primary. There's no clear frontrunner in either primary.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the Crystal Ball, said there's not enough information yet to change the rating on CD15.

"I'm in a wait and see mode, to see how the primaries go and how much attention the national parties pay to it," he said.

The Democratic Party has put CD 15 on its Majority Makers list of Republican-held or open seats where it hopes to compete. But it hasn't put the district on its more prominent Red-to-Blue list, where the party has settled on a candidate it considers a strong contender.

Lee, Young pile up $$

After four months without adding a dime to his campaign war chest, state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, added $50,000 in the month of June - a single check from the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which funds GOP state Senate races.

That's a lesson in how hard it can be to unseat an incumbent Republican legislator. The committee is funded by 5- and 6-figure contributions from corporate interests.

Lee has raised $95,500 in all. He deactivated his political committee in anticipation of a possible run for Congress, but still has $2.3 million.

Lee's Democratic competitors can't match such numbers: $585 for the month and $7,740 total so far for Joy Gibson; and $625 for the month and $14,206 total for Kathy Lewis.

In Tampa's Senate District 18, meanwhile, Democratic challenger Rep. Janet Cruz is putting up respectable numbers -- $11,149 for the month, $158,321 total, plus $74,572 in party-paid campaign costs and more than $256,000 in her PAC.

But Cruz's opponent, Republican Sen. Dana Young, piled up $22,900 for the month, $476,207 total, $169,603 in party payments, and has more than $1 million in her PAC.

All for Transportation boosts its numbers

With its deadline approaching, All for Transportation, seeking to put a Hillsborough County transit sales tax referendum on the November election ballot, has sharply increased its petition numbers - 30,894 petitions turned in.

Of the 12,067 checked so far, 9,549 have been validated and 2,518 thrown out, a 79 percent validation rate.

The group must turn in its petitions by July 27. To succeed, 48,745 petitions must eventually be validated.

The petition drive seeks a 30-year countywide sales tax hike from 7 to 8 cents per dollar, with 45 percent of the resulting $280 million per year going to improved bus service and the rest to local governments for road and bridge improvements and maintenance.

Gun love from Spano

Rep. Ross Spano, who's running in the 5-way U.S. House District 15 Republican primary, figured the best way to get votes this weekend was to hold a concealed carry permit class in Plant City on Saturday.

As of mid-week, campaign consultant Brock Mikosky said the campaign had signed up 80 people, with 100 slots available. He expects to end up with a waiting list.

Spano has also held events to counter protests by gun control advocates holding March for our Lives events in the Tampa Bay area.

Hooper: Time to push the envelope in effort to build Rays stadium in Ybor

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 7:39am

The Rays started employing a strategy of using relievers to start games when they sent Sergio Romo to the mound to face the Los Angeles Angels earlier this season.

Through criticism and occasional outright ridicule, they stuck with the plan. And they enter today's game after the All-Star break sporting the best team ERA in Major League Baseball since that day.

It's just another example of how the Rays' have built on-field success by taking unique approaches.

Now, as the team seeks to find financing and community support for a proposed Ybor City stadium, its approach should be the same.

Legitimate issues have been raised about the proposal.

• Will the corporate community purchase enough suites and season ticket packages to provide big dollars?

• How will a ball park impact life in the area's most important historic district?

• Should we allow an $892 million effort to take precedence over more pressing needs?

• Do the Rays and its ownership group really intend to make Tampa Bay its long-term home?

The answers to these questions can be complicated, but with ingenuity, solutions can be found. None of the issues, or other concerns people have raised, have to doom the project. Last week's presentation of the stadium design should be a start, not an end.

As for corporate support, we're clearly not a market that can call upon a handful of home-run hitting Fortune 100 companies to tote the load for everyone. Yet just like the team strives to win games with pitching and defense while manufacturing runs, perhaps civic leaders can find 20 to 30 mid-size businesses to string together, producing "singles" and "doubles."

Can it come up with enough? Let's find out.

The impact on Ybor? How about a community compact, signed by all involved, that would contain protections for independent businesses, assurances that property values wouldn't skyrocket and a plan for residents who might end up displaced?

As for bigger community needs, I definitely think education and transportation rate higher, but instead of pitting the priorities against each other, could the Rays' new stadium be a catalyst for support?

Stick with me on this one.

Everyone talks about how the Bucs reaped the benefits of a sweetheart deal from the tax initiative that funded the construction of Raymond James Stadium. What you hear less about is how the Community Investment Tax has helped fund an array of projects over the years while providing important support for police and fire.

And it would have never passed without inclusion of the stadium proposal.

Such a tax initiative can't gain public approval in today's political climate, but that doesn't mean a unique approach couldn't pay dividends for the community. Consider this: Florida State University and the University of Florida gained state dollars for their football stadiums by building classrooms and offices into the structures.

