Saturday, February 16, 2019

Tampa's Little Swamp

What took so long? Some candidates running for Tampa mayor are concerned or asking questions about Vinik's money and influence.

According to this Tampa Bay Times report, Vinik was the subject of a question asked at a mayoral forum by moderator Mike Deeson, a former investigative reporter. Deeson asked "What "controls" should be put over the city government's interactions with Vinik".
After former county commissioner Ed Turanchik said the next mayor should follow an "arms-length relationship" with Vinik, Straz weighed in. 
"The Vinik question. Ladies and gentleman, we need more transparency. And that is, what kind of money is going into Channelside? Who's behind the St. Pete (Tampa Bay) Times? Who's behind All for Transportation? Who's behind a number of these things around town? Let's get some transparency and find out what's going on. If you look at some of the blogs you can get a feeling that not everything's great. We need to investigate that much more further," Straz said.

The Times attempt to "clarify" the relationship between Vinik and the newspaper was pure comedy.
The Times was the lead cheerleader for Vinik's All for Transportation (AFT) tax hike boondoggle.

Perhaps Straz is on to something.

Let's connect the dots and lay down some landscape. Always follow the money and the related relationships.

Mayor Buckhorn has wanted costly rail in Tampa for years. He just never could get his fingers on the money during his tenure as mayor.

Jeff Vinik surrounded himself with former Buckhorn employees, Ali GlissonJames Shimberg and Christina Barker. Barker was conveniently hired by Vinik the week before the AFT tax hike petition drive began last June. She brought her masters degree in political campaigning with her - an indication of what was to come.

Ali Glisson is the wife of Kevin Thurman, co-founder of All For Transportation and AFT's online troll. Barker became a spokesperson for AFT.

Thurman, Barker and Brian Willis, another co-founder and spokesperson of All for Transportation, wrote the AFT tax hike over drinks.

Thurman and Willis are known transit advocates previously associated with transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay. Connect Tampa Bay quickly dissolved in 2016 after it was reported the nonprofit never ever filed their federal income tax returns.

When Connect Tampa Bay dissolved in 2016, Thurman told SaintPetersblog that "moving transit forward in Tampa and Hillsborough should be led by citizens and not politicians" but he admitted it was too late to craft such citizen-led referendum for 2016.

We can reasonably assume Thurman set his sights on a 2018 referendum in 2016 - he just had to find who would fund his effort. By that time Thurman had a direct link to Jeff Vinik thru Glisson.

The All for Transportation faux citizen led tax hike was never grass roots. It was orchestrated from the get go with Jeff Vinik.

Vinik announced his development plan five years ago. Vinik still has no corporate or regional HQ lined up. And Vinik has lots more competition today from other development that is occurring.

Vinik is receiving at least $100 million in local taxpayer dollars to subsidize his Water Street development. The state legislature last year passed HB 1393 giving Vinik vast powers within his Water Street Improvement District including eminent domain powers and the power to raise his own revenues.

We do not know the financial position of Vinik's redevelopment efforts, but all the taxpayer subsidies and powers given him apparently was not enough. Either Vinik wanted or needed more.

And voila! A 30 year $16 Billion tax hike is created to spend billions on costly rail projects in the city of Tampa that will greatly benefit Vinik.

Vinik is the largest donor to All for Transportation. He and entities he owns have donated almost 25% of the $4 million AFT has raised. After the election, Vinik dumped another $85K from his private equity firm American Investment Holdings into AFT's coffers in December. (AFT's campaign filing information is on SOE website under political committee reports.)

Those funds will help pay for Vinik's high priced attorneys AFT hired for the lawsuit filed by Commissioner White challenging the charter amendment language.

Buckhorn has not yet endorsed in the Tampa mayors race. But if he does, everyone knows his choice is former police chief Jane Castor.
Buckhorn & Castor at restaurant
on Harbor Island last Oct.
Of course lead cheerleader for the Vinik funded AFT tax hike Tampa Bay Times endorsed Jane Castor on February 1.

Picture of JaneCastor & Jeff Vinik
from Tampa Bay Reporter
Jeff Vinik, who helped bail out the Tampa Bay Times, endorsed Jane Castor on January 23rd stating "As our city begins to implement the All for Transportation plan, Jane will ensure those new funds are spent efficiently and effectively."

The day after Vinik publicly endorsed Castor, he donated $50K from his investment company, American Investment Holdings, to Jane Castor's PAC Tampa Strong. With the $3K that Vinik owned entities donated directly to Castor and the $50K to her PAC, Vinik is Castor's largest donor.

Jane Castor's current significant partner is Ana Cruz, the daughter of Democrat state senator Janet Cruz. It was Ana Cruz who setup Jane Castor's PAC in July 2017.

