City Council Candidates Talk Tough About Sex Offenders BY Roxanne Escobales

02/09/07
Alan Watts

Property tax rates, city water supplies and getting along with the Hillsborough County Commission… sound like a city council meeting? Well, it almost was. These were the topics bandied about at forum showcasing the ten candidates running for four of Tampa’s seven city council districts. But when a member of the Tampa Bay Tiger Club, which held the forum, asked the ten candidates whether or not they would support a ban on sex offenders, the city council hopefuls shifted uneasily as some audience members laughed with anticipation.

 

District 6 contender and city council veteran, Charlie Miranda took the lead like an elder statesman. Saying “I’ll take it; I’ll take it” Miranda walked straight to the podium and set the tone for the rest of the answers that followed.

 

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Miranda is running against newcomer and virtual unknown Lisa Tamargo for the seat being vacated by Mary Alvarez. Alvarez has endorsed Tamargo over the well-respected and experienced Miranda. Tamargo revealed her inexperience by following her opponent’s lead.

 

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On January 19th, the Tampa city council discussed at length the legality of expanding the limits on how close sex offenders can live to places where children congregate, from the current one thousand feet to 25-hundred feet. WMNF recorded council member Frank Reddick, who’s running for his District 5 seat, saying that he would like to put all the city’s sex offenders in a truck and take them somewhere else. Today he played the game a bit differently.

 

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Reddick is running against former Hillsborough County Commissioner Tom Scott and newcomer Lynette Judge. Both Scott and Judge urged caution before reaction -- Scott because he’s concerned that banishment of sex offenders could expand to include other sexual fringe groups like gays. And Judge said she would not support a ban.

 

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The rest of the candidates said they would support the 25-hundred foot residential restriction on sex offenders. Indeed, in the New Tampa District 7 race for the seat being vacated by Shawn Harrison, Joseph Caetano said he stayed up until 2:30 in the morning one day to watch the televised city council debate on the subject.

 

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Caetano’s opponent is Frank Margarella, who also supports the ban. It was a case in New Tampa that brought the issue before the city council to begin with. In South Tampa’s District 4 race, the incumbent, John Dingfelder, said if the city attorney gives the ban the green light, he’d approve it also. His most threatening opponent, lawyer and new mother Julie Brown, called the sex offender restriction a slippery slope, but then said she would approve it if it’s determined to be legally sound. And the third man in that race, Joseph Citro, took the hard line.

 

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Tiger Bay member Ron Weaver posed the thorny question to the audience, and for that he won the club’s monthly Garfield award, which goes to whoever posed the most challenging question. He told WMNF that children are the community’s most important members.

 

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The other issues talked about revealed that when it comes to property taxes, the New Tampa candidates want to roll back millage rates. From his previous two terms on the city council, Charlie Miranda knows an awful lot about the city’s water reserves. His opponent, newcomer Lisa Tamargo, does not. The District 6 candidates in East Tampa want to improve their neighborhoods. And if the applause of the audience is anything to judge by, John Dingfelder has a worthy challenger in the young, intelligent Julie Brown, who is campaigning on smart growth and fiscal accountability.

 

But one audience member said none of the candidates impressed him. Gerald White is on the board of the Tampa Housing Authority. Not one candidate mentioned the issue closest to White’s heart.

 

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Perhaps the candidates do not know about the city’s public housing situation – but they do know their audience. One lunch guest paid 65 dollars to become a member on the spot so he could have the right to ask a question. Lunch costs 25 dollars. Not a meal tab anyone in public housing is likely to be able to afford.

 

Early voting for the Tampa municipal election starts February 19th.

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