Could we do the same here? What if the Rays built school district offices into its stadium, possibly allowing the district to sell its valuable downtown real estate and use the money to address its current budget deficits?

Crazy? Stupid? Impossible? Maybe. Even probably. But they said the same thing when Romo took the mound. They said the same thing when former manager Joe Maddon printed up T-shirts that said "9 equals 8" en route to the World Series.

There always will be naysayers who dismiss every idea and every project with cynicism. But the possibilities deserve to be explored along with every other out-of-the-box suggestion.

The Rays bring an intrinsic value to Tampa Bay, but the right deal could bring back tangible returns while helping the team find a new home. For now, I trust the team is sincere and not leveraging us for a move.

If it is, too bad for them. This community can survive without baseball, and after it's all said and done, we may end rooting for the Portland Rays. But with the opportunity before us, let's play to win without losing sight of our community needs.

That's all I'm saying.

March column: Transit petition has "steep hill"

Thu, 07/19/2018 - 10:04pm

Leaders of an effort to put a Hillsborough County transportation sales tax referendum on the November ballot say they're confident they'll gather enough petition signatures in time.

But they may have to work fast.

As of Thursday, All for Transportation had turned in 8,437 petitions to the Elections Supervisor's Office since beginning their drive June 15. Committee chairman Tyler Hudson said they have about 12,000 more they haven't turned in.

To put their proposal on the ballot, they'll need 48,745 signatures by July 27. That represents 8 percent of the number of county voters in the 2016 presidential election. They must include at least 8 percent of the voters in at least two of the four county commission districts.

The supervisor's office will verify that the petition signatures meet the requirements.

Petition gatherers normally turn in more than required in case some aren't valid registered voters, but Hudson said the committee is checking its own petitions in advance to avoid invalid signatures.

County Commissioner Pat Kemp, a transit supporter, said meeting the goal "sounds like a pretty steep hill to climb."

But Hudson said support is growing "with each passing day ... We're confident we will have the signatures by the end of the month to get this solution on the November ballot."

He said petition campaigns typically start slowly and speed up, with most petitions turned in close to the deadline.

All for Transportation is using both volunteer and paid signature gatherers.

It aims for a 30-year countywide sales tax hike from 7 to 8 cents per dollar, with 45 percent of the resulting $280 million per year going for improved bus service and the rest to local governments for road and bridge improvements and maintenance.

Endorsement wars

• Congressional District 15 GOP primary: Florida Right to Life gives Danny Kushmer and Rep. Ross Spano "Support-A" ratings. But other candidates consider themselves pro-life, including Neil Combee, who says he didn't receive the group's questionnaire.

• Florida House District 63: The Florida Police Benevolent Association backs Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison; Tampa Firefighters IAFF Local 754 backs Democratic challenger Fentrice Driskell

• County commission District 7 Democratic primary: Commissioner Pat Kemp backs Kim Overman

• Attorney General Republican primary: Spano steps outside his own race to back Ashley Moody.

• House District 61: County commissioner Les Miller and wife Gwen Miller back Dianne Hart, joining other prominent Dems, including Kathy Castor.

Hillsborough Dems

get an office

For the first time in years, the Hillsborough County Democratic Party has its own permanent headquarters office, thanks to fundraising by prominent donors.

Kemp said the last time the local party had a permanent office was shortly after her term as chairman ended in 2010.

The Hillsborough Society, a fundraising group led by Tom Hall, Tom and Linda Scarritt and Alex Sink, provided enough money to rent 1,500 square feet of space in an office building at 13220 N. 56th St., said current chairman Ione Townsend.

"It's a reflection of our growth as a party," she said.

The better-funded local Republicans have maintained permanent offices for years.

County GOP

boosts "QAnon"

For right-wing conspiracy theorists, an intriguing development of the Trump era has been "Q," or "QAnon," a posting handle on internet message boards 4chan and 8chan.

Claiming to be a high-level government official with a "Q" security clearance, QAnon tells followers the inside story of Trump's secret battle against the "deep state," including pedophilia rings run by Hillary Clinton and other Hollywood and Democratic Party elites; a foiled plot to shoot down Air Force 1; and secret deployments of the National Guard to put down the riots expected when Trump takes down the cabal of evildoers.

If it sounds a bit looney, that didn't stop the Hillsborough County Republican Party from posting a link to a popular YouTube guide to QAnon on the party's public Facebook page recently.

The post was "pinned" so it stayed at the top of the page. After a reporter asked about it, the post was unpinned, and since appears to have been removed.

Party Chairman Jim Waurishuk, an early Trump supporter, said the post was "informational ... It's certainly not something we promote or subscribe to."

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

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