Ana Cruz has been a Democrat political consultant for years. In 2016, Cruz became a managing partner in the Tampa office of the powerful lobbying firm Ballard Partners who among its clients is Jeff Vinik‘s expanding development and real estate empire.

Tampa clients of Ballard Partners (and Ana Cruz) also includes the Port Authority. Vinik's development arm, Strategic Property Partners, have been wheeling and dealing for years with the Port Authority.

Vinik bought property from the Port Authority. Vinik acquired Channelside Plaza through its bankruptcy.The Port Authority owns the Channelside land, is redeveloping land adjacent to Vinik's redevelopment and still levies its own property tax.

Buckhorn jumped all aboard Vinik's AFT transit tax hike. Expect to see him pop up as a lobbyist after he is out of office. Buckhorn sees the AFT tax hike as the ticket for rail in Tampa with Castor on board to implement.

And she is.

Castor announced her pro rail transportation plan on Tuesday. It's not a plan, it's a short list of high level platitudes promising to spend the new $16 Billion tax on CSX rail, light rail, streetcars, buses and bike-ability.

Castor's plan does not mention new road capacity because the AFT tax hike does not fund new roads. But her plan does include light rail over the Howard Frankland Bridge from the Tampa airport to St. Petersburg. Are we to assume the AFT tax hike is funding that too? Who knew?

But Castor is the loser of the week because the timing of her rail announcement was so bad.

Castor made her rail announcement the same day CA Governor Gavin Newsom pulled the plug on the CA High Speed Rail boondoggle because it is such a loser.

And the same day Brightline/Virgin Trains pulled their IPO they had expected would raise over $619 million. Apparently, the financing, the costs and the ridership look horrible and Brightline/Virgin would have taken a beating on the IPO. It looks like a loser too.

But money influences and lots of money influences a lot.

Lots of Vinik money is circulating around Castor's campaign and the lobbying firm of Ana Cruz, Castor's significant partner. Does this create conflicts of interest? Does this provoke bad governance and/or cronyism?

Can lobbyists lobby their spouse or partner?

If elected, will Castor recuse herself from decisions related to Jeff Vinik, Water Street or any of his other entities as her significant partner is being paid by Vinik to lobby for him?

How can Castor sit on the Port Authority Board when her significant partner Ana Cruz lobbies for the Port? Especially as the Port Authority works directly with Vinik, who Cruz also lobbies for.  Will Castor recuse herself on any dealings between the Port and Vinik if she became mayor?

It's impossible for Castor to follow an "arms-length" relationship with Vinik.

Because Castor looks mired in her own little swamp.


  1. Sounds like there's a lot of political incest in downtown Tampa. No doubt Castor will be Vinik's puppet ensuring city decisions will continue to benefit his bottom line.

  2. I was a Jane Castor Vote but he ties to Vinik and wanting rail in Tampa is giving me second thought. It just seems like downtown is getting while the outskirts of Tampa is left to rot.

  3. This is called politics, you align yourself with those who have the money and the best intentions to better the community you serve. I think what was missing in the article is where The Mayor did anything illegal or perhaps I missed it? He did however bring great change, and jobs to Tampa. What, we don’t like the improved areas of Tampa side the river walk? I welcomed the facelift for Tampa bay. We are running in place compared other counties. With the way our infrastructure is bend, we are barely holding on. Anyone traveling for work and looked over to a standstill fast lane on the crosstown would agree! Light rail is one of the best and least evasive ways to help our economy while being greener and better for our environment and the next generation. Lets think more globally. Let us think of tomorrow not just to the tip of our nose. Oh and Eye on Tampa bay you forgot to include the other Mayoral candidate and who you think might be backing them as well. A little short sided I think but something we are all use to by now!
    Kat P.

    1. Kay P. If the entire transit system was converted to all electric vehicles, powered by solar electric plants and electricity stored with batteries made in the US you would only decrease total CO2 yearly output from all transportation in Hillsborough county by less than 1%. You are not correct as to the cost of Light rail, either in its construction or in the per user cost of maintenance. You also forgot about the gentrification/displacement and ongoing costs it produces. Mayor Bob promised equity for all the neighborhoods when he was running and lost and when he ran and won. He did not keep his word and a continuation of such a policy is just plain wrong. The first rule in respect is to tell the truth. He failed. Any candidate that is making the same promises and then wants to continue the same policies is as you say just "playing politics" but we don't have to fall for it again and again.

  4. Thank you for exposing all this. I was planning to support Castor, but not anymore. This fiefdom needs to end.

  5. News flash: Tampa is full of corruption and payoffs to Castor from Vinik at the expense of ignorant Voter's...
    They're all Liars and just concerned with filling their pockets with Taxpaying Citizens money!!!